A revised no-pass, no-play rule will mean students who try to put one over on a coach could end up making the whole team forfeit a game.
Beginning in September, students who cut class or leave school early the day of a game or meet, and still play that afternoon or evening, will cause their teams to forfeit.
It hasn't happened often, but students have sometimes participated and their coaches didn't find out until later that the students missed school or otherwise were ineligible, said Peter B. McDowell, director of secondary education.
A coach doesn't have time between 2:30 p.m. and kickoff time to check on 40 students' classroom attendance that day, he said.
"I think it happened one or two times -- enough to become an issue of what would be done in that situation," said Bruce Cowan, supervisor of physical education and athletics.
The only time Westminster High School ever beat Randallstown in a football game, it had to forfeit because one player turned out to be ineligible, Mr. McDowell said.
That forfeiture was because of a statewide athletic conference rule, but Carroll County is beefing up its local policy to make it more consistent, he said.
In the past, individual coaches and schools may have handled it in different ways when they found out a student played a game after cutting classes that day.
For example, some coaches would bench the student for the next game, Mr. McDowell said.
The forfeiture applies not only to attendance, but also to the other two criteria for eligibility for extracurricular activities. Students may not be failing more than one class, and may not be caught using drugs, alcohol or tobacco or otherwise violating conduct rules.
However, the absence cases were the most difficult to pin down, Cowan said. Coaches knew when report cards came out, and any misconduct charges had to go through a hearing process before the student was found ineligible.
Also, the eligibility policy applies to all extra-curricular activities, including plays, band and other events. But forfeiture doesn't apply to most of those events because they aren't contests.
The new rule will mean more responsibility and peer pressure for students to do the right thing, Mr. McDowell said.
"The idea is between them and their peers, there will be pressure not to cut a class," Mr. McDowell said. Also, fellow team members will be more likely to tell a player they know wasn't in class not to risk the game for the whole team, or to report the absence to the coach.
Mr. McDowell said that, in drafting the new rule, the school system consulted with some coaches and administrators, but not with students.
All counties have some form of the no-pass, no-play rule, and the conduct and absence policies vary.
"We don't know the fine points of what everyone is doing, but we feel it's the right thing to do," Mr. McDowell said.
Mr. Cowan said the system will make a point to let all students know of the rule change in the fall.