Jerry Snodgrass was opposed to -- although cautiously optimistic about -- implementing a running-clock rule for the second half of lopsided high school basketball tournament games, but the Ohio High School Athletic Association assistant commissioner and basketball administrator has softened his stance during the past month.
"Our head of officials sent me an email and told me this might get me into the officials hall of fame," Snodgrass said last week, laughing. "I'm still not a fan of it for the regular season, but it can be a necessity at tournament time because of how draws are done and the lopsided matchups you can get."
In late October, the OHSAA's board of directors voted 9-0 to approve a second-half running clock in postseason games in which the point differential between the teams reaches 35. In such cases, the clock is stopped only for a timeout, an injured player on the court or when there is an unusual delay deemed necessary by the officials.
The running clock remains in effect unless the score differential falls under 30 points.
The OHSAA has had the option to implement the mercy rule since the 2003-04 season, when it was approved by the National Federation of State High School Associations for both regular-season and postseason games, but had chosen not to do so.
Through March 15, 240 tournament games across the state -- 154 girls and 86 boys -- had been decided by 35 or more points. How many more games used a running clock at some point is unclear because the OHSAA has not kept official records of such instances, according to Snodgrass.
The running clock was implemented at least 52 times in the Division I girls tournament. The next closest total was 39 in Division III girls games, followed by 37 for Division IV girls contests.
Africentric, which is in Division III, was involved in four such contests, the most for any team. The Nubians won those games by an average of 48 points.
The vast majority of the blowouts took place in first- and second-round games, when stronger teams typically met weaker opponents.
Still, two district finals were decided by 35 or more points, including the Pickerington Central girls' 54-12 rout of Olentangy Liberty in a Division I contest March 3 at Ohio Dominican. Fort Loramie's boys defeated Middletown Christian 68-33 in a Division IV district final, and in a Division III girls regional semifinal, Versailles beat Williamsburg 70-27.
Central and Versailles were the top-ranked teams in their respective divisions in the final state poll.
"In one aspect, it's good, but in another, I don't know," said Central coach Johnathan Hedgepeth, whose team won its first two district tournament games by a combined 153 points. "Maybe other coaches want to play it out and let their kids try to play through it, make adjustments and get better from the experience. I'm OK with (the mercy rule) for the fact that I'm fine seeing the game end faster, but it does take away opportunities for some of our bench kids to play."
The lowest number of points allowed in the postseason so far is one, by the Delphos St. John's girls team in a 48-1 win over Van Wert Lincolnview in a Division IV first-round game Feb. 20.
The Hilliard Bradley boys team's first- and second-round Division I district contests featured a running clock for games decided by 34 and 50 points.
"When you're in that position on the front end, the longer the game goes, the better chance there is of injury," Bradley coach Brett Norris said. "On the other end at that point, you probably want it to run. The sooner those games are over, the healthier it is for both sides."
Snodgrass said he still does not favor using the mercy rule in the regular season, saying better scheduling leading to competitive matchups and ethical behavior from coaches are more practical approaches.
"We've had feedback from both winning and losing coaches, mostly good feedback," Snodgrass said. "Maybe the biggest reason I'm against it for the regular season is because there are ways around it there. You can take a press off when you have a big lead. You can schedule better. In the tournament, with the freedom some districts have with their draws, you're going to see the better teams playing the lower-seeded teams and that can lead to a 100-point differential."
Africentric girls coach Will McKinney said he can see a day when the mercy rule is extended to the regular season, or at the very least being continued in the postseason.
"I can see it sticking around unless a lot of coaches complain about it," McKinney said. "I haven't heard too many people making an issue of it, and that's why I don't think it's that big a deal. Normally when something is affecting folks, you'll hear plenty about it."