Garner Cleveland: Sports

Football mercy rule discussed at winter NCHSAA board of directors meeting

There will likely be a mercy rule in North Carolina high school football next year, but the N.C. High School Athletic Association board of directors will seek input from the football coaches association before deciding what that will look like.

Currently, coaches can agree to end a game early, or use a running clock or have no changes if a game gets out of hand in the second half.

The recommendation in Thursday’s meeting was that whenever the score reaches a point differential of 42 or more by halftime, at any point in the second half the game would resort to a running clock or be terminated by mutual agreement. It was tabled for the spring board of directors meeting. NCHSAA commissioner Davis Whitfield said the coaches who have expressed the most concern are those on the winning end of blowout games.

“In many senses, the winning team was looked at negatively because they felt like they were continuing to run the score up when in actuality it was the other team that didn’t want to do that,” Whitfield said. “We had heard from a few (coaches) but not enough to where the board felt comfortable (establishing a policy).”

Seeded playoffs expand: The board unanimously approved seeded playoffs for all 64-team playoff brackets – which applies to baseball, softball and volleyball – for the next athletic season.

The move does not apply to those brackets with fewer than 64 teams, such as dual-team wrestling and tennis.

Input is needed from volleyball coaches on establishing a maximum number of matches for a season that can be used for seeding. Currently, volleyball teams have no limit as to how many matches they can schedule.

Basketball is entering its third year of seeded playoffs, while soccer is in its first. Football uses seeded playoffs but subdivides them into 32-team brackets.

Lacrosse playoffs: As expected, the boys’ lacrosse championships will be broken into two state championships this spring – one for 4A and the other for 3A/2A/1A.

Although not official, the 4A bracket could consist of 40 teams statewide; 24 teams will make the 3A/2A/1A bracket.

Reporting ejections: The board hoped to avoid a repeat of what unfolded this fall when Southern Vance defeated South Columbus in the football playoffs with a player who was ejected the week prior. Southern Vance was not forced to forfeit the game as the school had not been notified by officials that the player was ejected (a player can be “disqualified” and play its next contest, while someone who was “ejected” cannot).

The process now requires officials to notify their respective regional supervisor of an ejection or disqualification. Also, officials will receive an email confirmation that their report was submitted, to avoid missteps where an official submits a report but it isn’t received by the school or regional supervisor before the next contest.

Penalties raised: The NCHSAA beefed up the penalties for late payment of membership fees and non-attendance of its rules clinic.

Schools that do not pay membership fees, due Nov. 1, or catastrophic insurance premium, due Oct. 1, will be ineligible for the playoffs in all sports in addition to the existing $100 fine.

“It became a situation where ‘Why are we doing that in December or January when those are due in October and November,’ ” Whitfield said.

The existing $400 fine for coaches who do not attend the rules clinic will be backed up by the coaches being ineligible for any game until they satisfy the requirement. If he or she coaches a game before doing so, the fine is now $500.

All coaches must take the National Federation of High Schools “Fundamentals of Coaching” certification, and all new coaches must take it within 60 days of being hired and coaching a contest or face a $500 fine.

All-star requirement dropped: Now that the NCAA has dropped its rule limiting high school seniors to two all-star game appearances in football or basketball, the NCHSAA has dropped its. The rule only applied to seniors who had exhausted their NCHSAA eligibility, and there was no need to keep the rule that only served to help save players their NCAA eligibility.

Concussion training for coaches: All NCHSAA coaches are required to take the NFHS “Concussion in Sports – What You Need To Know” course.

Ejections: There were 303 ejections in the 2013 fall season statewide, down from 344 a year ago. Fighting ejections dropped from 157 to 101. The only significant increase was the number of ejections for disrespectfully addressing an official, jumping from 37 to 47.

Other discussion: The board expressed its concern over PowerSchool, a software system used to track a student’s absences and grades this year in North Carolina, showing inaccurate totals. There was also concern that the 3A outdoor track and field championships fall on May 17, the same date as the International Baccalaureate exam.

The NCHSAA brought up the eight-quarter rule in football, which says that no more than 12 junior varsity players – freshmen and sophomores only – can be brought up to the varsity and play eight quarters in one week. The rule was meant for emergency situations where there was injury, particularly at the smaller schools. The rule was in the headlines this year after an otherwise undefeated Northern Guilford forfeited two games for bringing up too many players and also for incorrectly applying it to a junior.

The NCHSAA will make the eight-quarter rule a point of emphasis this summer at the coaches’ clinic to help avoid future pitfalls.

The board is asking the sports medicine advisory committee to provide any recommendation, if needed, to amend the NCHSAA’s current policy on transgender athletes. The NCHSAA abides by N.C. law, which defaults to the gender on the birth certificate but allows for a change to the birth certificate if individuals have completed a sex reassignment surgery.

“I felt like it was at least important for us to start the discussion,” Whitfield said, adding that the NCHSAA wants to be proactive even though the subject has not surfaced.