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High school football coaches reached Thursday were pleased that DODDS-Europe officials changed their mercy rule, giving coaches more control over runaway games.

Now, once mercy rules take effect and coaches decide to proceed, they can set up new rules of play.

“I think it’s right on target. It puts responsibility in the coaches’ hands to deal with each other, I like that part especially. It gives them the discretion,” Wiesbaden football coach Steven Jewel said.

When the mercy rule takes effect, “I think most losing coaches are going to say let’s ease it up a little because they can see it’s a done deal, and they can see some people might get hurt,” he said.

A few years ago, Jewell’s team was up by at least 39 points when the opposing team began blitzing his second-string players, causing safety concerns — a scenario that likely won’t happen under the new guidelines, he said.

Among the changes to the mercy rule, DODDS eliminated a provision that required coaches to alter the scores of games if the margin of victory was greater than 39 points. Those circumstances will be reported to Stripes along with the scores, starting this weekend.

Last week, the discovery of that “39-point rule” by Stripes’ editors led to a decision to not report the results of DODDS sporting events. On Wednesday, the newspaper reversed its decision.

The school system’s athletic board, which made the recommendation that led to the rule changes, also has suggested that the rule should apply to basketball and soccer. If the recommendation is adopted, the same 39-point differential would be used for basketball, while the mercy rule for soccer would take effect after one team is leading by seven goals.

“There is a lot of common sense in the new ruling,” Heidelberg football coach Ron Merriwether wrote in an e-mail to Stripes on Thursday. “I would hope that coaches wouldn’t continue to risk their starting players to any type of injury in a game that wasn’t close … I focus my attention on the athletes themselves and my aim is to raise their overall caliber of play.”

Players also seemed pleased with giving coaches more discretion during blowouts.

“The change seems good. If a team is going to get beat, why keep going and risk an injury? It’s up to the coach. We’re out here to have fun — it’s about the game,” said Tyler Steffenhagen, a senior and varsity football player at Naples High School in Italy.

Giving coaches more oversight over runaway games versus ending play after certain point differentials are reached is more common in U.S. high school football nowadays, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

In a 2005 survey, 25 out 39 states did not have mercy rule policies for football, said Bruce Howard, spokesman for the Indianapolis-based organization, which provides a framework for many DODDS-Europe athletic policies.

“As the years have passed, there’s more and more understanding on the part of coaches that it’s not about trying to keep your first string in and trying to beat the other team as bad as you can,” Howard said in a telephone interview. “The whole idea of high school sports is to get as much participation as possible, not to necessarily find who the best teams in the country are.”

Reporter Lisa Novak contributed to this report.


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