By Gregg Sarra
Nassau County is eliminating its controversial sportsmanship rule designed to prevent teams from running up the score in high school football games and will instead implement a running clock when a team leads by 35 or more points, according to Matt McLees, the county's football coordinator.
The new policy, which will go into effect immediately, was approved unanimously by a 19-member Nassau County football committee late Tuesday. When a team leads by 35 or more, a running clock will be implemented and it will only stop for a score, a time out or an injury on the field. If the losing team cuts the deficit to 14, the game will go back to a regular play clock.
"The new rule still must be approved by the Nassau Athletic Council, which in this case is a formality," said Pat Pizzarelli, the executive director of Section VIII, which governs Nassau County scholastic sports.
"We did a study and the research found that in the history of Long Island football, no team has ever come back from a 35-point deficit in Nassau or Suffolk," McLees said. "Our coaches are very comfortable with the new 35-point rule and voted unanimously to implement it for 2022."
The "lopsided scores policy" mandated that the coach of a team that wins by more than 42 points must submit in writing the lengths to which he went to avoid running up the score.
In 2019, Plainedge coach Rob Shaver was the first coach suspended for one game under the policy after his team beat South Side, 61-13.
Following Shaver's suspension, the rule was changed to allow a coach three violations of the rule before a suspension was possible. This past season the Garden City coach David Ettinger received a written warning after his team's fourth violation. Ettinger elected to sit out the next game in a self-imposed ban.
"The intent of the rule was very good, but it didn’t play out the way we wanted it to," McLees said. "We created something that made a coach guilty until proven innocent. And that’s not how our country works. You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. We had to fix it. We had coaches coaching games not to score, players purposely falling down on running plays and it was making a mockery of those games."
The Nassau High School Athletic Association [athletic directors] also approved the amended rule by a 52-1 vote.
"I always liked the sportsmanship rule that was in place," Pizzarelli said, "and I truly believe that it was effective and kept things under control. The football committee meets every year, and they address issues within the sport. And they have every right to recommend a change. I like the new rule. I think it’ll work and eliminate any of the controversy that came with the previous rule in trying to determine intent in blowout games – that was always the issue."