Commentary

Prep football mercy rule deserves chance to succeed

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By now, several days before the start of another football season, news of the Ohio High School Athletic Association's newly implemented mercy rule has made the rounds.

Its merits, or lack thereof, have been debated left, right and sideways.

Under the rule announced in May, a running clock will be used in the second half of any game in which a team leads by at least 30 points. If the differential drops below 30 points, the clock will revert to regular timing.

Among the biggest arguments in favor of the rule is that lopsided games will go faster and the chance of injuries in a mismatch will be decreased.

Among opponents' concerns are that 30 points isn't an insurmountable lead, and that the late stages of blowouts provide playing time for non-starters and chances to work on in-game situations. In addition, many football coaches said at the time the rule was announced that they hadn't had proper time to examine the proposal.

So, will this work?

Who knows? Furthermore, do we have to know yet?

In this fast-paced age of social media, it is en vogue to want to judge everything immediately, to want to know what everything will mean five seconds after we find out about it. Let's take a step back now. Let's give ourselves a year to figure out whether this is a good rule.

That 30 points seems like a small margin is reasonable. Thirty-five points, or five touchdowns depending on whether teams have a capable kicker, seems like a round number, if not even.

Having the chance to mix in more players during varsity games seems a less convincing argument.

By the time we get to varsity sports, aren't we past the point of making sure that everybody gets into the game? Isn't that what the lower levels, which by their definition are developmental stages, are for?

As far as second- or third-stringers are concerned, getting them into a varsity game can be a huge bonus if the situation presents itself. It's not necessarily something fans should expect every night or week.

Of course, another side of the coin says high school sports are created exactly for that reason, for everyone to get their opportunity.

Hopefully, we don't have many coaches in this area who operate by coach Jack Reilly's credo from "The Mighty Ducks" -- "It's not worth winning if you can't win big!"

Some of the area's more memorable blowouts in recent years certainly weren't intended, even if they were widely expected.

Ready's 98-20 thrashing of Washington Court House last October comes to mind immediately, probably because it's most recent among those garish scores not even the winners like to see.

In 2011, Pickerington Central blasted Newark 87-0. In 2008, Beechcroft beat Centennial 96-0, a game in which Beechcroft's 24 plays produced 462 total yards and 10 rushing touchdowns and the Cougars scored on two returned fumbles, a punt return and an interception return.

That game was reduced to seven-minute quarters in the second half, a commendable move in what quickly became an untenable situation. Beechcroft scored 55 points in the first quarter.

Asking kids who might be getting a rare chance to play on a Friday night to sacrifice their talent in order to save face is a slippery slope. Not advancing a punt, fumble or interception is one thing, but asking a player to put forth no effort is the biggest insult, whether to the player or -- perhaps even worse -- the losing team.

Perhaps more remains to be seen the next three months with the mercy rule than any recent on-field rule change applied by the OHSAA.

Let's talk over some Thanksgiving turkey and see how all this went.

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