Could the IHSAA’s new grace rule go beyond football?
IndyStar sat down with Indiana High School Athletic Association commissioner Bobby Cox this week as he stops for the state’s annual fall chiefs meeting. Cox, 62, is in his ninth year as an IHSAA commissioner. This is Part 1 of a two-part interview with Cox, where he discussed early feedback on the Football Grace Rule, how he is perceived in his role, the problem of referee shortage, and more:
Are there any hot button topics right now?
“Nothing really. Going through fall meetings to review all of the changes made – the board changes required by law and any new programs we’re doing. Upgrades in technology. We’re talking about our sports program. All of these new things. All the assistants have those Opportunity to present their areas of expertise. I present the budget, sports finance material, changes to the statutes. We talk about competition officials, our partnership with Special Olympics Indiana and Champions Together. Matt (Wolfert) talks about the foundation and how it is growing and what they are doing. It’s about a two-hour meeting. It’s pretty quiet. I ask people for questions and they don’t ask questions. Membership is pretty happy. Pretty quiet. (Deputy Commissioner) Robert (Faulkens) talked for a while about the grace rule, changing the Statutes for the number of quarters played (for junior university and university together ). That was well received. We recorded this and think that a third of our games hit the 35 point differential every weekend (there’s a clock running once a second half lead hits 35 points). Then the question is: is 35 the correct number? Should it be 42? We’ll interview members. But it was pretty quiet. “
What is the first feedback on the soccer grace rule?
“The school that beats someone 60-0 doesn’t bring anything out of the game. The school, beaten 60-0, is just fighting to get the kids interested and not hurt anyone. So yes, drawing a quicker conclusion has been well received on both sides. Robert asked the question, “How many of you had a grace rule game this year?” All raised a hand. He said, “I’m not going to ask which side you were on.” It was a good change. We have had to do it for years. Now that we did it and the football coaches have contributed a lot, I think it will be very well received. Think we can get a result faster in these games.
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What we then have to do, however, is to take a critical look at these games and compare them – have we had more unsporting or less unsportsmanlike behavior than last year after the comparison? Does it help in that regard? Could also compare it to injuries. The problem is that we didn’t ask our members to record injuries in the second half or at the end of the game. You really don’t know Could certainly do it this year compared to next year. I think it’s been well received. I only hear positive comments about it. No problems with clock operation. Coaches know that they cannot stand up for the referee to turn him off or on or start early. The rule is the rule and everyone is pretty good at it. “
Any options with basketball and a grace rule?
“Nothing in basketball. Had soccer (talks). You get those 8-0, 9-0 soccer games that have to be over. Let a group of kids get frustrated and they’ll start attacking kids and trying to get their knees out – bad results. Football coach, I am not aware of any conversations about shortening the game. The problem is that soccer has a running clock. What should you do Depend minutes on a running clock? Suppose we are in the second half of a soccer game and make it 6-0. Do we take a two-minute break and then two minutes for each goal until we reach the end? Nobody knows how to handle it. So there was no conversation (from coaches). But I’ve heard ADs and principals say, “Is there anything you can do to make the football shorter?” Eighty minutes is a long time, especially when it’s 80 minutes and nobody scores. Not so much a grace rule, but once we hit 80 minutes and no one scores anymore, let’s get it over with. Let’s have a golden goal or have (punitive children) right away. We certainly don’t have to play 14 minutes and then to PKs. I don’t know what that answer will be like. You have two camps. Football purists who want to play the game the way it is written. Others want to get it over with. Where do you meet in the middle?
The issue of a lack of referees in university sports has been around for two or three years. How do you perceive the problem?
“We have two problems. You have 30,000 feet of visibility, and that means – our officers are aging. Our average age of civil servants is over 50 years. We’re not replacing them at the rate that they retire. So if you just do the math, you will get to a point where you don’t have enough officials. These isolated incidents that have occurred, like the Lutheran Shortridge game or a uniform flag football game where we had no officials, are parallel to the larger problem, but these problems are situations that deal with the sports administrator who is dealing with a referring physician has to do. who speaks to an officer. You have involved third parties and there is a disruption in communication. Someone thinks they’re going to this game and they’re going to this game. Before, when you had more officers, when it got this critical condition at 6:15 p.m. and you only had two officers, you called and called someone. Now everything is done by referring physicians. And there aren’t that many to choose from.
Everyone with a license works out there. Nobody sits around on Friday night waiting for a game. If you put all of that together, my view is that across all sports, the Office in our state has come to a point where we need to make some significant changes to the discipline of the Office – how it is treated and how we use it to keep . We can recruit them. We hire 200 civil servants a year. We have to keep it. We feel that if we can keep them past the five-year threshold, they’ll stay 25 years old. It’s about taking them from zero to five. We’re pairing her with a veteran. We’re trying to get them to places where they can thrive – less important events. Had a few situations where we took a brand new wrestling official and gave him an invite to wrestle with 32 teams in his freshman year. He’s not ready for it – that kind of intensity and that kind of calls. He is yelled at by fans and coaches. It’ll take him a year, two, three years and say “the hell with it” and do something else. We need to bring him to lower intensity environments where they can work on their skills and where the mentor can work with them. “What did you see when you were at this corner looking for a 2 point takedown?” We need more of that so we can hit a day where they can work without a mentor and call a varsity match. That’s true in every sport.
When bringing someone to market with a lack of experience, it is a nerve-wracking experience at first. They do not have enough experience and are being helped from the sidelines or from the stands. It’s a pretty difficult place. We must do better to have the officials in the right place at the right time. Bring them to this threshold so that they can continue to officiate. And then you take them to the threshold where they can play games, apply for a tournament and our numbers go up. It’s a big problem that has a number of facets. “
You are in a position where you can certainly be a lightning rod for criticism. It’s part of the job. How do you deal with it now compared to when you started?
“I think you’re not learning to internalize. You learn not to take things personally. You’re not after me as Bobby Cox. You are after the job, the organization. They don’t like a certain rule. They don’t like certain politics. It’s not personal. You learn that quickly. They know what you are signing up for when you do. What a lot of people don’t understand is – by the time something arrives at my desk, we’ve already got something set up to handle it. This is a membership organization. The members propose rules. The NFHS writes the rules of the game. These decisions are well made before they reach me. If we have a legal problem and someone doesn’t have a transfer for a child, the school has to lose games. This decision is made the moment the child comes into play. I am the one who has to notify the school, “Yes, this is a violation.” In doing this, you learn that you do not internalize it. It’s part of the job you signed up for. I don’t take things personally.
When I started nine years ago, I probably took things more personally than I do now. Now it is more about the question: “Where are we going as an organization worldwide?” I’ve talked for years about bringing change into the 21st century. Change is difficult. We still have people who say, “The rule is clear and the punishment is severe” – good old Arthur Trester (Commissioner from 1922-44). Well those days are over. We have to be flexible. Fifty percent of our children come from divorced or separated parents. We changed our divorced or separated parent transfer rule to add one more option for this rule. These are just some examples. We changed the rules to reflect the impermanence of the 21st century. At the same time, these rules are determined by the membership. You make contributions to our board and we will vote on those changes. When it comes to me, my only job is to make sure they follow the rules. “
Is that the biggest misunderstanding of your position?
“Robert (Faulkens) jokes that the IHSAA is made up of five men sitting in a room, smoking cigars, drinking bourbon and making bad decisions. No, it’s actually 19 people sitting around smoking cigars, drinking bourbon and making bad decisions. ‘(Laughs) It’s not like that at all. We have 19 really good school people on our board who look after children and try to do the right thing. It is very difficult to write rules that are congruent for 412 schools. Each of them is different. The transmission problems that IPS faces are very different from those that Shakamak faces. These problems are different from Fort Wayne, South Bend, Bloomington. You are trying to write rules for 412 schools. It’s hard to do. There are people who will make exceptions to one thing or another. That’s just the nature of governance. In this regard, we are no different from the other 50 state associations or the NCAA. If you are a government body, you will have people who want exceptions, favor and forbearance because the rule does not suit their situation. “
We’ll find out more in Part 2 of our conversation with Cox.
Call star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.