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Mideast edition, Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe officials on Tuesday acknowledged confusion about the controversial “mercy rule” policy that governs how football, basketball and soccer games are scored and subsequently reported to Stars and Stripes.

During a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning in Wiesbaden, a small group of students, coaches, DODDS-Europe officials, along with one parent and one military official, will review the policy.

It requires coaches to end a game after one football or basketball team establishes a 39-point lead — 7 goals in soccer — and governs how to report the score to the media.

Stars and Stripes took issue with the policy last week and has stopped printing scores it can’t confirm after a football coach called the newspaper to report a score and then, noting the policy, called later to alter the score to abide by the so-called “39-point rule.”

When told the newspaper questioned the school system’s ability to provide the newspaper with accurate, believable results, Linda Curtis, DODDS-Europe deputy director, said she understood. “That’s exactly why we are having the meeting. It is at the top of the agenda.”

Curtis said the confusion centers around how coaches record and report the outcomes of games affected by the mercy rule, which also states that the scoreboard is supposed to be shut off once the deficit reaches 39 points.

Though a 2007 DODDS-Europe football newsletter outlines exactly how coaches should report mercy rule scores, “there were inconsistencies with the way the rule has been being interpreted,” Curtis said.

Under the “Reporting of scores” section, the newsletter states: “Scores will indicate no more than a 39-point differential. Example: Team A scores 54 points with the running clock and Team B scores 0 points. Score reported would be 39-0.”

DODDS officials contend the policy, established at DODDS-Europe schools in the late 1980s and reiterated in 2004 to promote good sportsmanship, is not intended to misrepresent scores.

Curtis said she wasn’t sure why the newspaper wasn’t made aware of the reporting policy. “I wasn’t here, and I can’t correct it now.”

Changes could come as soon as Thursday, Curtis said.

“We will have a decision tomorrow afternoon. We are as anxious as you are to clear this up,” though the newspaper and the public are barred from the meeting of the 14-member European Athletic Council, she said.

Recommendations made by the group will be delivered to DODDS-Europe Director Diana Ohman, who has the ultimate authority over what, if anything, will be done to clear up the matter.

Parents and others concerned with the issue are encouraged to contact coaches and principals, said Dennis Bohannon, public affairs officer.

Reached Tuesday, some coaches said there was no confusion over the rule.

“It’s my understanding you report up to the total of 39,” said Glenn Porter, Ramstein head football coach. “If it’s 46-0, you report it as 39-0. It’s a ceiling.”

Greg Blankenship, head coach of the AFNORTH Lions, said football issues, from the basic conduct of games to rule changes, are discussed every year before school starts. Last month, for instance, DODDS-Europe athletic directors met in Wiesbaden to discuss the upcoming football season.

When asked to comment on Curtis’ statement that coaches and athletic directors must have misunderstood the recording and reporting of scores affected by the 39-point mercy rule, Blankenship paused for a moment. He said it was clear to him that “you don’t report” a score-differential of more than 39 points.

“Could all of the athletic directors have misunderstood the [overall] policy?” Blankenship asked.

“I guess it could be possible.”

When informed that DODDS administrators appeared to be passing the pigskin off on them, Mannheim head football coach Frank Macias seemed amused.

“Isn’t that how it usually works?” he said. “I guess we were all misinformed. I’ll be a good soldier. I’ll take the hit.”

Like Blankenship, Macias said he’s no fan of the running clock — which calls for the game clock to stop less frequently when the margin is 35 points or more. The 39-point mercy rule bugs him, too.

“We’re big boys and girls,” Macias said. “Report the score. If you got beat 50-0, you got beat 50-0. Now the challenge is how to get better.”

Reached later in the afternoon, Duke Eidt, the head coach of Alconbury High School in England, indicated he wanted to comment on the dustup, but said he was instructed not to talk and to refer all calls to DODDS.

A mercy rule can be found in at least 28 U.S. states and is considered a “best practice” by the National Federation of State High School Associations, which provides a framework for many of DODDS-Europe athletic policies.

But at least one high-ranking official said if coaches do a good job, the rule should not have to be applied.

“There’s always things coaches can do to prevent an overwhelming defeat like that” for the other team, said DODDS-Europe athletic director Karen Seadore, who has coached volleyball, softball and basketball during her 22 years with DODDS-Europe.

“With good coaching you don’t need the courtesy rule,” she said.

Stars and Stripes reporter Rusty Bryan contributed to this story.


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