As football coach at tiny St. John’s High School — a Class A school with about 300 students on Johns Island — Brad Bowles relied on the “8-quarter rule” in order to field a full varsity squad on Friday nights.
The 8-quarter rule allowed some Islanders to play in a junior varsity game on Thursday night, then dress out again on Friday night for the varsity game, playing mostly on special teams or as backups. That’s because S.C. High School League rules allowed players to participate in up to eight quarters of football per week.
That changed last month when the High School League’s executive committee voted 15-0 to do away with the 8-quarter rule beginning with the 2015 season. Players are now limited to one game per week, whether on the junior varsity or varsity level.
The new rule will change the way all coaches in the SCHSL run their programs, but is expected to have the biggest impact on smaller schools like St. John’s. Schools with varsity, JV and B-team programs might have to drop one of the three.
“Not having the 8-quarter rule will hurt a lot of smaller programs,” Bowles said. “We’re just going to have to be creative and figure out ways to help our programs. You can’t just sit around and complain about it.”
High School League officials cited safety reasons for the rule change, and many states had already done away with such rules. In North Carolina, for example, 12 players in each program are allowed to play eight varsity quarters — the equivalent of two full games — before they must be designated as junior varsity or varsity players.
Bowles said he supports the reasoning behind the rule change.
“Guys bang heads on Thursday night and turn around and bang heads again on Friday night,” he said. “I can see the safety concerns. The more we learn about concussions, the more precautions we are going to have to take — how we schedule games, how we do JV and B-teams, that’s all part of it.”
At St. John’s, the Islanders are likely to do away with their JV team, said Bowles, who is leaving St. John’s at the end of the school year to take over at Providence High School in Charlotte.
“We could just do a B-team with eighth and ninth-graders,” he said. “We used so many freshmen on varsity last year, but there are some that have to be developed on the JV level.”
At Military Magnet, a Class A school with about 220 students, football coach Gene Ross said he hasn’t been able to field a JV team for four or five years. The new rule will eliminate that possibility, he said.
“We’d never be able to field a JV team now,” he said. “When we did, we’d take six or eight kids from the varsity and bring them down to JV to play. It would help us dress 15 of 20 for the JV. Without those kids, we would not have been able to field a team.”
Ross also said the reasons behind the rule change are solid.
“I think the rationale behind it is good, for safety reasons,” Ross said. “Anytime you can be on the side of safety, that’s great.”
The rule change also will impact larger schools such as Class AAAA James Island Charter, with about 1,300 students.
“I think it affects us a lot differently than most AAAA schools,” said Trojans coach Ike Allred. “Just because of our numbers, it will limit the possibilities of kids gaining that confidence by playing on Friday night.
“But at the same time, we are in business for the safety of those kids. If the decision is for safety reasons, I’m in 100 percent agreement with that.”
Allred said that without JV players to fill special teams and backup roles on Friday nights, more will be asked of varsity starters.
“I foresee a lot more starters being on special teams,” he said. “We won’t have the depth, even at the varsity level, to limit the reps for varsity guys.”
It’s up to coaches, Allred said, to adjust to the new reality.
“Whatever the powers that be tell us to do, that’s what we’ll do,” he said. “It will be a transition, but we’ll do what we’re supposed to do.”