BIG RAPIDS -- Football coaches, including those from schools in Osceola County, have weighed in on action taken regarding their sport by the MHSAA Representative Council earlier this month.

Changes were made in football and approved by the Council and recommended by the MHSAA committees to create more opportunities, especially for programs struggling to field teams at multiple levels.

In football, while an athlete may still play only four quarters in one day, that athlete may play in up to five quarters per week. This change will allow athletes to contribute to both varsity and subvarsity teams simultaneously, potentially bolstering numbers and opportunities to retain those squads.

"I like the idea of having players able to participate in five quarters each week in football," Reed City Scott Shankel said. "It helps give the younger players varsity experience and if you are having number issues it will help that area also. (It gives) younger players varsity experience and helps with number issues.

"But we will probably need to move JV contests to a Saturday or Monday to help utilize the new rule."

Evart football coach Pat Craven expressed his support.

"When I coached high school football in Idaho, this was our practice," he said. "I think there are a lot of benefits to both the programs and the student-athletes as long as coaches always keep the health and safety of the student-athlete in mind. The fifth quarter rule will allow smaller teams/programs to create more depth and opportunity for their teams. It will also provide opportunity for experience for both sub-varsity athletes and potentially juniors who are new to football or are lagging in varsity ability and/or skill.

"It will be important for coaches to monitor how much use and responsibility they are putting on these kids: To play a full four-quarter game where 80-plus snaps are played on Thursday night and then turn around and play the next day again could be very demanding physically and mentally."

The new rule poses some challenges.

"Coaches and leagues will need to develop clear protocols surrounding the reporting of eligible players and playing time availability," Craven said. "Some leagues may choose to play their traditional JV games on a different day of the week to provide rest for kids who may play in both games. Do you play JV games on Saturday? How will that impact numbers and participation? Do you play on Monday, like some small colleges have done in the past?

"How will small school coaching staffs manage their time with both teams to ensure proper practice and training is taking place as we continue to work to develop the skills of our players? There are a lot of questions to be answered. The Highland Conference Football Coaches Association met to discuss these questions and collectively have created recommendations for our league athletic directors. The decision will ultimately be made with the athletic directors."

"I think this will help small squads in football," Pine River's Terry Martin said. "When numbers are low one injury could put players in positions they are not suited for and increase injury potential.

"But if it's abused, players could end up in extreme mismatches in age and athletic ability."

RUNNING CLOCK

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.

"There are two sides to this equation and I believe both have valid points," Craven said. "I have, unfortunately, been on both sides of this equation. Losing by 50-plus points is not fun. It can be demoralizing for kids and parents. It is important to know that winning by 50-plus points really isn't too much fun either. However, these types of games allow for a lot of quality playing time for kids that need and deserve that developmental time. It's a delicate situation to balance. It is important for coaches, on both sides, to understand the value and overall mission of high school sports."

"I really don't feel any different about the rule change," Shankel said. "There will be less injuries, hopefully, with a running clock. But there would be less playing time for all players."

"It makes sense to expand this rule to cover the entire game," Martin said. "Extreme scores are not a benefit for either team on the field."

In another change by the MHSAA, 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.

"I like this rule because it is very difficult to work with four players at a time," Shankel said. "Having more time to work with players as a whole is more football related. It gives us more time with the entire unit other than just 7-on-7. It's all pros with this rule change."

"I like this change," Craven said. "With as many of our kids that play multiple sports, it is important for coaches to communicate their schedules and expectations with each other. In Evart, our football, basketball, and baseball coaches really do a nice job of working together to not suffocate the kids with multiple sports or conflicts between sports. For some reason, the MHSAA has always treated football differently than the other sports as far as summer rules go. To be honest, I've never really understood it.

"Basketball coaches can play all summer long and do all types of activities, baseball coaches can coach summer teams and play real games, but football was very limited. This new rule cleans that up a bit. Once again, I think it is super important for school coaches to work together. It is important for kids to engage in as many sports/activities that they have interests in and coaches shouldn't be the ones putting pressure on kids to step away from other activities. All sports have life lessons to teach and teach them in a variety of ways."

Martin agreed.

"I think this is a great step for high school players," he said. "I do feel that it is important to be mindful of the time expectations we put on student athletes, especially multi-sport athletes at smaller schools. This allows students to work and develop with their high school teams and coaches rather than chasing and paying for independent opportunities.

"Previously, programs had to charge an entry fee and have open enrollment for our own camps. It was foolish to have players and families paying an entry fee for a camp/instruction with their own teams. Commitment expectations of three-sport athletes could be way too much if coaches within the school don't work together."