Conference, rule changes highlight offseason

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It was a busy offseason for football as the new conference alignments in the SIAC and PAC are set to shake things up for the forseeable future for all four area programs — Jasper, Southridge, Forest Park and Heritage Hills. New rule changes, such as the mandatory mercy rule, also will be implemented for the first time this upcoming season.


While the first high school football games of the season are still a little over a month away, it’s been a busy offseason with a lot of changes that will impact area squads for the foreseeable future.

Of course, one of the most notable changes that was announced this summer was the conference realignments.

The Big Eight conference will completely disband come 2020 with Jasper and Vincennes Lincoln moving to the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference (SIAC) while the other four former Big Eight schools (Boonville, Mount Vernon, Princeton and Washington) will join Forest Park, Heritage Hills and Southridge in the expanded Pocket Athletic Conference.

While none of these changes will take place until the 2020-21 school year, it’s safe to say that area football coaches are already thinking about how it will impact their schedule.

“We know for sure that we’re going to lose Jasper off of our schedule which, to be honest, I’m not thrilled about,” said Heritage Hills head coach Todd Wilkerson. “It was at a great place in our schedule where it was almost like a midseason litmus test to see where we were. But, there’s also going to be some new excitement about playing teams such as Boonville and Princeton every year.”

The current plan is to have the PAC split into a “large school” division and a “small school” division based off of 2019-20 enrollments. This would place Boonville, Washington, Gibson Southern, Princeton, Mount Vernon and Heritage Hills in the “large school” division with Pike Central, Southridge, North Posey, Tell City, South Spencer and Forest Park in the “small school” grouping.

Forest Park head coach Ross Fuhs is well aware that the Rangers have the smallest number of students enrolled out of all of the schools in the new, expanded PAC. For that reason, he is looking forward to being able to mostly compete against schools similar to their size.

“When you play the bigger schools, I feel we’re at a little bit of a disadvantage as some teams play guys just on one side of the field where we have to have a majority of two-way players,” Fuhs said. “When you play teams closer to your size, you’re at a little more of an advantage.”

Another new change this season will be the implementation of the mandatory mercy rule.

The mercy rule, which goes into effect this fall, will take place when the point differential reaches 35 points in the second half. The game clock will convert to a running clock with the exception of timeouts, scores and/or injuries. Once implemented, the clock may not revert back to standard timing regardless of the score and coaches will not have the ability to override the implementation of the mercy rule.

In the past, it was up to the team that was on the losing end of the large deficit to decide whether or not to let the clock continue running. Now, it will be mandatory.

“I’ll be honest, I think it’s long overdue,” said Southridge head coach Scott Buening. “I’m glad that they’ve taken it out of the hands of the coaches and officials. The game of football has changed, it’s not just three yards and a cloud of dust anymore. Now, offenses have become much more potent.”

Fuhs added: “I’ve been on both sides of it — I’ve been on the fun end of it and then I’ve been on the not so fun part of it. I think it’s a good rule to put in place.”

Overall, area coaches are pleased with the state of high school football in Indiana currently.

However, something that has continuously impacted football is the ever-growing culture of travel sports such as baseball and basketball running right up to the start of football camps over the summer.

“There’s AAU basketball, baseball and soccer almost all year-round. Our sport is one of the few sports that’s left where you can only put on full pads and play full contact football during the fall,” Wilkerson said. “Keeping our athletes interested in football is a constant challenge.”

Buening added: “I love the fact that football has not turned into a year-round sport that you can just pick up. Personally, I’m not a big fan of playing sport after sport after sport all year long because I think it starts to lose the value. Let’s put it this way — I love buttercream icing and I can eat a can of it and feel pretty good. But if you give me a gallon bucket, it’ll make me sick to my stomach.”

What Buening is trying to get at is a sentiment that many coaches fully agree with — let the kids enjoy themselves.

“We have to look out for the well-being of these kids and the overall holistic picture of what these kids’ years look like,” Buening said. “We shouldn’t have to put them into a position where they have to choose which sport to play because we put too much on them.”

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