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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
If only high-school sports were as black and white as the vertically striped shirts of those who officiate the games. No in-betweens; just clean lines separating right from wrong. Then tough issues would be solved in a snap.
Instead, most solutions print only in gray scale.
Take something like the Ohio High School Athletic Association's decision last week to institute a running clock during the second half of football games in which the score differential reaches 30 points or more. The clock will run without stoppage except during injuries, charged timeouts and after a change of possession or score. It will revert to normal timing if the margin drops below 30.
The initiative, which takes effect this fall, was adopted in part because of several blowouts last season, including Ready's 98-20 victory over Washington Court House. More than 30 states have some sort of similar clock-management rule.
OHSAA commissioner Dan Ross confirmed yesterday that schools involved in lopsided losses voiced concerns. Was this decision another case of what many see as the softening of society? Or was it, as OHSAA assistant commissioner Beau Rugg phrased it, "Just the right thing to do"?
The OHSAA's news release stated that the proposal was created "first and foremost" out of concern for player safety, but Rugg acknowledged that fears of increased player injury during blowouts are based more on anecdotal evidence than data.
Rugg, who is in charge of football, clarified his original comments, explaining that "I define safety broadly; I consider embarrassment (and sportsmanship) within the safety realm."
The OHSAA decision separates into two camps: those who consider a running clock to be an overreaction to a handful of overblown incidents and those who think fairness should be reflected in football scores.
The first camp frames the fairness issue thusly: Weaker teams need to improve. The other side pegs those in the first group as lacking forward thinking.
I would caution against any rush to judgment by those who fancy themselves experts in sensitivity training. A case can be made that a running clock does more emotional damage to an overmatched team -- is it not further evidence of a team's ineptitude? -- than the "bullies" scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter.
On the other hand, even those against a running clock must admit it is better -- as in, less embarrassing to the overmatched opponent -- to shorten the game than to kneel on every snap or punt on first down.
The new rule removes at least one coaching decision from the equation. Previously, a running clock was available only by mutual agreement of both coaches, which created some sticky situations, Ross said.
"It would be 48-0 at halftime and the losing coach would ask the other coach, 'Would you agree to shorten the game?' And the other coach would say, 'No, I have 80 kids on my roster and I want them to play,' " Ross said.
Even that scenario, however, is more gray than black and white. Should a nonstarter's time on the field be shortened by a running clock?
"No question that in Ohio, being on the field under lights is a big deal," Hartley coach Brad Burchfield said.
Coaches are mixed on the matter. The OHSAA consulted with the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association before making the change, but some coaches believe the decision was rushed.
"I am all for sportsmanship," Burchfield said, "but it's a little bit of a sad day when sportsmanship and integrity are forced upon you."
South coach Keith Dimmy stands firmly in the gray area.
"They're trying to make it safe as possible and keep sportsmanship intact," Dimmy said. "It's tough if you're being physically dominated, but as a competitor, you want to compete until the end."
That end, for better or worse, is about to arrive sooner than later.
Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.