Speaking of time and things that take a physical and mental toll, I’m intrigued by this discussion of the new running clock rule that will govern routs in high school football. (Apparently it was in last year’s Maine Principals’ Association bulletin, yet nobody seemed to notice.) Anyway, the short version is that in the second half of any game when the disparity on the scoreboard is 35 points or more, the clock will continue to run unless there is a touchdown or an injury.

I can’t say I’m torn about this, even though as a sunburned or windwhipped journalist, yes, there were dozens of games in the first quarter-century of my career that I secretly wished would be put out of their misery. But have you ever heard the expression, “You can’t legislate morality?” That’s how I feel about sportsmanship. Taking it out of the combatants’ hands and applying a black-and-white requirement is counterintuitive to the lessons the game is purported to teach.

I’ve observed games in which a running clock was employed by mutual agreement, and that system worked fine. Sanity and decency prevailed. And draconian rules fail to differentiate between the classes. For example, a Class D team such as Telstar that was decimated by injury at the end of last season probably didn’t need to play a full 48 minutes against Oak Hill or Dirigo. I get that. But two years ago I covered a Class A contest in which Portland pounded Oxford Hills, 68-0. That game was allowed to go the distance, by the book and by the clock, and the experience the Vikings’ younger players gained was surely a factor in the same matchup being a 14-7 thriller that went down to the final minute a year later.

Maybe there are states in the union where the football coaches channel Jon Voight’s bitter knucklehead Bud Kilmer from “Varsity Blues.” Here in Maine, however, we have a fraternity that gets it. Putting a hard-and-fast rout rule in place handcuffs them from managing the game in a manner that benefits their programs over the long term. Let the coaches decide, dagnabbit! And please don’t tell me you’re going to assume the bleeding-heart stance on this issue.

Pelletier: You know, until you made it sound awful, I was going to at least partially pander to the everybody-gets-a-trophy crowd. Because, as you know, I tend to straddle the center line of most issues.

I understand what you are saying. I like to believe that there is common sense stuffed between most coaches’ ears in our great state. But for every two or three dozen solid, upstanding coaching citizens, there is one who just doesn’t get it. Or one who holds a grudge from another perceived slight. Or one who has Carsten Norgaard as Wolf Stansson (look that one up, Mr. Movie Reference) tendencies.

This isn’t about legislating morality so much as it is about not wasting everyone’s time. I don’t really buy your argument that a team learns anything from scrimmaging another team’s third string with a stopped clock, any more than they’d learn with fewer plays at the tail end of a 63-0 debacle.

And then there is the injury factor. If one team is so darned dominant, there is the likelihood that they are bigger. We know they’re better and have more skill. And you put an inferior team against that, the potential for injury increases. Yes, you can get hurt while crossing the street. But it is less likely you’ll get hurt crossing the street if you look both ways and proceed with caution.

The running clock is a measure akin to proceeding with caution. The players still get their reps, just fewer of them. The fans get less agitated, stay warmer if we’re later in the season, and we journos get to make deadline much, much more easily.

No more age jokes from me this year, either, by the way. I’m now too distracted by your driving after our preseason zig-zag down the back roads. Any final words on our topic du semaine?

Oakes: Oui. I will cite what I suspect is probably our common ground: That such rules are a band-aid solution to the real problem, which is that no amount of realignment has addressed the real reason for gross disparity in high school football. It’s that the state continues to pair teams based exclusively on enrollment with no emphasis on tradition. The latter is a factor in all sports, but never more than when physical strength and (Liam Neeson voice) a very particular set of skills are involved. Namely football, hockey and lacrosse. Somebody needs to find a way so that the have-nots aren’t playing three-quarters of their season against the haves. It’s a waste of everybody’s time, running or otherwise.


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