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Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015: Frank Cutinella calls for changes in football safety

   Leading off today: Frank Cutinella called for a change the culture of high school football during a safety conference for Suffolk County athletic directors Tuesday.

   Cutinella, whose son Tom died last fall from injuries suffered in a Shoreham-Wading River game, called for a greater emphasis on sportsmanship, fundamentals, rule enforcement and accountability during a speech at Section 11's safety conference, Newsday reported.

   "We in high school have to see the big picture," Cutinella said. "It's not the NFL."

   Speaking for half an hour without notes, Cutinella said it took him 10 months to watch video of the play that killed his son. He said he recited the painful details not to place blame, but rather to show the need for change. Among the changes Cutinella wants to see:

  • More emphasis by coaches in teaching proper tackling. He said there should be a "safety coach" on each staff who watches tape and shows players instances when they had their head down during tackles.
  • Developing a system for referees to rate coaches on safety, sportsmanship and team conduct.
  • More interaction between referees and players before games, letting athletes know they're going to be under scrutiny for dangerous play.
   Cutinella said he is scheduled to speak before a convention in Saratoga Springs of the state's athletic directors in March.

   "I don't want to stand up here and tell young parents, 'Please don't sign up for football.' I don't want to do that because that's not fair to him," Cutinella said, pointing to the picture of his son. "But if we're not willing to change, I'm willing to tell parents, 'Please don't sign up for football.'"

    • A junior in Texas became the sixth U.S. high schooler to die from football-related injuries this season. Cam'ron Matthews of Alto High died Saturday after being injured during a game on Friday night.

   A tie at the top: It's a rare occurrence when the New York State Sportswriters Association opts to create a tie for No. 1 in any of its rankings during the regular season, but we have one now.

   In rankings released this morning, Aquinas and Archbishop Stepinac share the No. 1 position in Class AA football. Stepinac had been No. 2 since the start of the season. Aquinas was third before its 42-14 victory over No. 1 Canisius on Saturday in Rochester.

   The weekly rankings process begins with NYSSWA co-founder Neil Kerr gathering reports and recommendations from a network of helpers across New York. Drawing upon those updates and his own expertise shaped by nearly half a century of compiling rankings, Neil typically pieces together the order in each class from his home office in Syracuse each Sunday night.

   In this instance, Neil reached out to myself and Steve Grandin (who supplies much of the weekly scores info on our site and edits the all-state team) several days before Aquinas' win and Stepinac's victory over then-No. 11 St. Anthony's and asked us to work through the possibilities.

   When the Week 7 results played out as anticipated (though I didn't expect the Aquinas-Canisius score to be quite as lopsided), we went with the co-No. 1 decision. It reflects a consensus that the final rankings in December would end up a tie if Aquinas and Stepinac take care of business in their respective tournaments -- Aquinas in the NYSPHSAA and Stepinac in the CHSAA -- over the next month and a half.

   Quite frankly, those schools are playing a higher level than the rest of the state. Either can be beaten, but the current evidence suggests it's less likely at this juncture than for past mid-season No. 1 teams.

   Meeting preview: The Executive Committee of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association meets Thursday in Troy with a busy slate to address. Recent blogs have already explained some of the key items that will come up for a vote:

  • Whether to restart the bidding process for the 2017-19 boys basketball tournament from scratch under revised rules, abide by the boys basketball committee's selection of Glens Falls or award the event to Binghamton. football site

  • Expand the football tournament to six classes, boys and girls lacrosse to four classes and the baseball final fours from one day to two.
   Looming largest among the remaining items might be a request originating from Section 6 this spring to expand the hockey season from 20 to 22 games. More so than any other major sport, hockey faces substantial in-season competition (in the form of Junior programs) for the top end of the player pool, and a longer schedule -- 24 games would be better, but that would have no shot for now -- is one way for the high schools to compete.

   The kicker to the proposal is that the extra games would not cost the schools much more than if they were practicing separately on rented ice instead of playing each other at the same rink.

   A few other items scheduled for a vote, keeping in mind that everything on the agenda is subject to being tabled:

  • Venue selections are expected to approved, including for moving girls golf to the Yellow Course at Bethpage State park through 2018 and indoor track to Staten Island's Ocean Breeze Athlete Complex for 2017-19.
  • Requiring private schools to comply with all coaching certification requirements set forth by the State Education Department commissioner, a potential extra layer of protection in defending civil lawsuits.
  • Adding a week to the length of the 2016 boys and girls lacrosse seasons, which would have the effect of pushing state finals back to June 11. A master-calendar anomaly current has the season compressed into 13 weeks rather than the usual 14 or 15.
  • Approval of a new policy on gifts for athletes at state championship events, eliminating just about all current bling such as tote bags, etc.
   The new gift policy falls under the headings of consistency and Title IX and is not especially popular with several of the sports committees that have arrangements with vendors currently holding ball contracts that will be replaced by the NYSPHSAA deal with Spalding that kicks into effect next fall.

   With no such gift agreement in the Spalding contract, the state association is moving toward NYSPHSAA- branded lanyards and souvenir badges specific to the event for participants plus t-shirts for state champs.

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