Usually, when a mercy rule becomes a bone of contention it's because the policy isn't instituted soon enough, until after a game is already far out of reach. Yet in one Northern California community the opposite is unfolding, with parents furious about a new rule that they feel is cheating their children and coaches of football and money wasted on fines.
As reported by Sacramento NBC affiliate KCRA, the Northern California Federation Youth Football League (NCFYFL) instituted stiff new penalties for any teams that beat opponents by 35 points or more. Specifically, those teams will be fined $200 and their coaches will be suspended from all league activities for two weeks. The penalty is a drastic change for the league of 7-13 year-olds, which previously issued teams with a warning following such blowouts and required a written description that detailed what the victorious team had done to try and keep scores low.
Similar penalties are occasionally installed by other youth leagues, but they usually don't kick in until the disparity in score between the teams is almost twice as much as the 35 points being used by the NCFYFL.
With the new, harsher penalties, some players have begun insisting that their development is being hurt. One team has stopped attempting any field goals, leaving kicker James McHugh unable to attempt any scoring kicks except points after touchdowns. That's a problem for a 13-year-old who hopes to serve as a high school placekicker in fall 2014.
McHugh's mother, Kelly McHugh, told KCRA that players on her son's team are afraid to score once they get a lead for fear that their coaches will be penalized and the team won't be able to play the following week.
"Now they are afraid their coaches are going to get suspended and they are not going to have a coach to come out here and play football," McHugh told KCRA.
Naturally, the controversial issue has advocates on both sides, with NCFYFL Deputy Commissioner Robert Rochin claiming the rule is a pro-active attempt to keep more kids interested in the sport while teaching others how to be good sports.
"We lose a lot of football players because their teams lose so badly," Rochin told KCRA. "If they are constantly getting beat, who wants to play anymore? We lose kids all season long because of that.
"It's not hurting the kids, it's teaching them compassion for the other team. It's teaching them sportsmanship."