Along with the first day of high school football practice, the scholastic sports year opened across the county Thursday with a twist: a statewide rule prohibiting the videotaping of any games without the permission of the team being taped.
The rule was adopted last springby the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association's state football committee, and later was extended to all sports. It allowscoaches to videotape opponents and to exchange tapes with them, provided coaches consent to the taping mutually.
Football officials say the rule is a product of complaints by coaches who claim some football teams have gained an unfair scouting advantage through the proliferating use of videotape.
"In some cases,we had near-violent situations last year during (football) playoff time, when some coaches showed up at another team's playoff game to film it," said Ned Sparks, the Executive Secretary of the MPSSAA.
"Some counties pay for more coaches than other counties, and if you cansend camera crews to three or four different games and someone else can only send one, that creates an unfair advantage," added Sparks, who said he knows of complaints regarding teams from all over the state, including Howard County.
"We're encouraging coaches to exchangefilm. We're encouraging sportsmanship and cooperation. We want to put everything on an even playing field," he added.
"The football committee tried to find a happy middle ground. To some degree, it (the rule) is an embarrassment. Some coaches couldn't agree to do what college coaches and NFL coaches have done (trade film) for years. There needed to be some uniformity."
The penalties for coaches who violate the rule are somewhat unclear. Sparks said a coach caught taping an opponent's game illegally would be barred from the state playoffs.
He added the offending coach could be suspended, and that his teamcould be forced to forfeit past or future games.
The county's football coaches have agreed to continue an old arrangement, under whichteams tape each other and trade game tape freely. To abide by the new rule, coaches will swap tape only during the regular season's finalseven weeks, when league teams play each other exclusively. Otherwise, they must contact out-of-county opponents in advance to receive permission to tape them.
Coaches criticized the new rule, questioning the need for it as well as the ability of the state to enforce it.
"It's totally unenforceable. It's way off base, just another stupid rule. They (the state) need to find better things to do with their time," said Wilde Lake football coach Doug DuVall, who called into question how the policy would apply in counties where high school football games are televised on local cable TV. Carroll County, for example, televises one game per week.
"What is going to stop someone from getting a hotel room and taping a game on TV there?" DuVall added. "What if a parent wants to tape the game or tape their kid? Do they still have a right to go? You can't tell one person they can film and someone else they can't. It flies in the face of everything that's American."
Oakland Mills coach Ken Klock said he thinks the rule is senseless and will be impossible to supervise. He also feels the rulepenalizes teams lacking the resources of their competitors by givingadvantages to schools that have more scouts.
"Sometimes we have trouble getting enough good people to scout. You can send someone who knows nothing about the game out with a camera," Klock said.
Centennial coach Ed Holshue understands the rule's intent, and he sympathizes with the committee officials who are trying to make scouting conditions more equitable throughout the state. But he too denounced the rule, adding it will tempt people to violate it.
"There is some credence to their thinking, but all they're doing is creating more clandestine operations. Who will investigate, and who will say where the truth lies? I don't know," Holshue said. "The state really has made it difficult for themselves. They should have left things they way they were. Sometimes they don't possess the most infinite wisdom. Next year, I guarantee you it (the rule) will be reversed."
State football committee chairman John Cox said the committee has discussed the videotape issue for several years, but decided last spring to address it with a policy. He said for the rule to be effective, cooperation within each county will be essential.
"We don't have an enforcementbody that goes around enforcing the regulations. But we have very high expectations of the integrity and character of the people in our football programs," Cox said.
"It's a self-policing system," added Andy Borland, the head coach at Severna Park High School in Anne Arundel County. Borland is also the District V representative and a member of the state football committee.
"I was totally against the ruleat the beginning, but I can see where it will help football get better," he added. "The rule can be handled. We're handling it in our owncounty."
Don Disney, the county's Supervisor of Athletics, thinksthe state's intentions are good, but he wonders how effective the rule can be.
"The schools with the best resources are still going tobe ahead of the game," he said. "The rule went into effect for equity reasons. I don't think the intention of this group is to catch people. I think the rule was passed to work on people's consciences."