Local football teams will adapt to new sectionals, rules in ’19, ’20

The reactions to the rules and realignment adjustments ranged from head-scratching to joyous across Indiana.

The IHSAA recently released its new sectional assignments for the next two years and also adapted a mercy rule for football Monday.

Both Seymour and Brownstown Central will feel the effects of the changes on the gridiron this fall.

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Sectionals have been changed to accommodate additional schools adding programs and teams moving up and down classes based on enrollment. The tournament success factor also comes into play with the classifications, as high-achieving tournament teams were bumped up.

The mercy rule works like this: When a team reaches a 35-point differential 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 the regular timing regardless of the score, and coaches will not be able to override the implementation of the mercy rule.

In addition, junior varsity players are now allotted six quarters to play in between a varsity and JV game. In the past, JV players were given five total quarters to use between games, so many coaches only put the younger players in for one quarter in blowouts.

Owls swap one state champion for another

In Class 5A, Seymour has moved from Sectional 15 to 14. The Owls are now in the same sectional as Franklin, Whiteland and New Palestine.

While the Owls will no longer have to face longtime powerhouse Columbus East, which moved up to 6A due to the tournament success factor, its postseason isn’t getting any easier.

New Palestine, a 3A-sized school, won the Class 4A state title in 2014 before getting moved up to 5A in 2015. The Dragons were state runners-up that first year in 5A.

This past fall, the Dragons beat Decatur Central 14-0 to win the 5A state title at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Since 2013, New Palestine has an overall record of 74-4.

“It is what it is,” Seymour coach Mike Kelly said. “You transfer out one state champion for another one. It’s a good opportunity for our program to compete with the best of the best in Class 5A in the state of Indiana.”

Kelly said he expects the Dragons to be ranked in the top five, if not No. 1, in the 5A preseason polls.

Whiteland is coming off of an 8-3 season and Franklin finished 2-8 in 2018. One of Whiteland’s wins was over the reigning state champions: Columbus East. East made it all the way to the semistate by the season’s end.

“Whiteland is also a program that is very, very good. They are returning a lot of their starters from last year,” Kelly said. “Franklin has a new coach coming in and is setting expectations, so you’re not sure what you’re going to get from them. It’s good to have that variety within our playoff.”

The winner of Sectional 14 goes up against the Sectional 13 champion in the regional. Sectional 13 has Decatur Central, Plainfield, Terre Haute North and Terre Haute South.

In the semistate, the regional winner moves on to play the Sectional 15 or 16 champion. Sectional 15 features Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Castle and Evansville North. Sectional 16 is now the Owls’ old sectional opponents: Bedford North Lawrence, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville and New Albany.

“We kind of suspected it might be that draw,” Kelly said. “Looking at proximity, the only other way it could have gone was if BNL went west with the Bloomington schools and then having us go south with the (Hoosier Hills) conference schools. Geographically, that would have been better across the board. I’m not sure the reasoning on that.”

Kelly said facing new opponents, instead of the Hoosier Hills Conference schools, in the sectional could be a nice change.

“We’ve always said that we’re starting a second season once we get to sectional,” he said. “It really is now because we don’t see any of the teams in the regular season. I think it will add some flavor and excitement to the schedule.”

Only one of the Owls’ games would have been impacted by the mercy rule this past fall, but Kelly agrees with the changes.

“I’m in favor of the mercy rule,” Kelly said. “The mercy rule is going to allow teams to play their younger kids more while also allowing the JV kids to not lose their quarters. That’s going to help alleviate some of the pressure the coaches have. I also think that some scores we were seeing with teams scoring 70-plus point are gone. (Those scores) are unnecessary.”

Braves to benefit from new rule, see minor changes to postseason

During its 2018 season, Brownstown would have automatically seen the mercy rule implemented in 11 of its 13 games.

The Braves aren’t strangers to lopsided games and also are familiar with running clocks.

In the past, however, it came down to verbal agreements between coaches and officials.

“What happened was if you’re so far ahead, you tell the officials you’re not opposed to a running clock,” Braves coach Reed May said. “They then have to go over and ask the other coach. It’s hard to judge who wants to do it.”

May said having an extra quarter for JV players is a huge benefit to smaller football programs.

“The problem was if you were ahead in the third quarter, you can’t put the JV into the varsity game yet because they would only have three quarters left,” May said. “In the fourth quarter, if you put the JV in and the other team didn’t and they score a couple quick touchdowns, you all of a sudden have to put your varsity back in. It’s tough. Having a running clock, no matter what, helps with if other teams leave starters in. I think it’s longtime overdue.”

May said BCHS Athletic Director Mark DeHart has pushed for a mercy rule for years.

The running clock also will operate in the postseason, which is important to May.

“We had a game a couple years ago where the officials seemed to think that you couldn’t have a running clock during a tournament,” May said. “I told them we had before, but there was no rule. Tournament time, you’re worried about starters getting hurt. If you get ahead, you can put subs in and not worry about your starters getting hurt.”

Sectional 31 has seen movement for the next two years.

Brownstown is now in the same pool as Batesville, Charlestown, Franklin County, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Rushville and Scottsburg. Scottsburg, Rushville and Franklin County replaced Corydon Central, North Harrison and Salem in the sectional.

The Sectional 31 and 32 winners would face off in the regional. Corydon, North Harrison, Salem, Evansville Bosse, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Mt. Vernon and Southridge are in Sectional 32.

“That’s a pretty tough sectional. Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills and Southridge are pretty good,” May said.

The semistate round would feature the 31/32 winner against the 29/30 victor. Danville, Greencastle, Indian Creek, Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis George Washington, Indianapolis Manual, Tri-West Hendricks and West Vigo are in Sectional 29. Brown County, Edgewood, Owen Valley, Pike Central, Princeton, Sullivan, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington are in 30.

May said he was surprised by the realignment.

“I really thought since Scottsburg came down to 3A that Southridge and Heritage Hills would come east again and Lawrenceburg, Batesville and Greensburg would go north toward Indianapolis like they did a few years ago,” he said. “I thought it would be the (Mid-Southern) conference schools plus Southridge and Heritage Hills. I would have bet my bottom dollar on that.

“When it came out, I thought, ‘You have got to be kidding me?’ The sectional we’re in is fine. I have no problem with it at all. It just surprises me that they sent Corydon, North Harrison and Salem west, especially with the time change. Princeton and Gibson Southern are 12 miles apart and in theory could play each other in the semistate. How they did it was the first time they’ve ever done sectionals like this.”

May said he likes that his team isn’t facing the same teams twice.

“The good thing is we only could play Scottsburg and Charlestown twice,” May said. “The other teams are all new, which is nice. In that sense, it’s good to see and play other teams. The bad news is that Franklin County is about two hours away and Rushville is a long drive, too, but we’ve had long drives before. We’ve had Union County in our sectional before. It was really interesting to see how they divided it up.”