Friday, May 26, 2006

Rule Tackles Blowouts In High School Football

Expect New London High School football coach Jack Cochran to operate next season as he always has, and if that means his team wins by 50 points or more, so be it. And expect Cochran to be suspended for doing so.

In what some are referring to as the "Cochran rule," the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference football committee passed a score management policy to be instituted next season. The rule says if a team wins by 50 or more points, the coach is suspended for the next game.

Although many have accused Cochran of running up scores, he doesn't see it that way. And he doesn't like this rule. On that point, he has company.

"It won't change anything with how I prepare for a game," Cochran said. "Where it's going to run into problems is when you've got your second team in or you've got your freshmen in; what do you tell them? One coach is saying he's just going to have his guys take a knee. I would never do that. I would never tell a kid to run out of bounds instead of scoring.

"I will probably have to take a suspension next year. If it comes down to letting a freshman or a [junior varsity] player score at the varsity level or me being suspended, I'm not going to stop that kid from doing that. I cherish the sport too much and believe in it too much to tell some kid he can't play the game the right way."

The rule, passed in April, says if a team wins by 50 points or more it will be called an unsportsmanlike act. Under the CIAC's disqualification rule, the coach will be suspended for the next game. The football committee is made up of coaches and school administrators, all formerly involved in coaching."

Our football committee has been discussing this topic for two or three years and they've been studying policies," said CIAC Assistant Executive Director Tony Mosa. "It certainly didn't just come about after last year. We certainly have been having a lot of criticism regarding what appeared to be a high number of high scores."

Mosa said 12 games last season had a differential of more than 55 points."

That's really not an exorbitant number, but 12 is too many," Mosa said.

Of the 659 games reported to the CIAC last year, there were 27 in which teams won by at least 50 points. Cochran's New London team won four games by 55 or more, including a 90-0 victory over Griswold."

The CIAC is sending the wrong message," Cochran said. "It's protectionism of those that can't compete. Do you tell people at work that everyone has to make the same amount of money and they can't succeed? This is about teaching kids to work hard and that success will come. For a lot of guys out there, when they get beat handily it makes them stronger and they go back and work harder."

Some states use a system that calls for a running clock when a team has reached a certain advantage. Although Connecticut has no rule that allows a running clock, many coaches employ the practice in blowouts."

I had a season where I had seven games where the clock was run in the second half. It works," Cochran said. "The problem with that is sometimes opponents won't do it. The Griswold coach [Glenn LaBossiere] wouldn't do it with me last year. But I've very rarely had a coach that didn't want to do that."

Mosa said the running clock system was something the football committee saw as prohibitive to giving second- and third-string players the chance to play.

"You do that and the game is over before anybody can even get in," Mosa said.

The rule applies only to the final score. A team could be leading 55-0 and back off defensively so that its opponent could score a touchdown that prevents a coach's suspension.

Tim Panteleakos, coach of the Tourtellotte (Thompson)/Ellis Tech (Danielson) co-op team, sees putting in a rule to thwart running up the score as a double-edged sword.

Panteleakos, who has coached the co-op team since its inception in 2000, was charged last season with breach of peace after having words with Cochran as they were leaving the field at halftime of a game in New London. Panteleakos said he was angered when Cochran used a timeout late in the half so his team could score more points. New London won, 60-0.

"I think it's a very progressive rule," Panteleakos said. "You really have to adhere to scoring management. It's not something that when you come in as a young coach that you're really aware of because you just want your kids to succeed."

But Panteleakos sees problems with the rule, too.

"We had a small school like Putnam on our schedule last year, and they're experiencing some problems with numbers and that sort of thing," Panteleakos said. "Putnam didn't have enough kids to go to a second string. So now you've got a few kids on that field from Putnam that are getting their butts whipped week in and week out and they're angry young men. Now me, as the head coach on the other side, I'm reluctant to put some of my second and third string in against a kid on the other side who is going to take the head off of any kid he sees. So I have to leave my first string in there, and they're going to keep playing the game."

Asked whether he thought the CIAC was instituting the rule because of the actions of one coach, Panteleakos said, "I think at the moment they are."

Mosa denied that, saying the rule was "not directed at one particular school or individual."

Cochran took umbrage with Hyde-New Haven coach John Acquavita referring to the rule in a published report as the "Jack Rule."

"He's pointing blame, and I don't think that's fair of him," Cochran said. "He's got a lot of lopsided scores. They're a hell of a football program. But it's easy to blame someone else when you don't like something new."

Northwest Catholic-West Hartford coach Mike Tyler said he was surprised by the decision to implement the rule and says many coaches have the same feeling.

"I'm still trying to absorb the whole thing," Tyler said. "When I was told about it, I just thought there wasn't much discussion about this."

Like many in the state, Tyler sees the rule as leading to troublesome situations.

"Regarding telling kids to just fall on balls and don't pick it up, you've got kids that are in there that don't get to get in often, and it's their chance to shine a little bit," Tyler said. "How do you tell that kid not to pick it up and run? I don't know if I could tell a kid that, but if I was going to get suspended in the next game it would be different."

Cochran sees the rule as another hindrance in helping kids in the state to move on with their football careers at higher levels.

"You look at all the other states, we're one of the weakest when it comes to football," Cochran said. "It's simply because of the restrictions put on us for coaching time. Until that changes, it's a disservice to every kid that plays football in this state. At the end of the day, they're competing against kids from Pennsylvania and New Jersey and Florida to move on and it's not a level playing field. This is just another restriction that's going to hinder football in this state."

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