Coaches like Allegan football coach Chris Madill will have more flexibility with how much playing time players can receive thanks to a new rule change by the Michigan High School Athletic Association. (File photos)

Football, basketball coaches have more playing-time flexibility

By: 
Jason Wesseldyk
High school football and basketball players now have the opportunity to log some additional playing time thanks to a ruling by the Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association earlier this month.
The Representative Council voted to allow athletes to play up to five quarters of football per week and five quarters of basketball per game day during the 2020-21 school year.
The goal of the rule is to help schools struggling to field teams at multiple levels due to low participation numbers, according to MHSAA spokesman Geoff Kimmerly.
“Basically, what the additional quarter does is allow a player to contribute to a JV team and, in most cases, provide depth to the varsity team,” Kimmerly said. “So, you might have a top JV player play three quarters on the JV so that they are eligible to play two quarters on the varsity.”
Football players are still limited to four quarters of football per day. Basketball players are eligible to play five quarters a maximum of three dates per week and 20 dates per team or individual. 
“It should help allow more schools to hold on to more sub-varsity teams,” Kimmerly said. “In some areas, especially in small communities, numbers are low and sub-varsity programs are suffering. It’s happening at some bigger schools too. 
“It’s not going to solve the entire problem, but it should help.”
Fennville athletic director John Guillean is excited about the rule.
“I love it,” he said. “I think it will have little effect on the bigger schools, but it will play a huge role for the smaller ones. I think those schools that were on the brink of having freshman or JV teams will have them moving forward.”
Fennville is one such school.
“We haven’t had a JV football team for the past couple of years and with the new rule, I believe we will have one,” Guillean said. “The only negative I can see are programs abusing the rule and having athletes play too many quarters to try and get a competitive advantage over their opponent.”
Allegan athletic director Ron Orr agreed that keeping tabs on players who move between the varsity and JV levels could be an issue.
“I’m a little concerned about keeping track of time for each athlete as they move up and down,” he said.
Still, Orr is in favor of the new rule in theory, although he does have some concerns when it comes to its practicality on the gridiron.
“I like the idea of giving schools the opportunity to maintain programs by having the ability to have student-athletes available for more events,” he said. “I think, for example, in basketball some kids could help a varsity (team) and you are now giving another student the chance at more game time on the sub-varsity team.  
“I’m just not sure how it will work for football when you’re trying to figure out how a kid could play back-to-back nights without risking injury. That’s something we’re working on as a conference.”
Guillean believes moving sub-varsity games from their traditional slot the day before varsity games could helps solve that concern.
“I think this rule will eventually change how schools schedule JV (football) games,” he said. “I think JV games will eventually all be played on Saturdays or Mondays to allow coaches to maximize the rule and get more reps for kids who didn’t play as much during the varsity game on Friday night.”
Bill Dunn has a unique perspective on the new rule, as he is not only Saugatuck’s athletic director, but also the head football coach.
“First of all, I commend the MHSAA for allowing additional playing time for our athletes, especially younger players, who will gain invaluable experience as the year progresses,” Dunn said. “Nothing is better for player development than quality game experience. Adding in an extra quarter of play will enhance those opportunities for growth. 
“For us as a small school, we sometimes struggle with a lack of numbers on a weekly basis. Having this added flexibility will help us field a competitive team during each contest and provide our student-athletes with more opportunities, which in turn allows them to gain experience in the sport they are participating in.”
The Representative Council also approved a change ensuring the top seeds will receive a bye in basketball, soccer and hockey.
This change builds on the rule that was implemented for the 2019-20 school year that placed the top two seeds in basketball and soccer on opposite sides of the bracket, thereby guaranteeing they could not meet before the finals.
While seen as a positive first step, some schools felt this still didn’t reward the top seeds enough. 
The No. 1 seed will receive the bye if there is only one, with the No. 2 seed also getting a bye if there are two.
The remaining teams will be placed on the bracket by way of a randomly-selected order determined earlier in the season.
“Initially, the council didn’t want to give any additional benefit to a top seed by automatically giving it a bye,” Kimmerly said. “The idea was that if you were a top seed and separated from the No. 2 seed, that was enough of an advantage.
“There was some confusion because it was different than what other sports do with seeding. People expect the top seeds to get a bye if there is a bye. The council heard from the schools they represent, and now our brackets will look like that.”
Other sports-related matters dealt with by the Representative Council included:
• In football, the Council approved a Football Committee recommendation extending the running clock when a team leads its opponent by 50 points to both the first and second halves of a game; the 50-point running clock stops only for player injuries and previously was employed only during the second half. 
The 35-point running clock employed during the second half, with stoppages also for penalty enforcement, scoring plays and called timeouts, will remain in effect if the differential dips below 50 and until it reaches 50 points again.
• Also in football, the Council approved a Committee recommendation allowing schools 15 summer dates of non-mandatory contact with an unlimited number of players (wearing helmets only). Schools may use these dates as they see fit, but of these 15 only seven dates may be used for 7-on-7 competition against other teams. This also eliminates the previous allowance for a camp.
• In baseball, the Council approved a Baseball Committee recommendation to adopt a suspended-game policy stating that any game called before it reaches regulation, or when the score is tied, is suspended with play to pick up at a later time from that point. However, if both schools agree, a game called prior to regulation may be replayed in its entirety.
• Also in baseball, during its Winter meeting, the Council approved a Baseball Committee recommendation renaming the “Super Regional” level of the MHSAA Tournament as the “Quarterfinal” level. Trophies and medals will be presented to both regional champions after the day’s regional finals are completed and before the day’s quarterfinal matching up those two teams. 
The Council also adopted at the Winter meeting a tournament schedule that during even-numbered years will see Semifinals for Divisions 2 and 4 played on Thursday and Divisions 1 and 3 on Friday. The Semifinal schedule will flip during odd-numbered years.
• The Council approved a series of Girls Competitive Cheer Committee recommendations. High school athletes now are allowed to transition to stunts or loads from the flatback position. Also at the high school level, bases will be allowed to rotate or move while a flyer is in the inverted position (in a static inversion), and to provide for the allowance of additional flairs at the point of static inversion.
• Also in cheer, the Council approved a Committee recommendation requiring three safety judges (instead of two) and five panel judges at MHSAA Regional events.
• In soccer, the Council approved a recommendation from the Soccer Committee to allow girls soccer athletes to compete in scrimmages at a maximum of two college ID camps during the spring girls soccer season, when these ID events generally take place.
• A pair of changes were adopted for swimming & diving, one affecting each group of athletes. The Council approved a Swimming & Diving Committee recommendation allowing swimmers to wear caps reading “State Team” during both regular-season and postseason competition. 
For diving, the Council approved a Committee recommendation to designate the number of qualifiers from each Lower Peninsula Regional to be in proportion to the number of entries at those respective Regionals in each division. This will allow Regionals with larger numbers of participants to contribute more Finals qualifiers, while eliminating the possibility that a Regional could send all entrants to the Finals regardless of performance because only 12 participate at that site. Each division will continue to advance 36 divers total to the MHSAA Finals. 
• In tennis, the Council approved a Tennis Committee recommendation to play the MHSAA Final two-day tournament on Friday and Saturday unless there is a conflict with the host facility. In that case, that specific Final would be scheduled for Thursday and Friday.  
• During its Winter meeting, the Council approved a Classification Committee recommendation that adds girls and boys tennis to the group of sports that schools may play as cooperative programs – with Executive Committee approval – if their combined enrollments do not exceed 3,500 students. The Council will reexamine this allowance after its first two years.
 

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