Kobritz: High school football coach’s suspension unnecessary
BEYOND THE LINES
The word sportsmanship is synonymous with playing games fairly and treating opponents with respect. Among the unwritten rules is not running up the score on a defenseless or already beaten opponent.
Three years ago, in response to complaints from parents and coaches on the short end of lopsided scores, Nassau County, N.Y. took the highly unusual step of enacting a rule designed to curb blowouts. Any high school football coach whose team wins a game by more than 42 points is required to explain themselves before a six-person committee. An unsatisfactory explanation results in an automatic one-game suspension.
Plainedge High School coach Rob Shaver was the first coach punished under the rule when he was suspended earlier this month following a 61-13 victory over rival South Side High School. Shaver kept his best players in the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter, despite being up by 35 points. Shaver, who has coached Plainedge for more than two decades, argued the intent of the rule was to promote sportsmanship and prevent running up the score on lesser opponents, which he had not done.
South Side coach Phil Onesto agreed. He said he had no issues with either the score or how Shaver ran the game. Both teams went into the game unbeaten and it wasn’t until Plainedge scored the final touchdown that the team was in violation of the rule.
Nassau County’s policy may be unique in the country. The National Federation of State High School Associations includes two options in its rulebook to avoid piling on when the point differential reaches a specific number. One is a running clock and the second is simply stopping play, referred to as a “mercy rule.” Connecticut had a policy similar to Nassau County’s for more than a decade before switching to a running clock several years ago.
Plainedge superintendent Dr.Edward A. Salina Jr. called the committee a “kangaroo court.” He suggested the rule undermined the integrity of the sport by encouraging children not to play “too well” at the risk of being benched. He asked in a published letter, “Where’s the life lessons” in such an approach to sports? Despite the obvious outrage, Plainedge elected not to appeal the committee’s decision for fear a delayed suspension would prevent Shaver from coaching in the playoffs.
Some parents and teachers fear blowouts discourage children from playing sports. But Mitch Abrams, president of Learned Excellence for Athletes and a sports psychologist, said, “…we underestimate people’s resilience, especially athletes. Might there be people who are really demoralized or upset about this? Yeah. Do I think it’s going to be a lasting scar on their psyche? Unlikely. In fact, if anything, it’s more likely to create bulletin board material (and)…could very well be a motivator.”
Playing sports teaches children valuable lessons about teamwork, commitment and leadership; lessons that can be learned in games and practices. The difference is practice focuses on “participation.” In games, we keep score and determine winners and losers, from which children learn additional lessons. Nassau County’s rule effectively limits school sports to practices.
Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.