Bye-bye second-half 35-point Mercy Rule, hello first-half 35-point Mercy Rule


A rules change is in the works for Iowa prep football’s so-called “Mercy Rule”. 

The changes will start with the 2020 season.

Mercy Rule change

Up until now, the Mercy Rule took effect in the second half of a football game when a game score resulted in a 35-point lead for one team over another. An aspect of the Mercy Rule was that the game clock would run in a continuous countdown, unless the clock was stopped by a referee or an injury.

Under the new rule change, the continuous clock aspect can start as early as the first half, if one team has a 35-point advantage over another.

If a score falls back under the 35-point margin, there is a return to the normal game clock. Previously, the continuous clock only began running during a margin of 35-points or more in the second half.

The change was approved by the football advisory committee that met recently.

While that may seem fairly insignificant, the Mercy Rule was the most significant thing that came out of the advisory board’s meeting.

No word yet on new districts for Iowa prep football.

There was, however, considerable discussion, again an ongoing discussion that has been ongoing for more than a decade on the number of qualifying playoff teams.

A return to 32-team playoffs?

There were two recommendations, and both proposed a 32-team playoff per division for Classes 3-A, 2-A, 1-A, A, and Eight-Player. The current system is for 16 qualifying teams.

Discussions continue over potential Class 4-A changes.

Among the recommendations was for a nine-game regular season and five rounds of playoffs with six days between each playoff round.

That idea got nixed.

That prompted a recommendation for an eight-game regular season, with five rounds of playoffs with post season games remaining on Friday’s until the semifinal round.

Both recommendations had the regular season starting with Week 1 on August 28. 

All classes currently have a nine-game regular season schedule with 16 playoff qualifying spots.

A verdict on the second proposal the eight-game regular season is expected later this month when the board of control meets again.

Experts say they want to resolve the playoff decision for all classes of football at the same time.

The IHSAA plans to meet with Class 4-A schools and further discuss football’s playoff qualifying issue before a decision is made with other classes. 

“We appreciate the advisory committee’s recommendations and the work the committee has done to reach those recommendations,” IHSAA executive director Tom Keating said, 

“The board has decided to table action on playoff qualifiers in order to address all classes at the same time.”

Iowa’s prep football playoffs expanded from 16 qualifiers per class to 32 qualifiers per class back in 2008. 

In 2016, all classes returned to a 16-team playoff system.  

Both the coaches association and the football advisory committee recommended a reversal back to 32 qualifiers for 2018, but the Board of Control held firm  with a 16-team system, with the plan to add the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI)  formula for at-large qualification. 

The next meeting of the Board of Control is scheduled for January 23 in Boone.

Reporter at the Winterset Madisonian. He has also been the managing editor at the Madisonian.