When the CIAC football committee overreacted to the manifestations of coach/oppressor Jack Cochran prior to the 2006 season by implementing its score management policy, Connecticut scholastic football became a laughingstock from sea to shining sea.
The 50-point rule, or Cochran rule as most have labeled it, was trashed by columnists from media diverse and renowned as Sports Illustrated, USA Today and Bloomberg News.
It changes the nature of the game. Suddenly, coaches who have always displayed nothing but integrity, who are guilty of nothing but working harder than their colleagues, were sweating out whether a second-string sophomore eluded a tackle near the goal line or fell down on purpose.
One local coach requesting anonymity readily admitted he had to tell a backup quarterback to purposely take a delay-of-game penalty earlier this season to avoid the possibility of scoring another touchdown.
It compromises the whole purpose for playing sports at the high school level. The theory is that sports provide a forum to teach youngsters about life. Some games end in ecstatic celebration, other in gut-wrenching disappointment. Some lives are bathed in fame and fortune, others are shrouded in gloom and doom.
Nobody wants to see a teenager to collapse on the field in tears after he’s thrown a game-changing interception, but the game is a microcosm of life. So many chapters in the book of life end in sadness and tragedy, so isn’t it better that our youngsters are prepared for this instead of offering them the illusion that a bowl of cherries will be awaiting them on every postgame dinner table?
The 50-point rule, which calls for the one-week suspension of any coach who defeats an opponent by more than 50 points, alters the precepts of football, and sets an unfortunate precedent that could lead to the same in other scholastic sports.
Have you heard about the unwritten soccer rule that prohibits teams from scoring more than eight goals? Yeh, it’s far better to have a team leading 7-0 with its freshmen in the game to play keep-away from an already humiliated opponent. I guess it’s okay because you can’t read about the deleterious effects of keep-away in the next day’s sports section. Nobody puts the "nyaah-nyaahs" in quotes.
Perhaps the academics who constructed the rule didn’t perceive its wide-ranging effects, so prior to this season, the appeal criteria were softened. Some of the items that will be considered are:
* Did the coach start substituting skill players when it was evident the game was in hand?
* Did the coach substitute “wholesale” early in the game when it was evident the game was in hand?
* Did the coach keep the play going by having runners stay in bounds, did not use timeouts, limited passing game? (sic)
* Did the coach control the kicking game – such as punt on fourth and short, fair catch returns, no field goal attempts, go for one (extra point) on a score?
These questions are all subject to the perception of a committee that may be just as skewed as the committee that came up with this rule.
When is it evident that a game is in hand? If a strong team blows through a foe for 21 quick points and the weaker team has shown it can’t compete with 5 minutes still to go in the first quarter, is that evidence enough?
If so, what kind of message are we sending to the quarterback of the winning team who eschewed other opportunities to practice all summer and got bigger, faster and stronger than an opponent who was hanging out at the mall? Work hard, son, and when the consequence of your hard works comes to fruition, we’re going to reward your diligence by benching you.
Did the coach substitute “wholesale?” What constitutes wholesale? Is that somewhere between two and five, three and six, five and eight? Hey, you shouldn’t have kept those quick, sure-handed receivers in the game. Does the committee realize that their understudies are freshmen who may get maimed by an angry senior linebacker who’s losing by 50 points?
So why does this come to light right now? Berlin steamrolled Farmington, 57-0, on Friday night and Redcoats coach John Capodice has to spend half the week preparing his courtroom defense instead of his zone defense. He has to implement an alternate coaching plan in the event he gets suspended.
Does the committee care to evaluate what that might mean to the Berlin kids, who are trying to get ready for a severe test against Northwest Catholic next week? Does the committee care to assess how their decision may affect the Redcoats’ chances for a league title and a playoff berth? Does the committee care to consider how their decision may separate a hard-working student-athlete from his dream?
Based on the new appeal criteria, Capodice should be exonerated. Another criterium is how the vanquished coach feels about the game and Capodice said he ran into Farmington coach Bruce Wearne on Saturday and there were no hard feelings.
“I did everything in my power to protect the other team and I was cognizant of the score and opponent,” Capodice said. “And (there’s) my respect for Coach Wearne as a veteran football coach. Also, our philosophy at Berlin is to never embarrass the opponent.”
This year’s Berlin team may just be the finest in the school’s storied history. Farmington, while well-stocked at the skill positions, is notoriously thin in the lines – where football games are won and lost. It was a difficult day for the Farmington kids, a difficult day for Wearne, and it was no picnic for Capodice as he fields questions from sports writers around the state who care nothing about his terrific team and sweats out the scrutiny of another committee.
Here’s my message: Free Coach Cap and get rid of this ridiculous rule.