Monday, May 23, 2011

State institutes new football mercy rule, but is it a risk?

In January 1993, the Buffalo Bills completed the largest comeback in NFL history, with Buffalo recovering from a 32-point deficit to win a Wild Card round AFC playoff game in overtime. "The comeback" remains one of the more memorable games in NFL playoff history, yet if the game had taken place in California high school competition come fall 2011 and the Oilers had increased that lead by one more field goal entering the fourth quarter, the Bills might never have had enough time to pull of that memorable rally.

Sherman Oaks Notre Dame football

In early May, the California Interscholastic Federation's Federated Council passed a new rule that stipulates that any lead of 35 or more points in the fourth quarter will generate a running clock. A running clock can also be started earlier in the game with the consent of both coaches.

The decision is certainly a positive initiative in terms of attempting to limit the blowouts that can spread like wildfire once league play sets in and underwhelming squads find themselves swamped by the state's most powerful programs, including Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame High, pictured above. Still, the 35-point threshold does make one wonder if there might be at least one miraculous upset bid cut short by a lack of time to rally.

Perhaps the lynchpin of the concerns some have about the rule is that the running clock will not adjust, regardless of how close the trailing team comes. That could become controversial in some situations. Just consider this hypothetical possibility:

?�Team A, which has controlled a game but not necessarily dominated it, intercepts a pass and returns it for a touchdown to take a 35-0 lead with seconds remaining in the third quarter. Time then runs out as Team B drives the ball down the field, ending the third quarter in Team A's red zone.

?�Team B then scores a touchdown on the first two plays of the fourth quarter, forces Team A into a 3-and-out, quickly scores another touchdown on the subsequent drive and responds with another touchdown on an interception return on the following possession.

That scenario would leave a game with a 35-21 score, but with a running clock that would limit the trailing team's ability to continue to rally, limiting what can only be described as one of the more exciting scenarios in sports.

Naturally, that doesn't mean that the new rule is a bad one. To the contrary, it almost certainly will help avoid a number of eyesore scores in the fall. Yet, if the CIF had exhibited a little more foresight to make the mercy rule a bit more flexible, it seems likely that coaches and fans could both feel a bit more comfortable about it.

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