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SportsColumnistsGregg Sarra

LI coaches say sportsmanship trumps mercy rule

Floyd varsity football head coach Paul Longo watches

Floyd varsity football head coach Paul Longo watches his players during an eight-team scrimmage at Bay Shore High School. (Aug. 31, 2013) Photo Credit: James Escher

It's important to know when to take the air out of the football.

A Texas high school football coach has been cleared of a bullying complaint filed by a parent of a player on the opposing team after Aledo High School's 91-0 victory last week. His team has been averaging victories by a margin of 77 points.

Blowout scores always will spark debates. To avoid such controversy, the mercy rule is used in high school football in 16 states with a point margin ranging from 30 to 50 points.

Is it time for Long Island's football community to institute a mercy rule?

Eight Long Island coaches were surveyed and asked how they felt about the possibility of a mercy rule for Long Island football. They were resolute in their opposition to such a rule.

"It is our responsibility to teach young people how to handle these situations with class and dignity," said Floyd coach Paul Longo, who has won five Long Island Class I titles. "And not just for us but also for our opponents. I would be totally opposed to a mercy rule. "

Longo has been on the winning side of a number of mismatches in the past 10 years and said he always tried to show restraint.

"We stayed in the huddle as long as we could before we ran another play to continually run the clock," he said. "And we'd run the same dive over and over. And the officials are smart. They'd take their time setting the ball to start the next play. With a running clock there's no way to score that much."

The 2007 LI championship game was an example of Longo's compassion. Floyd was beating Farmingdale, 42-0, midway through the second quarter and Longo pulled his starters. The Colonials even took a knee before the half to avoid another score. The final score was 42-0.

"I have too much respect for opposing coaches and what they do," he said. "There's no room for humiliating high school athletes. It should never happen and it will never happen here. We're educators and teaching sportsmanship and using fair and ethical practices is ultimately the most important thing we do. Forget stats and X's and O's. It's how you treat people and go about your business."

Babylon coach Rick Punzone also weighed in on the hot topic of running up the score.

"We get a comfortable lead and then it's an opportunity to reward the other players who've worked their tails off in practice, Punzone said. "It's a chance to develop depth in the program and at the same time show compassion for the opponent."

Last season, Punzone's charges led Greenport-Southold, 39-0 after the first quarter. He made wholesale substitutions and the final score was . . . 39-0.

"We are responsible for what we do and the decisions we make have an affect on the players on both sides of the field," Punzone said. "When you're an educator you understand that athletics is a perfect tool to impart life lessons on young people."


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