The idea started innocently enough.
At an Idaho High School Activities Association board meeting in April, 2A Western Idaho Conference President Mike Kramer submitted a proposal for a mercy rule limited to the 2A classification.
The plan mirrored rules in other states, with the clock running continuously when a team trailed by 40 or more points in the second half. No game would end before all four quarters were played, no matter the margin. But a board member quickly asked if the rule was such a good idea, why didn’t the state adopt it for all of its 11-man football classifications?
The IHSAA put the rule into effect this season, and an Idaho Statesman study shows the running clock has been used in 32 percent (43-of-135) of games involving 5A, 4A, 3A and 2A teams in the Treasure Valley entering the final week of the regular season.
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Ty Jones, executive director of the IHSAA, said the number is higher than he expected.
“But I guess you can look at that one of two ways,” he said. “You can look at it as it has been an issue because of the high percentage and we needed to have one. Or, the scores are just a little bit up.”
36 States with some form of a mercy rule for 11-man football, according to Forbes.
Coaches throughout the Treasure Valley have mixed feelings on the new rule. A survey shows 53 percent (16-of-30) do not want the rule to return next season. One coach did not respond.
A closer look shows clear divisions. Seven-of-10 coaches with a winning percentage above .700 want to get rid of the rule, while 6-of-8 coaches under .300 want to keep it.
The divisions also show in classifications. Eight-of-12 5A SIC coaches don’t like the running clock, while 10-of-18 in the 4A, 3A and 2A classifications see its merits.
40Points a team must lead by in the second half to invoke the mercy rule in Idaho. The game will not end, but the clock will run continuously with the exception of timeouts, the end of periods and scoring plays.
For powerhouse programs, shortened games keep them from rewarding backups with playing time on Friday nights. Capital coach Todd Simis, whose team has blown out four opponents, said his team is only averaging three possessions in the second half with the running clock.
“What concerns me is, in our program, we have anywhere from 190 to 200 kids depending on the year,” Rocky Mountain coach Scott Criner said. “With the running clock, it hurts our third- and fourth-string kids from being able to participate. Football is hard, and the reward is getting to play, not just participate.”
It is difficult to rotate all of your backups and get them quality time. I feel like they work hard in practice and deserve a chance to compete as well. It becomes an issue when parents want to know why their son isn’t getting very many reps.”
Judd Benedick, Mountain View coach
For struggling teams, it is a safety issue. Caldwell coach Zach McGee knows injuries are part luck. But he attributes his team’s health this year to opposing coaches entering subs once the running clock kicks in, which he said comes earlier than when they called off the dogs in the past.
“In the five games without the mercy rule, our team played an average of 153 (offensive and defensive) snaps,” McGee said. “In our three mercy-rule games, we played an average of 144 snaps. I don’t see that nine-snap differential as a lack of time to develop players. I do see health and sportsmanship benefits of the mercy rule.”
If a team is severely overmatched, it puts both teams in a very difficult situation to keep players safe and the score respectable. It isn’t easy to be on either end of this situation.”
Rich Davis, Columbia coach
The IHSAA instituted a mercy rule in 1991 that mandated the game ends once a team leads by 32 or more points in the fourth quarter. Idaho abandoned it after one season.
Jones hasn’t heard widespread complaints about the new rule. But he said the IHSAA is open to any tweaks — for example, raising the number of points needed to start the running clock or waiting until the fourth quarter — submitted during a state football meeting Nov. 14 in Boise.
“We’ll talk about it and see where it goes,” Jones said. “I think it’s around to stay. It might get tweaked, but I don’t see us getting rid of it.”