The last time I wrote about the topic of high school football routs (I think) was here. In that post from 2013, I discussed a “vengeful father who watched his son’s hapless football team get the just desserts of all hapless teams—losing badly” who filed a formal complaint accusing the winning team of “bullying.” The Aledo High School (Fort Worth, Texas) should have “laid up, he claimed, and not doing so was poor sportsmanship.”
This guy apparently moved to Long Island, and bullied legislators there into adopting his concept of sportsmanship. Nassau County has a policy designed to prevent lopsided results in high school football games, decreeing that if a team wins a game by more than 42 points, the winning coach must explain to a special committee why such an outsize margin could not be avoided. If the coach is not sufficiently convincing, woe be unto him.
So when the Plainedge Red Devils made a fourth-quarter touchdown against the previously unbeaten South Side Cyclones, making the final score 61-13, a 48 point margin, Plainedge coach Robert Shaver was called on the metaphorical carpet. His explanation wasn’t good enough, apparently, so he was given a one-game suspension.
Matt McLees, the county’s de facto commissioner of high school football, said he was directed by county school superintendents when he came into the job three years ago to come up with some way of limiting the number of lopsided scores. In 2014, he said, there were 26 games where the margin of victory was 40 points or more. In 2015, there were 23, and in 2016, there were 18.
“The differentials in the scores were excessive,” Mr. McLees said. With games ending with scores like 50-6 or 66-3, he added, school officials “felt that took away from the experience of young men playing football.”
The new policy was adopted with input from coaches, athletic directors and other administrators, he said. Since it was put in place, the number of blowouts has dropped sharply: There were five in 2017, one last year and four this year.
Well, hell, why not just ban scores altogether, and award victories by a flip of the coin?
Shaver told his high school football Star Chamber that he had not intentionally run up the score on an obviously inferior team (that was previously unbeaten, after all) and had not pulled his starters when the fourth quarter began because he feared that South Side might stage a comeback.
Jim Amen, a member of the panel in his capacity as leader of the county’s sportsmanship committee disagreed, saying, “I’m not sure that a comeback was going to happen.” He’s not sure a comeback was going to happen? Is that really the standard? The team ahead in the game has to be certain that a comeback is imminent, or else it has to stop trying to win?
It seems that Shaver had been carefully observing the (stupid) rule in the previous three games he had coached: the powerhouse Red Devils had won all three by exactly 42 points. If communities want an anti-slaughter rule, then they should require games to end when a deficit reaches a certain level, or as some rules have it, keep the clock running so the rout ends quickly. Never should players be told that their job is to “lay back” and not try to do their best. In addition to being an unethical way to play any game, doing that in football is dangerous. Furthermore, no team should ever be embarrassed by the spectacle of the other team treating them with condescension and pity. As I wrote in 2013,
“I suppose [the coach] could have asked his team to draft their grade school sisters and brothers from the stands to take their places, or maybe their grandparents, walkers and all, but presumably this would have made the [losing team’s players] feel humiliated too. So would making the [winning] team play on their knees, with their shoelaces tied together, with their hands tied behind their backs, or tethered to cannon balls or old Buicks….”
“…The complaint …comes from a culture that is increasingly trying to legislate against failure, though it is only by losing that we learn how to win, and by failing that we find the way to success. [It] is also the product of too much deference accorded to aggrieved hysterics who must find blame and seek scapegoats for unfortunate incidents that have very different causes…That squishing we hear is our national character, and the cracking we hear are our rights.