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The rule is here and it's not going anywhere

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published October 23. 2012 4:00AM

This is right about the time, halfway through the high school football season, we should cue The Four Tops. Because it's the same old song about the state's infamous "50-point" rule.

The coach ran it up.

No, he didn't.

Why were the starters in?

Just get better.

They're supposed to fall down?

It's not fair.

Rinse.

Repeat.

So here is my solution: God makes a brief appearance and says the following: "All discussion on this topic shall hereby end! If I hear any more whining about this, I'm literally sticking my fingers in my ears and making that loud NANANANANANA sound."

Could you blame Him?

Because really, do we need more blather about score management? Round and round we go, wheels spinning furiously. Just with no traction. It's like choosing to form a mildew support group instead of just scrubbing the shower curtain.

It's time we stopped, folks. The rule exists. Keep the margin of victory under 50. Whether you like it, I like it or the guy next door likes it is patently irrelevant. Read that word again: Irrelevant. It's not going anywhere. Hence, isn't it time we made the best of it?

Take, for example, Montville coach Tanner Grove's application of it last Friday night.

Grove's team led Waterford 40-0 at halftime. His decision to begin the third period: sit the starters and play the second unit. It turned into quite a voyage of discovery.

Grove joined the rest of his sideline plenty annoyed watching Waterford's starters score 13 quick points. But a funny thing happened on the way to moral outrage: as the half progressed, so did the depth of his team.

Grove and his staff kept coaching. Suddenly, his backups and reserves began to succeed. They flew to the ball. Forced turnovers. There was a touchdown pass. Even the hearty thump of an occasional A-level tackle. Grove's postgame speech to his team was all about how the young guys need to be ready to play at all times. Now they know they can.

The 50-point rule allowed some kids who rarely play the opportunity to experience Friday Night lights. His team's depth didn't merely improve. Now there are a number of kids who believe they'll get a chance to play eventually, even if it's next year. Friday night's experience might stay with them into the offseason and inspire them to lift one more weight and run one more sprint. It's how you build a program.

The next day, Norwich Free Academy defeated Stamford 51-0, violating the rule. NFA led 49-0 with 3:25 remaining when one of its players blocked a punt. The ball rolled out of the end zone, resulting in a safety.

Excerpts from NFA coach Jemal Davis after the game:

"We can't keep taking our kids out as we move toward the playoffs," Davis said. "The kids have to be able to play 48 minutes and handle the fatigue that sets in. We have to be prepared. (Stamford's) starters were out there, too. What do you do? Take our kids out - and our kids had worked hard to keep a zero on the board - and put in younger kids? Then they start running and throwing the ball down the field? Do you do that? Those are the questions you have to ask.

"The truth of the matter is that we did take guys out and we kept guys in who should be playing against a varsity program. If this was a JV football game, that's a different story."

Eerie, isn't it, how the situations mirrored each other? Grove's players have a chance to move toward the playoffs, too. They "had a zero on the board." They watched Waterford "start running and throwing the ball down the field." And they survived. Go figure. They actually prevailed in a way maybe nobody saw coming.

Davis' belief - you can't keep taking the kids out, lopsided scores notwithstanding - likely has its supporters. But his starters had played well into the second half, especially by the time it was 42-0 with eight minutes left. That's when his starters scored again, the touchdown that made the ensuing safety costly.

So the question becomes this: Were repetitions for his starters so cosmically important they had to keep playing up 42-0 with eight minutes left?

Just in case your mind has wandered by now, let's ask that one again: Were repetitions for his starters so cosmically important they had to keep playing up 42-0 with eight minutes left?

This is not about anyone's opinion about the 50-point rule. This is about applying it in a way that's best for everyone.

I'm not trying to turn Davis into a villain. He's not. Good coach, good program. NFA's self-imposed one-game suspension for Davis is laudable, but meaningless if he doesn't re-evaluate his approach. Perhaps he could look down I-395 a few exits.

Tanner Grove illustrated the proper way to apply a rule nobody really likes.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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