Maine won’t show mercy

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Local coaches, officials say rule suspending coaches for running up score isn’t needed here.

It’s a universal dilemma for football coaches – their team is up big in the second half and has the ball.

Do they tell their quarterback to take a knee? Do they call simple running plays? Do they give their second string quarterback some valuable experience throwing the ball?

High school football coaches in Connecticut had better think carefully starting in the fall.

The football committee for the state’s high school sports governing body, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, is adopting a new policy that will suspend coaches whose teams win by more than 50 points.

Here in Maine, football coaches and Maine Principals’ Association officials called the new rule excessive and said they don’t foresee coaches here facing similar sanctions any time soon.

Lewiston coach Bill County said the Connecticut rule doesn’t take into account what effort a coach has made to minimize the margin of victory. It also puts athletes at risk of injury.

“You can’t tell kids to ease up. That is a definite,” he said. “Kids get hurt. It’s a dangerous game. The best you can do is play your subs and call a very conservative game.”

Poland coach Rick Kramer said the rule shows a disconnect in Connecticut sports between coaches, athletic administrators and the rulemakers.

“If it comes down to instituting a rule like that, evidently the people in charge of sports aren’t taking care of what we’d call sportsmanship in the area of competition,” he said. “The coaches, the athletic directors and the state associations should all be on the same page.”

High schools in Maine have mercy rules for baseball and softball, but not football and other sports. MPA assistant executive director Larry LaBrie said the committees that govern each sport try to follow The National Federation of State High School Associations guidelines when it comes to mercy rules.

“They try to keep some consistency,” he said. “The Federation affords the opportunity for you to have mercy rules in some sports and not in others.”

He said the MPA football committee has not seriously considered implementing a mercy rule because there hasn’t been a rash of teams running up the score.

“The issue is one of pride and integrity,” LaBrie said. “When you get to lopsided scores, you use your other kids. Otherwise, what are they there for.”

Some states use a running game clock if a team has a 35-point lead in the second half. Kramer, who has coached in two states that used that policy, Illinois and Wisconsin, said it did help prevent teams from running up the score, but also took playing time away from reserves. The Connecticut committee rejected a similar proposal for that reason.

County and Kramer agreed that coaches in Maine do a good job of policing themselves. When scores start to get out of hand, most substitute their second and third string players and call conservative plays. Those who don’t may find themselves on the other end of an embarrassing blow-out the next time the opportunity arises.

“What goes around comes around,” Kramer said. “People don’t forget things like that. Whole conferences don’t forget things like that.”

Drubbings can have a devastating impact on players and entire programs, particularly new ones. Kramer’s young Poland team, which started in 2004, has been on both ends of the scoreboard.

“Here, you’ve got a lot of young, upstart teams that are trying to establish themselves in football,” Kramer said. “It’s probably the hardest skill set to teach in athletes is football. (When the scores are lopsided) it isn’t because kids don’t want to play well. It’s because their gun isn’t loaded.”

“Sometimes the worst part about it is that a coach can take it personally, because it does have a great effect on his team,” he added. “He doesn’t want to see his kids embarrassed.”

But coaches sometimes get mixed messages on what the opposition considers embarrassing.

“When I was at Leavitt, I took a knee and had coaches come up to me after a game and thank me for not embarrassing their kids, and then I had other coaches criticize me for taking a knee and embarrassing their kids,” County said. “You do what you think is right and you do the best you can.”

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