Coaches and athletic directors in Pontotoc have mixed feelings about a new MHSAA rule, but all agree that the safety of players and promoting good sportsmanship are top priorities.
The MHSAA announced last week that if a team leads by 35 points, at halftime or any point thereafter, the clock runs. The clock stops only for free-throws, timeouts, the end of a period, injuries, or if an official determines there's a safety issue.
The rule applies to basketball and football.
Coach Mark Vandiver, athletic director at South Pontotoc High School, said that the rule, like most, is both helpful and cumbersome.
“I approve of the rule, in the best spirit,” said Vandiver. Statistics show that players get hurt when the score gets out of hand, Vandiver said. “Seventy percent of injuries occur late, when a game is a blowout,” said Vandiver. Players get careless, and, in some cases, bad blood bubbles up, Vandiver said. For the most part, however, rules reinforce the good will that pervades community spirit in Pontotoc. “We want to ensure the safety of our athletes and promote good sportsmanship,” said Vandiver.
South Pontotoc head football coach Rod Cook agreed with Vandiver.
"Any situation can happen, but, when a game is a blowout, players tend not to protect themselves as well," said Cook .
Coach Phil Webb agreed with Vandiver.
“The top priority, for any school, is to protect kids and to preserve the integrity of an athletic event,” said Webb, athletic director at Pontotoc High School. “I understand that coaches want to develop players, and that’s important, and we want to balance that with safety and efficiency.”
The athletic community polices itself well. Any coach who runs up a score is likely to have karma catch up with him, but etching a rule into stone might not be the best solution, according to some coaches.
North Pontotoc head football coach Andy Crotwell said it doesn't take a rule to enforce what most coaches already agree upon.
“It’s codifying what has always been a gentleman’s agreement,” said Crotwell.
Before now, coaches shook hands and agreed to run the clock. It was a mutual decision, as Crotwell explained. Both coaches had to agree. North Pontotoc boys and girls basketball coach Rob Browning said the unwritten rule has been common sense.
"You do what you do until half time, and you never want to embarrass the other team," said Browning, who is taking over both programs this year.
Good sportsmanship is the norm in northeast Mississippi, but top programs have to consider other factors.
Pontotoc girls' basketball coach Kyle Heard has gotten used to making deep playoff runs, and the "garbage time" as some sports fans call it, is when he can get his bench players quality minutes, minutes that might prove crucial in the postseason.
"I have mixed feelings about it," said Heard, who won a state championship in 2020. "From a safety standpoint, I agree with the rule, because people make bad decisions when the game gets out of hand. However, I like to use that time to sub in players, so, from a development aspect, it really shortens the game. With this new rule, coaches will have to sub earlier, and it shortens the game for the starters."
South Pontotoc girls' basketball coach Bill Russell is also a state champion. He didn't have strong feelings about the rule, one way or the other.
"I'm not sure it changes a lot," said Russell. "If a coach is going to run up the score, he's doing it to the kids and not to the coach."
As did Crotwell, Russell felt that the rule simply makes official what good sportsmanship has long made clear.
"Tennessee has had a rule like this in place for a while, and, if anything, this rule probably takes the pressure off the winning coach to agree to stop going full speed," said Russell.