N.C. High School Athletic Association rules may seem harsh at times.
In the 1970s, North Duplin - one of the best 1-A football teams ever in the state - was forced to forfeit several regular-season games because a reserve lineman lived outside the district. The ruling seemed harsh to some.
In the 1990s, when Broughton was denied a football playoff spot after it was discovered one of its players had an altered transcript, the ruling seemed harsh.
And to some, it probably seems harsh that Southern Pines Pinecrest and Cameron Union Pines won't be eligible to advance to the football playoffs because of an on-field altercation during their game on Aug. 27.
Both teams had multiple players ejected for fighting during Pinecrest's 69-14 victory. Players left the bench area and headed toward the fight, which is deemed participating in a fight by NCHSAA rules.
Any team that has three or more players ejected for fighting during a season cannot participate in the playoffs. The rulebook says so.
Moore County superintendent Susan Purser said the system accepts the consequences of the occurrence.
"Our first responsibility is to our community and ourselves," she said in a statement released by the system. "Therefore, discussions were begun immediately following Friday evening's game and plans implemented starting last Monday to address good sportsmanship, respect for all competitors on the field, court and sidelines, and the qualities of good character we want to instill in our students and expect from our adults."
The schools are working to make this a teachable moment, a time when actions and words are seared into the hearts of the players. By doing so, the schools are showing the entire state that they take sportsmanship seriously.
"The schools have accepted full responsibility," said David Whitfield, the NCHSAA commissioner. "The schools have done everything they could in the aftermath of the problem. The rule is clear cut. The schools are accepting the consequences and are taking a positive approach."
The rule has worked exactly as it was intended.
Banning teams with six ejections during a season, or three in a season for fighting, was passionately discussed by the NCHSAA Board of Directors before it was passed about 10 years ago.
What happens, wondered one athletic director at the time, if one team picks a fight with another? What if one team is headed for the playoffs and the other one isn't? Do we really want to keep teams from the playoffs for one incident? What are we really trying to accomplish?
The association wanted to establish that sportsmanship is a value to be cherished. No one wanted to enact a rule that might unfairly keep teams out of the playoffs, but the board wanted to make sportsmanship a core value.
The policy has worked. Only one other team, and no football team, had been barred from the playoffs because of fighting since the rule was adopted. That means that in more than 10 years there had only been one reported fight between two NCHSAA teams in any sport.
There are serious consequences for fighting.
The rule is clear.
And if the rule is not going to be followed, tear it from the handbook. Some may think it's harsh, but that's the rule.
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