ON THE SIDELINES: Running up the score?

by Feb 29, 2016SPORTS di-ne-lv-di-yi0 comments





A week ago, two high school basketball teams in Ohio made the national headlines for one of the most lopsided games in history.  In the first round of the state playoffs, Gilmore Academy beat Northeast Ohio College Prep 108-1 sparking debates about “running up the score” and mercy rules.

First off, let’s discuss the mercy rules which I’m completely in favor of.  Ohio currently has a mercy rule for football, but they do not have one for basketball.

I like the mercy rules currently in place here in North Carolina.  Per NCHSAA (North Carolina High School Athletic Association) rules, the clock will run in a basketball game once a team is up by 40 points or more at halftime or at any time in the second half.  The same holds true for football, but the point differential is 42 points.

Soccer games are simply called after a 9-goal lead at halftime or any time in the second half, and baseball and softball games are called if a team reaches a 10 or more run lead after five complete innings.

Mercy rules help a one-sided game from becoming a total beat-down.  I say they help because you can’t always prevent that, and I don’t blame the players or the coaches when the “score is run up”.

In the above-referenced game in Ohio, the Northeast team was 0 for 28 from the field.  Gilmore’s head coach Bob Buetel said in post-game interviews that he wasn’t running up the score and that he pulled his man-to-man defense back into a zone and played his bench all of the second half.

What was he supposed to do?  The other team had shots…28 of them!  It’s not his fault nor is it his players’ fault if the other team can’t shoot the ball.

Both Cherokee teams had some blowout wins this year, and the mercy rule was invoked on their opponents several times.  In particular, the mercy rule came into play in both the first and second round state playoff victories for the Lady Braves.

Some say the coaches in these situations are displaying unsportsmanlike behavior, but I strongly disagree.  If a coach leaves in the starters, stays with a man-to-man defense and keeps pounding, then they might be.  But, mostly what I see is coaches putting in their second and sometimes third string players who don’t get much playing time otherwise.  These are players that are itching to play as they train just as hard as the rest of the team, and they should be given the same opportunities to play hard and score once they get in the game.  Coaches shouldn’t be expected to rein them in so they won’t score.  That’s unfair to those players.  In the Olympics, if a team deliberately pulls up, it’s considered unsportsmanlike and they are disqualified.  The same thought should be applied to high school sports.

My daughter is a pivot blocker on a roller derby team.  The nature of roller derby makes it a high-scoring sport, and it’s not uncommon for game totals to end in the 300s or 400s…and, sometimes the opponent’s scores end up in the 30s or 40s.

So, the next time you see a score like 108-1 and want to complain about a team “running up the score”, just be glad it’s not roller derby.

In the end, a running clock for football and basketball is enough of a mercy rule…don’t expect kids not to play a game they love just to spare the feelings of other kids.  It’s a game….and, with games sometimes you win, sometimes you lose – one of the reasons I feel playing sports is a great lesson for kids later in life.