Football matchups between private schools can create mismatches based on a variety of factors, but it's rare that a school uses fear of injury to cancel a game.
That's exactly what happened Monday, when St. George's (R.I.) School canceled a game on Friday against fellow Independent School League member Lawrence Academy (Mass.), citing a concern over the disparity in the size of the two schools' players. St. George's is the first team to officially pull out of a game against Lawrence Academy (Mass.), one of two programs that has been completely dominant against ISL foes in recent years.
"This is strictly a safety issue,'' St. George's headmaster Eric Peterson told the Boston Globe. "We are trying to keep our kids reasonably safe in a game that can be terribly exciting but has risks."
Meanwhile, the risk of losing via forfeit -- the game may or may not be recorded as a forfeit, depending on the decision of a committee of three ISL headmasters -- is not something that concerns St. George's athletic director and football coach John MacKay. He said, "People don't understand what schools like St. George's are all about. Our students are into much more than athletics. Athletic success is so secondary in a place like this.''
As laid out by both Mike Carraggi of the Boston Globe and Danny Ventura of the Boston Herald, the numbers behind St. George's decision are pretty stark. Three Lawrence Academy offensive lineman weigh in at 300, 335 and 350 pounds, where St. George's players come nowhere near those marks. Still, the withdrawal is a stark statement of competitive inequity in the entire league. St. George's stands at 2-0 after going winless last year, but still decided it was better off withdrawing than playing a team that won all but two of its games by 40 or more points in 2009.
"The issue first came up last spring, then we talked about it off and on in the summer,'' Peterson told the Globe. "By the time the roster was in place, it became pretty clear.''
While St. George's withdrawal is a clear black eye on the ISL, the other possible solutions presented to coach MacKay were equally unpalatable. Among other options, Lawrence Academy reportedly offered to play the game at "half speed" to ensure no players got hurt. That hardly seems like a positive message to send to a program that claims it is trying to build gradual success among a young core of players.
Nonetheless, St. George's decision shines a spotlight on a significant problem that has been building within the ISL for years, according to Danny Ventura of the Herald.
Other coaches in the game have privately voiced their displeasure with Lawrence Academy. Judging by the volume of hits this story (which the Herald first broke yesterday morning) has received, it's certainly a newsworthy issue. What remains to be seen is whether any other team in the league follows suit and refuses to play LA.
League administrators were scheduled to meet this morning and we're sure one of the hot topics will be how to handle this situation. Is it a forfeit against SG or a no contest. You also have to believe that they will be feeling out the rest of Lawrence Academy opponents to see if they have plans on playing the game.
As one coach who asked his name not be used said: "The situation stinks. It's a black eye for our league."