Suspension for high school football coach who ran up the score?

Plainedge (New York) High School football coach Rob Shaver and his team picked up a big win last week against South Side High School. But according to a county rule, their 61-13 victory was a little too big.

Shaver has been suspended and will miss Saturday's game against Lynbrook because the margin of victory against South Side exceeded the Nassau County limit of 42 points.

The rule states that the coach must explain to a committee how he made adjustments to avoid increasing the score. That committee determined Shaver should have pulled his starters entering the final quarter. Shaver later told Newsday he kept his starters in the game out of concern for a comeback. He is the first coach to be suspended for violating the rule, instituted three years ago by Nassau County Section 8.

The suspension has prompted debate about the 42-point rule, the act of running up the score and the psychological effect blowouts have on players from the losing team.

Mitch Abrams, president of Learned Excellence for Athletes and a sports psychologist, says when people hear about Shaver being suspended one game for running up the score, they “equate this to a bullying situation.”

“It’s a stronger person beating up on a weaker person, even though they were evenly matched coming in,” Abrams said. “They were both undefeated and no one foresaw this blowout.

“The provocative part is that we underestimate people’s resilience, especially athletes. Might there be people who are really demoralized or upset about this? Yeah. Do I think it’s going to be a lasting scar on their psyche? Unlikely. In fact, if anything, it’s more likely to create bulletin board material for next year. It could very well be a motivator.”

Tyler Bradstreet, director of clinical and sport psychology for Texas Tech athletics, said there is a connection between bullying and poor sportsmanship, but he would “call this a sportsmanship issue.”

“Sportsmanship is a matter of ethics, and it depends on how you define fairness, respect and a sense of fellowship with your competitors.”

Dr. Robert Zayas, executive director of the New York Public High School Athletic Association, said his state has 11 sections, and he is not aware of any section other than Nassau County that has the 42-point limitation.

“We are a membership-led organization of almost 800 schools and our membership hasn’t expressed any interest in creating any kind of rule to address that issue,” Zayas said.

Plainedge superintendent Ed Saline posted a letter to the community online: “It is my opinion that Coach Shaver was 'done wrong' by this group of self-professed experts on sportsmanship. Who said they are experts on sportsmanship? Who appointed these people to run this kangaroo court, being the judge, jury, and executioners?”

He added: "What are you teaching children by saying play fairly, but now you are playing too well, don’t play anymore for the rest of the game. Where’s the life lessons?”

Bruce Howard, director of communication for the National Federation of State High School Associations, said he has not heard of any similar rule.

“The rule in our football rulebooks gives the state association the option of implementing a running clock once the score reached a certain point, usually in the second half,” Howard said. He said the running clock comes into play at “35, 40 or 45 points.” He added that some states have mercy rules that end games once a lead reaches a certain point.

The argument for the running clock over a mercy rule is that no one wants to discourage non-starters from playing their best if starters are pulled, and sometimes, substitutes can increase the lead.

“We are talking about high school sports here,” Abrams said. “It’s not like the BCS, where you get more points in your rankings by how bad you blew people out. I think it’s probably a little overblown about serious psychological impact it will have on people. Athletes need to be resilient. But we need to be mindful this is high school, not college, not pro ... and we know high school should be more reasonable about, ‘What are the lessons we want to teach.’ ”

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