If you pay close attention to high school sports in Illinois as I do — it’s kind of my job, after all — you’ve probably noticed that the Illinois High School Association (IHSA to its friends) and its member schools endlessly tinker with the rules of their sports.
Every year, a handful of new guidelines, rules, classifications, definitions, playoff formats, etc. are put before the IHSA and ultimately either approved, scrapped or put into storage for review at a future date.
Some of these changes are pretty small. Think rules interpretations and points of emphasis, equipment/uniform requirements, stuff like that.
Others are anything but small and can completely change the way the game is played.
Think pitch counts in baseball — rarely a big factor in one particular ballgame, but a huge one when it comes to coaches’ long-term (and especially postseason) rotation planning.
Think moving the pitching rubber back three feet in softball — you’d be hard-pressed to find a rules change which has so completely transformed its sport at the high school level, at least in the past two decades I’ve been around.
Think the seemingly dozens of rules changes the IHSA has thrown at the sport of girls volleyball over the past two decades — completely altering the scoring system (from only the serving team can score to rally scoring), adding an entirely new position (libero) and then tweaking the rules for that position (can she serve? She can now), allowing the team receiving the serve to practically catch the ball on its first hit (I don’t understand the purpose of this one), the short-lived requirement of teams playing multiple regional matches on the same day (which I liked a lot, but most coaches and players most decidedly did not).
Think the proposed complete restructuring of the IHSA football playoff format — eliminating conferences and the five-win minimum in football altogether and going to a district format where a team’s playoff worthiness is determined entirely by how it finishes in its IHSA-drawn conference standings. (In case you missed it or don’t remember: I used this space a couple months ago to spell out the proposal, suggest that it would just create new and different complaints than the ones we have now, and predict that it inevitably will come to pass, likely sooner instead of later).
Think the 1985 rule change which reduced the size of the ball in girls basketball by one inch and two ounces — again, a complete and welcome game-changer.
Think of a rule coming back to IHSA boys and girls this coming late fall/early winter — the return of the 30-point mercy rule.
As written by the IHSA, the rule reads:
“Mercy Rule: will be used in all regular-season contests and regular-season tournament games. A running clock shall be used in the fourth quarter in which there is at least a 30-point differential score. Once a game reaches this differential and the clock starts running, it will continue running and stop only for one of the following:
u A team timeout
u An injury timeout or the removal of a disqualified player
u The administration of a penalty for a technical foul
u An officials’ timeout
u Correctable error situation.
Note: The Mercy Rule will not be used during the boys’ or girls’ state series.”
I’ve spoken with a couple people and read a handful of opinions online regarding the return of the continuous clock to Illinois high school hoops. I’m surprised some folks seem to put this in the “big change” pile more than the “small change” pile, because — short of getting people working (officials, school staff, reporters on tight deadlines such as yours truly) out of the gym about 10 minutes earlier, it doesn’t really affect much of anything.
I’ve heard people suggest it could eliminate unbelievable comebacks. To those people who think a high school basketball team is actually going to come back from 30 points down in the fourth quarter, I’d suggest you take the Michael J. Fox classic “Teen Wolf” out of your DVD player, go to a gym this coming winter and see what actual high school basketball is like.
I’ve also read people complaining this will take playing time away from those players at the end of the bench. It will cut out a few trips up and down the floor, true, but if their team is down 30-plus points in the fourth quarter, most coaches won’t wait too long to get their bench players involved. They’ll get their time, and plenty of it ... the clock will just be ticking.
To my mind, this is definitely one of the minor IHSA changes. Perhaps selfishly because it will make my work life just a tiny bit easier, I also think it’s a pretty good one.
Now if we could just get them to work out a shot clock.
That would be a real game-changer.