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Nassau looking to expand lopsided scores policy in high school sports

Newsday's Jim Baumbach on Wednesday discussed the possible expansion of Nassau's lopsided scores policy beyond football to all team sports. (Credit: Newsday / Jim Baumbach; Photo Credit: James Escher, Anna Sergeeva)

Nassau County high school sports officials are looking to expand the lopsided scores policy that led to a one-game suspension for Plainedge High School football coach Rob Shaver in the fall.

A 15-person committee is scheduled to meet Thursday morning in Garden City to discuss how to make football’s sportsmanship policy applicable to other team sports, said Dom Vulpis, assistant executive director of the county’s high school sports oversight group.

“If you want to put what we’re trying to do in one general statement, it’s this: Is it educationally sound to beat the pants off somebody?” said Manhasset athletic director Jim Amen, who is on the committee. “I don’t think that’s good for anybody, especially in high school athletics.”

The football scores policy was enacted in 2017 in an attempt to cut down on the number of blowouts while trying to give substitute players more opportunities to play. The rule mandated that the coach of a team that won by more than 42 points must explain in writing what was done to try to avoid such a large margin of victory. A committee would then determine if a suspension for the coach was warranted.

Officials behind the policy said it has been effective in decreasing the number of lopsided scores in football. The score threshold has been exceeded 11 times since the rule went into effect, but Shaver was the only coach to be punished by the committee after his team beat South Side, 61-13. Critics questioned the fairness of suspending one coach when others had triggered the rule, some multiple times.

The committee meeting Thursday is tasked with drawing up a policy for various sports that will discourage blowouts without taking the inherent competitive spirit out of athletics. The only team sports that could be exempt from the potential policy is baseball and softball because those sports already have mercy rules in place. A softball game ends if there is a 12-run differential after five innings. In baseball, the rule is 10 runs after five innings.

The details of what a new policy would be for boys and girls sports such as basketball, soccer and lacrosse are still in the early stages, said Vulpis, who put together the committee. 

Coordinators for those sports submitted proposals last month of what their vision of a lopsided score policy might be.

Boys basketball coordinator Walter Bachman, the coach at Jericho High School, said it was difficult to get the coaches association to agree on a policy. Ultimately, Bachman suggested that when the score differential reached 35 both teams would remove their starters and stop pressing and trapping. Girls soccer coordinator Mike Bongino said he discussed a plan with his coaches that allowed a losing team to use an extra player.

"We put together a draft from everybody’s notes, and we’ll see where it goes,” Vulpis said.

Vulpis said it is possible the committee could draw up one broad sportsmanship policy, such as leaving it up to coaches to report a situation they felt was unsportsmanlike.

Vulpis said that the disciplinary procedure is also being examined to make it more uniform. Vulpis and other officials in Nassau said something along the lines of a three-strike system, with the first offense of the policy likely resulting in a discussion among the respective coaches and athletic directors. Perhaps a third offense, they said, would then result in a suspension.

“We’re looking at something that takes it out of the hands of a committee and makes its objective rather than subjective,” said Pat Pizzarelli, executive director of the governing body that oversees Nassau school sports.

They also expect that any policy on this topic will have supporters and critics.

“I think they’re right to take a look at what makes sense and try to bring in a policy that has common elements across the board and the same goal,” said Al Freeman, who is the boys soccer coordinator. “You don’t want people embarrassing someone else.”

Bachman, in his 42nd season as a high school basketball coach in Nassau, doesn’t believe a policy is necessary.

“I feel very strongly this should be controlled by the coaches,” he said.

Vulpis said any new policy would have to be approved by the county’s 19-member athletic council, composed mostly of superintendents and athletic directors, before it would go into play.

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