Lost in the hullabaloo of the South Carolina High School League moving to five classifications and not acting on concerns of inequity with private schools Tuesday was the abolition of the eight-quarter rule.
The SCHSL’s Executive Committee voted unanimously 15-0 to get rid of the rule, which allowed football players to play a maximum eight quarters of sub-varsity and varsity football in a week. Rock Hill principal Ozzie Ahl, a member of the committee, said the reasoning behind the decision was clear.
“It’s been a recommendation from the medical aspects committee and also the National Federation,” Ahl said on Wednesday morning. “It’s a safety issue. It’s putting kids in too much contact in a week.”
North Carolina recently changed its rule to allow JV players (ninth and 10th grade) to play eight quarters of varsity football per season, and only in emergency cases, while Ahl said Maryland, Texas and Alabama have done away with the rule altogether in recent years. But Lewisville football coach Will Mitchell thinks the removal of the rule in South Carolina will ultimately push kids away from playing football.
“It’s devastating and it hurts the sport of football all total,” he said on Wednesday while sorting track and field laundry. “We’re getting knee-jerk reactions from governing bodies over what they consider to be the safety of the game.”
Ahl said he could sympathize with coaches, but that he was looking at the issue from an administrative standpoint. The National Federation of State High School Associations task force on football safety determined last year that “players that practice and/or compete on multiple levels (such as varsity and sub-varsity)” were among the multiple contributing factors increasing exposure to head impacts. Canning the eight-quarter rule certainly helps to that end.
“At the end of the day, the kid is most important and it’s gonna limit exposure to contact and the risk of concussion and major injuries,” said Ahl.
The eight-quarter rule was originally intended to help smaller schools like Lewisville, with an enrollment of around 375 students, field JV teams. The removal of it will almost certainly strip those same schools of their JV programs.
Great Falls coach Kenneth Schofield said he’s considering the possibility of either putting all football players - ninth through 12th grade - on varsity, or playing some of his ninth graders down with the middle school team. Some of the tiniest 1A schools, Whitmire for example, already do that.
“Now you’ll have a whole bunch of schools doing that,” said Mitchell.
Even if Lewisville, currently blessed demographically with bigger-than-usual freshman and sophomore classes of football players, can field a JV team, few if any opposing schools will be able to play. If Lewisville fields a JV team and plays larger schools and goes 0-6, what did it gain from the experience?
“None of that’s gonna encourage kids to play football,” Mitchell said.
Because of depth concerns, Mitchell will have to dress borderline kids with the varsity team even if it means they don’t see any game action. The days of that kid playing JV on Thursday night and then dressing just in case for Friday’s game are over, starting this fall.
“It’s gonna be four quarters in a week,” said Ahl, who wasn’t sure which day would be set as the official start of the week or exactly how the rule would be implemented, but expected those details to be sorted out over the summer.
Mitchell felt the abolition of the rule was more evidence of big school bias at the SCHSL. The Executive Committee includes Denmark-Olar principal Mickey Pringle and Blackville-Hilda Schools superintendent Teresa Ross, but no other members of the 18-person committee are directly associated with the smallest high schools in the state. There are two members associated with 2A schools, but the rest are connected to 3A and 4A institutions, if any school at all.
Mitchell understands the concern for safety; Lewisville just bought 40 new helmets to that end, no small outlay for such a small school. And Schofield, whose school has about 220 students, said that any time the word concussion is mentioned, he’s usually a supporter even if it makes for logistical headaches.
“I don’t want any kid injured,” he said.
“But we’ve had to work very hard to keep up with what’s going on. If you have a big school, it makes sense. If you have a smaller school you’re in trouble.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T