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The ticket: What you need to know about the rash of ejections in high school football

In a seven-day span, there were reports of at least four different high school football games involving altercations, which carries serious consequences.
 
The N.C. High School Athletic Association rules against fighting are strict: if you have three players ejected — specifically for fighting, whether that happens in three different fights throughout the season or all in the same one — your team is ineligible for the playoffs. 
 
Oh, and there’s this important detail: leaving the bench during a fight, even to help break it up, is the same as being involved in the fight.
 
But yet, even though this rule has been around for a long time, it still keeps getting broken. It happened to a few teams last year in both boys and girls basketball (one of the boys’ teams, Rocky Mount Prep, was spared when video cleared the Jaguars of having a third player involved in the fight, which marked a rare appeal that reversed a postseason ban).
 
These four teams — Hickory Ridge (Harrisburg, N.C.), East Mecklenburg (Charlotte, N.C.), Independence (Mint Hill, N.C.), and Rocky River (Mint Hill, N.C.) — are done for the postseason and have forfeited the rest of this one. 
 
Fike and Hunt, two rivals from Wilson, have self-imposed a postseason ban after their postgame fight, and Pitt County rivals D.H. Conley (Greenville, N.C.) and South Central (Winterville, N.C.) await their fate. Both of those fights happened after the game, but the NCHSAA passed a rule last spring that they can issue ejections based on video taken in postgame fights when officials have already left the premises.
 
Fighting and ejections — things that stem from bad sportsmanship — have always been a problem, but this week makes it seem like it’s harder to curtail than ever. So why are teams fighting so much as of late?
 
In talking to a few people, I was surprised to hear the length of the season has come up as a possible reason. 
 
Some think that the season being as long as it is — we take 12 weeks to play 11 games ordinarily — and the number of times this season where a team has had to play twice in one week to make up for postponed games — has players frustrated and it’s starting to boil over.
 
Others think that, by this point in the year, we’re months removed from those preseason talks about fighting and its consequences that, if a coach isn’t proactive about reminding his players the cost involved, a team will forget. And at the end of the year, when rivalry games are running hot, is a bad time to forget to keep your cool.
 
Ejection numbers from the last four fall sports seasons — 333 in 2017, 391 in 2016, 329 in 2015, and 381 in 2014 — show that there is no trend other than it’s still a problem for schools.
 
Whether it’s a plan by coaches and athletic directors to better communicate the costs of fighting to players, or perhaps a way to lessen the stress of the regular season, let’s hope something happens soon.
 

So as I was saying…

Back in August, I wrote a column for HighSchoolOT that made the argument that there should be an 8-man football division within the NCHSAA.
 
I must be alone in this feeling because so far I can report that there is zero movement on the 8-man football idea. 
 
The proposal, even if it wasn’t 100 percent ready, would have to emerge from either 1) the football coaches’ association or 2) a band of schools who are interested in playing specifically 8-man football. 
 
Neither has happened, and I think it’s a shame. 
 
I fear that if it’s put off much longer, more schools will be dropping the sport in the coming years, rather than finding a less-demanding solution.
 
I’ve found 8-man football to be just as exciting as any 11-man game. 
 
I wonder if it’s perhaps safer.
 
The field isn’t as wide, which means players have fewer steps to take before loading up for a big hit. Also, because you’re missing three teammates, the risk of whiffing on a big hit isn’t worth it. 
 
If the ball carrier gets by you, he’s probably gone. If that won’t make you focus on the fundamentals of tackling, nothing will.
 

Change gon’ come…

However, there is another change that I can report seems as though it’ll come around this November: the NCHSAA appears likely to reverse a decision made last spring to end all regular-season soccer games (it was later clarified to meaning regular-season conference soccer games) with a winner or loser.
 
In other words, no ties. Go to penalty kicks if you must.
 
But ties are, like it or not, a part of soccer. And they actually come in handier for conference standings. You don’t know how much you miss having one team 12-2 and the other 10-1-1 until you end up with a three-way tie for third because you cut down on the potential outcomes.
 
I was, at first, baffled that the proposal was approved in the spring at all, but there are two lessons to be learned here for coaches: first, join your coaches’ association; second, take your surveys seriously because the questions are on there for a pointed reason.
 
Another thing strikes me about the nature of this survey and coaching associations in general.
 
I heard recently that 3 percent of all coaches are members of their associations. That number could be missing a zero at the end and it’d still be surprising to me.
 
But then again, maybe that explains some things. 
 
The soccer coaches’ vote on this PK rule was close enough (49-to-51 percent) that the NCHSAA saw it as a coin flip and went ahead with the way the 49 percent voted.
 
Maybe some missed the email. 
 
Maybe others deleted it, thinking the measure had no shot anyway. 
 
When coaches’ associations all have low memberships, it opens the door for the NCHSAA to read a little more into survey results instead of fully accepting the results.

Five links to love…

I’ll start this segment off this week with stories from the early fall.
 

Something that probably only interests me

The NCHSAA tweaked the playoff process last spring (again!) but I haven’t heard nearly the same amount of bellyaching as I’m used to.
 
Is it because I’m on Twitter less these days now that I’m teaching, or did the NCHSAA do something the membership generally likes?
 
Or does it seem like we’ve found a happy medium between conference standings and strength of schedule each mattering?
 
I think it’s the latter and any tweaks from here on should be isolated — no more throwing the baby out with the bath water.

#AskJMB

This segment is simple: you ask it, I answer it.
 
Broughton baseball coach Jere Morton IV asked what was the best concession stand I’ve been to at a high school game.
 
This question reminded me that I need to carry more cash on my person so I can sample more offerings, but here’s what has always stuck out to me from my 164 different stops: 
 
1. Southern Lee and Overhills have served ribeye sandwiches. That’s not an everyday thing, but they get my vote for the top specialty item. Southern Lee went all-out for Mountain Dew at one point and had six different flavors, and that’s a winner in my book.
 
2. I believe the hot dogs get better the farther east you go and the redder they get. C.B.Aycock (Pikeville, N.C.) takes the cake for the best hot dogs.
 
3. The best smelling food I haven’t had a chance (or cash) to buy is the fish fry that’s always going on at a Southern Durham game. It takes place directly under the pressbox too, which means I left the field with that delicious smell seared into my jacket.
 
4. For a Junior American Legion tournament, East Forsyth (Kernersville, N.C.) had fried bologna sandwiches, chicken tenders, Icees, and supersize Gummi Bears the size of your hand!
 
5. Any place that has Chik-fil-A sandwiches and inevitably announces towards the end of the game that they are now half-price. Only a truly savvy high school sports fan knows to never buy these before halftime. 
 

Congrats to the champs!

So far, we’ve managed to send at least a photographer, and in almost all cases a writer as well, to every NCHSAA state championship thus far this year. 
 
In case you missed them, here are those links again:
 

Also, you won’t want to miss our final statewide top-25 rankings for girls tennis and volleyball

J. Mike Blake

J. Mike Blake is an English teacher at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh and a contributor to HighSchoolOT.com. He covered high school sports for a variety of newspapers in The News & Observer Publishing Company for 10 years and won 14 N.C. Press Association awards. He is also the only two-time winner of the N.C. Soccer Coaches Association’s media person of the year award.