Stop Playing So Well, Harrison Bergeron!

The AP reports:

Any Connecticut high school football coach who runs up the score in a game now runs the risk of being suspended. The football committee of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state board that governs high school sports, has adopted a "score management" policy to keep teams from winning by more than 50 points.

The rout is considered an unsportsmanlike infraction and, beginning this fall, the head coach of the offending team will be disqualified from coaching the next game, said Tony Mosa, assistant executive director of the Cheshire-based CIAC.

"We were concerned with any coach running up the game. There's no need for it," Mosa said Wednesday. "This is something that we really have been discussing for the last couple of years. There were a number of games that were played where the difference of scores were 60 points or more. It's not focused on any one particular person." ...

Football committee chairman Leroy Williams ... formerly coached high school in the city and remembers well the beatings his teams were handed. He recalls being down by 54 points in one game and having the opposing team line up for an onside kick after scoring.

"Try to explain that to kids," Williams said. "When you get someone down, you don't have to kick them. The key thing to remember is, it's about the quality of the game. It's about teaching kids right from wrong. It's about the game of life and that's how we had to look about it."

The problem, it seems to me, is quite real: It is indeed dispiriting and embarrassing to be so badly beaten. One possible solution (which the story describes, but which wasn't adopted) is to stop the game when the score gap gets too large. Another is to split the league into divisions in each of which the teams would be more closely matched, though that might not work well for a small league. There are other reasonable alternatives as well.

But the solution of requiring the winning team to essentially stop competing effectively strikes me as worse than the problem. As the Laissez Faire Books blog points out,

[I]f the players of a team, after having gotten 50 points ahead in a game, suddenly begin moping about the field, carefully abstaining from scoring a single further point, the players on the losing team are going to know why.

They are going to know, first, that they are playing lousy compared to the other team. They're going to know, second, that the official rules of the game now declare that beyond a certain point they must be deemed to be playing so lousy that their opponents must be officially hobbled lest the members of the lousy team be humiliated further. And it is an elementary law of psychology that the knowledge that you are being officially declared irremediably lousy by the very rules of the game is not going to cheer you up. "We're such lousy losers that we can't even be allowed to play an honest game in the fourth quarter," is what all the players on the losing team will be thinking.

Some of the same persons on the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference proposing the penalty for too-success coaching have also opposed a "run out the clock" rule (i.e., a rule that would finish the game faster if one team is being pulverized by outlawing any more time-outs). According to the AP, "Mosa [an assistant executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference] said committee members believed the clock rule would be unfair to junior varsity players who likely would be on the field during lopsided games." But why is it unfair to impair players under a run-out-the-clock cure for the agony of defeat but not under a cure in which a winning coach will be punished if his players continue to play their best? Whether or not such a clock rule is justified, it would, obviously, at least allow all players on both sides to continue doing their best, under the same rules, and without arbitrarily penalizing coaches....

UPDATE: Some commenters defend the new rule on the theory that a coach who's winning by 50 points ought to send in his second- or third-string players, which will make the contest more even and give his weaker players some game time. That's a sensible approach, and one of the "other reasonable alternatives" I mention. Among other things, it would at least involve each player trying to do his best, though it would now be weaker players doing that.

But that's not what the rule calls for; according to the article, the rule generally prohibits "run[ing] up the score." If team A is losing by 50 points to team B's first string, it's eminently possible that team B's second or third string will still keep scoring touchdown after touchdown against A. (Some commenters in fact reported such experiences from their own lives.) Are B's second string players now supposed to spend their rare game time playing deliberately weakly, for fear that if they play their best they'll be "run[ing] up the score"?

Others suggested that the winning team ought not be allowed to use onside kicks or to throw "forward passes of more than 30 yards." That I just don't buy, for the reasons mentioned above. But even beyond this, if A is losing by 50 points, it's probably not because of onside kicks (though maybe because of forward passes). Ban onside kicks, and the other side will still score a lot -- unless they are indeed required to basically just not try to score.

Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
In my days, one team got ahead by 21 points or so and they sent in the second string. Kept it from being a blowout, and why not give your second string some experience, you may need them some day?
6.15.2006 2:47am
Michael Crapenhoft (mail):
I don't think the rule is likely to bar anyone from "playing well", nor would it require the better players to "mope around", or "carefully abstain from scoring a single further point." It would instead bar certain coaching tactics, such as taking an onside kick when already up by 54, that persons of ordinary skill in the football related arts would immediately recognize as not being good football played well, but instead simple outrageous poor sportsmanship.

Good football requires that teams enjoying an insurmountable lead keep the ball on the ground, chew up the clock, protect their best players against unneccesary injury, and perhaps give their second stringers some helpful experience. A dominant team will probably still score running the ball on the ground late in the game, and I can't imagine this rule would penalize them for it. But any coach who lines up for an onside kick while up 54 points is not teaching good football or good sportsmanship, or educating anyone in the art of being a proper human being.
6.15.2006 3:09am
I've been losing big at many different sports for a long time. Loosing sucks, regardless of the rules.

That said, I would definitely support a similar type of CT rule for law school. Anything to help mitigate my downward spiral and/or put the brakes on straight A students.
6.15.2006 3:16am
raj (mail):
It strikes me that any decent coach (especially at the high school level), after his first string players got his team far enough ahead, would put in his second and third string players to give them chances to play. It is doubtful that that is what these coaches are doing.
6.15.2006 3:50am
Are you serious? Forget about the aspect that sports are entertainment factor. Competition in sports is about getting the W or a display of grit when the game is on the line. Not one single college scout will say "hey this guy is competitive" when they see some quarterback throw 5 more touchdowns after leading by 3 touchdowns in the fourth quarter. I can see a point when it comes down to some BS BCS system where rankings are computed based on point differential. But, you're commenting on high school sports where these displays are about a coach's personal ego/jackassedness. But then again, the out of touch libertarian answer to this is "there's too much regulation in football".
6.15.2006 3:54am
Fern R (www):
That's kind of weird. When I played softball there was a mercy rule which essentially stopped the game after a certain inning if the winning team had more than a certain number of runs over the losing team. I can't imagine someone telling us that we had to stop scoring while the game was still in progress though. What would be the point of continuing the game if you couldn't score? I mean, good sportsmanship is not squeeze bunting when you're up by 20 runs. Since when does good sportsmanship also mean treating the other team like they're idiots and hoping that they don't notice that you're a lot?
6.15.2006 4:04am
Patrick (mail):
I've coached and played in teams that have lost by buckets and won by them, and this is a terrible rule.

Personally as a coach when we were winning by buckets I didn't always have second-, let alone third-string players - but I did make my team play very very pretty football to try and get some skills out of it.

But when we were losing I think the only thing that could have made me feel worse was a rule like that. As it was when you scored consolation points you knew the other team had slacked off a bit, but it was still a satisfaction.

This would be terrible.
6.15.2006 4:37am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Well, Leftleaner, if you're going to bring politics into it, I should note that this is a typical left-wing knee-jerk touchy-feely overreaction designed to make people feel better regardless of whether it makes sense.

This rule doesn't make sense. One might go so far as to say that it is retarded. A mercy rule is one thing -- but a "deliberately don't play well" rule? If the game is so over that the other team isn't even allowed to try to score, then why continue the game?

Moreover, it's completely pointless, as the quote above points out. You're not fooling the losing team by making the better team play badly.
6.15.2006 6:55am
nrein1 (mail):
This is a ridiculous rule. By high school these kids should not be "damaged" if they are beat by 50. Yes, the reserves should be in, but that is it. As others previously mentioned, if I was on the losing team I would be more embarrassed playing against a team that is basically not alllowed to do anything lest they risk accidently scoring and going up by more then 50. What is the practical result of this rule? If a team is up by 48, everytime a player has a clear shot into the endzone he must fall down?

As I recall the reason this rule came about is because of one idiot coach in the state whose team routinely wins by 70 plus as they continue to play the first string and throw the ball. A possible solution to this is to implement some sort of rule where the conduct of the wining coach is investigated after a 50 point victory. DId he bring in the subs, was he running trick plays, did he do onsides kicks, etc?
6.15.2006 7:40am
Simon (391563) (mail) (www):
This is not a left/right thing, it's a reflection of sportsmanship. (Not too long ago, we would have considered this a sort of "gentleman's" rule.) And it makes perfect sense to anyone who has ever played or coached high school football. If a team is 50 points ahead and can't stop itself from scoring (my uncle, who is a high school coach, once ran dives for almost an entire half to avoid scoring again), then that's probably a good indication it needs to schedule tougher opponents.

A shorter version of this rule: don't be an ass.
6.15.2006 8:04am
Kristian (mail) (www):
I think that is a terrible idea. First, what if the other team is so inept, that they do dumb things like give up safties or turnovers that lead directly to scores?

I would be annoyed, but would understand if, after a certain point, the refs announced that this was a lopsided game, and that the winner could nolonger perform some actions like blitzing, onside kicks, fake kicks, forward passes of more than 30 yards, and the like. If the lading team does do that, it is 15yard unsportsmanlike penalty.

Some of the actions described are probably unsportsmanlike, and if the conference provided a way for the ingame officials to penalize I'd probably grudgingly agree.
6.15.2006 8:05am
Michael Jennings (mail) (www):
When I occasionally played high school sports (in Australia), there was often a convention of calling time early in the case of a rout. The referee would blow the whistle ten minutes early, and nobody would say anything about it. There was no actual policy, it was just done. Coaches making substitutions of less good players or using players in unfamiliar positions as an experiment when they had a big lead - this was done too. All of this strikes me as fine, but asking players to play less than their best seems to defeat the point of the whole exercise to me.
6.15.2006 8:14am
"In my days, one team got ahead by 21 points or so and they sent in the second string. Kept it from being a blowout, and why not give your second string some experience, you may need them some day?"

I seem to remember that the original story I read commented that was the crux of the problem - the coach that seems to have caused this issue does not ever put his second string in, even when the game is obviously a blowout. Of course, my memory may be faulty.

If that is true, it seems to me that the CIAC is using a blunt rule to try to send a message to that coach. They should have been more honest and blunt, and send the coach's bosses (administration and/or school committee) a letter pointing out that however many W's he has, the coach is a lousy coach by not giving play time to other players when it is obviously both appropriate and good sportsmanship to do it, with the typical warning "you do something or we will".

I have seen references to complaints by other coaches who even put their JV team in when they got far enough ahead, and the JV players racked up another 21+ points. I think this problem has been (partly?) addressed by adding an appeals process to the suspension.
6.15.2006 8:36am
Barry Dauphin (mail) (www):
I'd echo what Kristian said. If the run-ups of scores are so egregious and the tactics are so easiy recognizable, then they should be evident to the referees who routinely make tougher calls than that. They could even tweak the rules to give the refs more latitude to do this. Something automatic would be silly.
6.15.2006 8:48am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
First of all this has nothing to do with being right or left wing. The problem here (assuming there is one) is simple stupidity/ignorance. Though I do have to agree that LeftLeaning's point about libertarianism isn't really fair. True people who otherwise lean libertarian are likely to emotionally favor less regulation but the claim here is simply that the regulation is counterproductive which has nothing to do with the emotional motivation for making it.

As someone else on this blog who tends to be fairly liberal (though not blindly) let me say that the last thing this blog needs is more substance free criticisms of the form 'X is dumb that's just like those Ys'. I see this enough from the conservatives trying to pin every stupid thing a liberal does on liberalism we certainly don't need to encourage this.

However, I agree that this policy may not be as stupid as it looks on first glance. In particular we need to know the facts about why these high scoring games happen in this area. If it is just because one team is so much better and they don't have any second stringers to send out on the field then yes this policy is stupid and counterproductive. If, on the other hand, there are couches refusing to let their second stringers/JV lineup play just to rub the score in to the other teams face, or even to give their front line players more practice this is a perfectly reasonable policy.

If rather than making the better team's players do a half-assed job this policy causes them to be replaced with the second line players then everyone wins. The worse team gets to play out the whole game and gets to practice against people who aren't totally crushing them but players on both sides can do their best. Conversly this also makes sure that coaches obsessed with crushing their opponents have an incentive to give their less good players time on the field.
6.15.2006 9:03am
RJL (mail):
This is what happens when you try to legislate previously unwritten, but widely accepted, rules.

Having been on both sides of this, both as a coach and player, it seems to me that there are some pretty well worn ways of dealing with this.

The winning coach should never try to run the score up, and yes, it should be obvious that the second (and third) stringers should have been in the game long before it reached such embarassing proportions. I coach soccer, and if we are winning I just insert kids in different positions, play our best offensive players in goal or on defense (if they are not already sitting) and let the weaker players run around the midfield and up front. You can also work on fundamentals like making clean passes.

That said, it is completely humiliating to be losing and then figure out that the other team has stopped competing. The losing team has earned the right to continue competing.

If the second and third stringers are able to run up the score, then the league has not done its job of ensuring some level of balance.

The mercy rule is important in baseball becuase there is usually another game waiting to be played. It does not work well in clocked sports.
6.15.2006 9:09am
TC (mail):

(Not too long ago, we would have considered this a sort of "gentleman's" rule.)

There is a gentleman's rule among many coaches of not running it up unnecessarily. Gentleman's rules are unwritten guides -- an "etiquette" if you will. But implementing an actual rule makes it not a gentleman's rule.
6.15.2006 9:16am
CatoRenasci (mail):
This rule really is the product of the Handicapper General mentality so beautifully described in Harrison Bergeron.

I was part of a team in high school that often won by 30+ point margins and several times 60+ points. Our coach was a great coach who ended up a few years later as the head coach at a Pac10 Division I football program. And we had some very talented players who played DI football in the Pac10.

Our biggest "run up" was typical: after the team scored twice in two possessions, the coach started substituting 2nd stringers, and the entire 1st string was out well before the end of the 1st quarter. By the mid-2nd quarter coach was putting third stringres in and by the half the whole second string was replaced by the third string, including guys with little prior game time. In the second half, he emptied the bench. Not one player who played the 4th quarter had been in a varsity game for more than a couple of plays before. Guys who had never carried the ball in a game scored. A guy who'd never played QB before but always wanted to got to try, and threw a pass for a touchdown. Final score 70-6.

When some people gave coach a hard time about the score, he explained how he'd progressively substituted his less experienced and younger players, and the guys who'd suited up for 3 years, worked hard at practice, but never played, and then said: Are you asking me to tell those kids who've finally gotten a chance to play not to play their hearts out? I'll quit before I'd do that. I owe those kids who come out and practice every day a chance to do their best when I feel I'm able to put them in.
6.15.2006 9:19am
raj and dew: Jack Cochran -- the coach in Connecticut who triggered this rule -- did put in his 2nd and 3rd string players in the course of achieving New London's 4 50+ point victories last year. He has an exceptionally good team, and insists on giving his backups the opportunity to play hard, and to play in realistic game-type situations. A number of backup players on his past teams have gone on to play college football, which is extremely unusual. These are the players who the rule is punishing.
6.15.2006 9:22am
Mack Brown should obviously be suspended. He had no regard for the feelings of the Louisiana, Baylor, Kansas, and Colorado players last season. Nor was he teaching his Texas players not to kick people when they're down, or the difference between right and wrong in the game of life.
6.15.2006 9:27am
Just echoing a couple of other posts: I remember well from little league baseball, if the other team was way ahead, their coach would start putting the bench warmers in. It doesn't offend me at all that that might become a rule. Seems like the norm already.
6.15.2006 9:37am
sbw (mail) (www):
You could, oh, I don't know, NOT POST ADDITIONAL SCORES!

Sport is designed to be played to the best of your ability, from beginning to end. If you find yourself in a position where you cannot win, then you can stick to your tackle as best you can.

Learning to struggle in the face of insurmountable odds is the lesson of Sisyphus. We call it "education."
6.15.2006 9:39am
John (mail):
Hey! Don't you guys know that legislating niceness always works?

On the other hand, there is virtue in learning how to play hard and not give up even though you are getting slaughtered.

And what better way to teach some life lessons in being thoughtful of others than to be on the other side of that experience?

Yes, it's no fun being on the wrong end of a losing score. So what? It's a damn GAME.
6.15.2006 9:40am
jallgor (mail):
I'd like to echo Catorenasci's point. I played football for a team that was also far better than many of our opponents. Sometimes your second team and third team simply dominate. You can run the ball, try and grind the clock out, etc but sometimes your 3rd team just kicks butt. As for the comments about the leaue not keeping the teams balanced I think those are misplaced. HS leagues (at least public ones) are usually governed by school size and geography. If you were looking for balance you'd have to reform the league every year with different teams. The best they can usually do is make sure that schools play other schools of similar size.
I also agree with the sentiment about it sometimes being more embarrasing to have a rule come into play to "protect you" from losing too bad than simply being beaten badly.
In wrestling, they stop the match if one person is up by 15 points and call it a technical fall. They also stop the match if someone gets pinned. A pin gets your team 6 points and the technical gets your team 5 so, in theory, if you are going to lose big you'd rather take the technical fall. Either scenario stinks but I know many wrestlers who are mortified by the thought of performing so badly that they invoked a rule that essentially says, "you are simply too bad to continue competing against this superior athlete. He hasn't pinned you yet but it's just too painful too watch anymore."
6.15.2006 9:46am
If there's a problem in the People's Republic of Connecticut, it's with the schools who employ the coaches who engage in unsportsmanlike behavior.

If traveler described the entire situation, then there simply isn't a problem - the coach is being a good sport and the other teams are simply outclassed. It happens.

If there are bad sportsmen running teams, their employers should simply discipline the employees for failing to teach sportsmanship well. After all, isn't that really the core of his/her job?
6.15.2006 9:53am
pilight (mail) (www):
If I were coaching a team that got down by 49 or 50 points and this rule was in effect, I'd have my QB run out of the endzone for a safety. That way the question of whether the opposing coach would be suspended would be decided and we could continue playing the game as it was intended to be played.
6.15.2006 10:00am
Steve White (mail) (www):
CatoRenasci seems to describe the proper solution to this problem: you keep substituting your players until the match on the field has some semblance of being even. There's a huge bonus for a coach in this situation: the ability to play all your players, including the guys normally on the bench the rest of the year, has a substantial, beneficial morale effect that goes well beyond the current game. The first team can take pride in creating the situation: their efforts allowed their buddies on the third/fourth team to play. And the third/fourth team gets to do something that they've only practiced/dream about the entire year.

As noted above, if a coach is creating the problem by never substituting even when his team is far ahead, the solution is simple: pack that coach off to college and let him experience real competition.

Having played high school sports as a perinneal third-teamer, I would have wanted to play in these situations (alas, my teams were more on the receiving end!). Being denied that opportunity would certainly have hurt me and the other third-teamers and certainly would have been remembered.

The root core of the problem: how do you stop someone from being a jerk, if they're bound and determined to be a jerk?
6.15.2006 10:13am
AppSocRes (mail):
Can anything be done to block the ??????? idiot from posting?

That said, it seems to me the true problem here is that sports is big money and these days that consideration dribbles down all the way into elementary school. Under-privileged high school students are vying to catch a college recruiter's eye to get a shot at big league university sports and a chance at professional sports. Under these circumstances "gentlemanly" and "sportsmanlike" behavior is bound to seem a quaint relic. The first time I realized this was when I noticed the savage victory dances that professional athletes have become wont to perform after a touchdown, great hoop shot, etc. These are not gentlemanly or sportsmanlike, but perfectly reasonable behavior on the part of a poor kid who's making big bucks and getting more attention from the world than he ever thought possible. We're far from the day when a Harvard football player (undoubtedly from a privileged Yankee background) would cry when he learned that a competing player had cheated. Rules may be neccessary to obtain even the semblance of decent behavior in amateur sports. Perhaps this may even eventually temper the boorish behavior of athletes that are exposed to enforced proper sportsmanship.
6.15.2006 10:14am
Sol (mail):
When I was in JV, the varsity team beat a school 70-6 or something like that. As I recall, even our fourth string offense managed to score a touchdown. As for those who suggest that indicated we should change our schedule -- two years later, when I was in varsity, the same school took us into overtime.

That said, in our corner of Michigan, there are two factors that help keep huge blowouts from being an everyday occurance. The first is that the new, bigger league the school moved into a few years after I left places teams in divisions based on recent performance. The second is that there is a mercy rule: when the score gets over a certain amount, the clock does not stop running. This effectively means there is only about half as much playing time for the remainder of the game. It seems to work pretty well in practice.

I think a coach who plays his first string once his team is up by more than 4 touchdowns is clearly an ass; but a rule taking away the chance for the third and fourth string players a chance to shine on the field would be very wrong.
6.15.2006 10:15am
denny (mail):
It's as impossible to legislate class as it is pointless and stupid to try.
6.15.2006 10:16am
pgepps (www):
Well, agreeing with all the "you put in the subs, try new stuff, focus on form" folks would be redundant. And since my maximum involvement in HS sport was . . . well, I was one of the subs they put in if we were losing so badly it couldn't possibly hurt . . . Anyway,

If your coaching staff and team are that good, why not just coach every other game? Still handicapping, I s'pose, but....

Beats bowing.

6.15.2006 10:18am
sam24 (mail):
55 years ago I was on a high school basketball team that was fairly well placed in our league. We traveled some distance to play another team in another league. They beat the snot out of us. At half time the entire varsity team took showers and watched the 2nd half from the stands while the B team played the 2nd half and continued to stomp us. Our souls were not crushed. We only recall that they were much better players(and better coached). No one went into thearpy.
Perhaps the sports powers that be in the state could set up some sort of goofy bankruptcy rule. During the last seconds of a rout, a team can declare bankruptcy and the game would end in a scoreless tie. The power could then step in and break up the team that would have won and level the playing field. We could achieve the peaceful state of a level playing field with no winners, only losers.
Have we all gone mad?
6.15.2006 10:27am
Big D (mail):
Please note that in Texas HS football, there is a 45-point rule in effect.

If at any point in the second half a team gains a 45 point lead, the game ends. If this happens in the first half, then play continues until halftime.

This works pretty well to stop the beating. Actually, unevenly matched teams will often fight *harder* when down, trying not to win but just to make the game run the distance (a moral victory of sorts).

But first and foremost, the issue is sportsmanship. It's hard to legislate that, and judgement and punishment should really be conducted through mores and standards, not through laws. Make everything a law, and you remove any place for honor to exist.
6.15.2006 10:28am
Michael F. Cannon (mail):
But wasn't the young Bergeron a dancer?
6.15.2006 10:37am
Oh, come on. If the rule is one of those zero tolerance rules like high schools like to pass, that's one thing. But anyone who reviews the game should be able to tell the difference between playing your 2nd and third string players who contine to play hard and still outscore the other team, verses a team that doesnt swap out strings until they are 40 points up and still are running offside kicks, or passing on forth down. I dont think anyone who follows the game, and this includes the opposing team, will fault a 3rd stringer from doing his best to score in one of the few games he will play in. There is a huge amount of space between playing your first string as hard as they can and having your team completely lay down. If the rule is zero tolerence and they suspend the coach based on the final score, its a bad rule. If there is a review process on the other hand..... It isnt about making sure the feelings of the other team are not hurt, its about teaching the dominant team some sportsmenship.
6.15.2006 10:39am
I think a football equivalent of a ten-run rule is much more appropriate.

What this rule essentially does is tell your second and third string players that they get to play, but not really play, since if they score it hurts the team. Suppose you've got a high school with so much talent that even the second string players have a shot at getting a look from a college or juco - and every state has a handful of highschool programs like that (FL and TX probably have many). Is it fair to tell that kid he can't exhibit his skills, because it might make the other team feel bad? Of course, not.

Also, if it makes someone feel better to have the opposing team take a knee four downs in a row, instead of actually trying, they don't need to be on a football field. Better to be blown out on your feet (or flat on your back, as the case may be) than to have the other team patronize you by handing over the ball every down. What kind of character do we want to inculcate in the losing team? An expectation to have everything handed to you in life, to have people lighten up on you, despite your own mediocrity or inferiority? Good luck with that attitude in the real world.
6.15.2006 10:44am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I am all for a mercy rule or something. Problem that I recently saw was HS girls JV BBall (and soccer to a lesser extent). Problem revolved around a prep school whith mandatory athletics. Varsity, esp. for girls, was typically competitive significantly above school size, so played in that league. That worked fine for varsity, where a school with 300 kids could compete with public schools having a lot more.

But the problem was JV. In the prep school, these JV players were almost all freshmen (or freshwomen here) many of whom weren't sure this was their sport or weren't very good. The public school JV teams they played were mostly juniors, were somewhat taller, and a lot better. The result was that the private school JV team would be beat. Always. And often by a lot of points, once going over 50 - mostly with the 1st string. The one school that held it to a 20 point lead and went into a stall the last couple of minutes, was really appreciated. But then this private school's varsity would come out and beat the varsity for the schools that just pounded their JV. My heart went out to these girls.

I have a lot more emphathy for a HS JV team that should be playing freshman teams, except that the school only has enough players for the two teams, than for, for example, college teams playing in the big conferences. Those schools could downshift their conference if the competition were too hot, plus often the team running up the score is trying for the national title, or at least a step up in the national polls.
6.15.2006 10:50am
That rule is actually more beneficial to the "dominant" team players, than in protecting the egos of the losing team from "humiliation."

I am a competitor. If lopsided victories are routine, my spirit of competition has already been dampened. As a vicotr, I am not "competing" -- it's more a dog-and-pony show if the opposition can't muster much opposition. If such outrageous "victories" occur more than once or twice a season -- or continue on for more than one season, assuming a freak "dynasty" at the high school level -- likely the system needs to be tinkered with to provide better parity, so the dominant team is actually experiencing true competition.

Again, this might be an American thing, inbred in physical sports, different from "game-playing" strategies of achieving victory.
6.15.2006 10:55am
"Even as a victor, I am not truly "competing" -- it's more a dog-and-pony show if the other team can't muster much opposition. (There's no challenge, and that is spirit sapping if you truly want to play the game and not just be a 'winner'.)"
6.15.2006 10:59am
John Bono (mail):
This is one of those things that could be cured better by a little street justice by the refs. "Oh, you made an onside kick when you're up by 50? Well, your players were offside, so I'm calling it back." "You're blitzing your linebackers? I think I saw unsportsmanlike conduct, so I'm ejecting your star defensive end." "Are you complaining? I think I'm going to eject you too for unsportsmanlike conduct". A little bit of overagressive flag throwing in those situations would do wonders for the concept of sportsmanship.
6.15.2006 11:09am
@ndrew (mail):
The rule was recently modified to allow for an appeal of the suspension when the circumstances which led to the 50+ point victory were beyond the coach's control. It seems reasonable to me, but I still think I'd prefer a "running clock" rule in the second half of blowouts.

Courant article
6.15.2006 11:15am
Volvodriver (mail):
This seems like an awfully blunt solution to deal with what I understand to be a single coach who does not believe in sportsmanship. It could be better handled quietly, at the game.

I didn't play, but I watched enough football to know that when the score approached blowout levels, the refs would tell the coaches that the clock would run continuously; timouts stop the play clock but not the game clock.

And, if the dominating team was keeping the starters in, they would find themselves with a lot of ticky-tack holding/false start/offensive pass interference calls.
6.15.2006 11:19am
Freder Frederson (mail):
When I was in Law School, my school (Georgia State University) made it to the NCAA championship in basketball in an automatic bid, where they were immediately paired up against Arkansas in the first round. Arkansas was number 1 in the nation that year and I think they went on to win the National Championship (I don't follow basketball so I might be mistaken). Anyway, they promptly beat GSU by over 30 points. What I really found telling though was the quote from the GSU coach. He said "Arkansas showed a lot of class, they didn't try and run the score up on us". So even when you lose by a huge margin, it is pretty obvious when the other side is just trying to needlessly humiliate you. I would imagine that is the only intent of the CT rule, to punish coaches that are just being huge jerks and are lacking what should be the most important skill of a high school coach, teaching values and sportsmanship.
6.15.2006 11:29am
Joe Kristan (www):
Iowa used to have a rule that ended the game if one team got a 50-point lead in the second half. Now they leave the clock running except for injuries if there is a 35-point or more lead. The kids get to keep playing and you don't have the humiliation of a "walk-off" touchdown.
6.15.2006 11:30am
Alan Clark (mail):
This is one of those aspects of our modern notion of "sportsmanship" that absolutely drives me crazy. In the past (essentially prior to about 1970) routing your opponent was not seen as being nearly as unsportsmanlike as it was for you to "show mercy" by no longer competing to the best of your abilities. The latter was seen, rightly, as being far more embarrasing to your opponent and, in fact, quite unsportsmanlike in that it runs entirely counter to the notion of fair competition.
6.15.2006 11:39am
Mace (mail):
Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron" is all about what kind of society we want. Vonnegut was remarkably prescient in 1961 about where the Left wants to go with "equality." We need to allow failure.
6.15.2006 11:41am
To reiterate many points made here—sportsmanship IS important, and should be encouraged, but probably by the individual teams' principals, etc.
As for the Onsides kick: I can understand wanting to practice an unusual maneuver against real opposition. If the stats of getting the kick back are what I think they are (around 33%) than I'd also see it as a nice gesture. You are giving the receiving team the ball on your side of the field in a legitimate manner.
The real problem I see with the rule is that one coach can "stick it" to another coach by having his team commit repeated safeties and forcing an investigation if not suspension. Also, if you are losing by 30 or 40 points, do you put in your backups because it doesn't matter anyway?
I do really like the idea of refs ejecting starts after the winner is decided. I'm guessing if the players are following the coaches' example, there really IS a lot of legitimate unsportsmanlike behavior going on anyway.
AS an aside, I played as backup goalie for a pretty good soccer team (at least in our league). One year I played 9 of 11 positions, and goalie wasn't one of them. Another year I played in goal while our starter played offense. In that game, the coach said he'd make us run laps immediately following the game if we didn't pass 10 consecutive times between shots.
6.15.2006 11:45am
lol Mace. That's a funny conclusion (re. the Left and failure) from the facts at hand.

Let the kids win at true competition, I'd say. Running up the score against weak defenses is not truly competing and most people watching can see that.

"Competition in sports is about getting the W or a display of grit when the game is on the line. Not one single college scout will say "hey this guy is competitive" when they see some quarterback throw 5 more touchdowns after leading by 3 touchdowns in the fourth quarter."

If we going to politicize, it's like the right setting up special situations: letting their kids kid themselves and think they are great competitors, even that they have experienced true competition and been been tested. Someday perhaps when they are tested, in a true physical match, they will fall well short and wonder why, when really perhaps they were overrated all along, in running up the score against non-competive (to them) opponents.

Think about it...
6.15.2006 11:57am
sowellfan (mail):
I think that running up the score is the right thing to do in some cases. I'm a Florida Gator football fan, and I was there for the 'Choke at Doak' in 1994. UF led FSU 31-3 entering the 4th quarter, and by most thinking, the game was tied up, and the Gators should have sent in their 2nd or 3rd string team to finish the game out. By the end of the game, the score was 31-31. It just goes to show that anything can happen in sports.

Also, Spurrier ran up the score on Kentucky, coached by Bill Curry - the final score was 70-6. Excessive? Perhaps, but Spurrier was still pissed because Curry had fired him when he was an assistant at Georgia Tech (on Christmas Eve, Spurrier says).
6.15.2006 12:20pm
Mike Keenan:
If a team is beating another team by 50 or more, the game should probably be called and the teams can enjoy a nice game of chess instead. Take off the pads, pull out the chess boards and let them go at it man-to-man at the 50 -- queens odds of course for the football bullies.

And maybe a nice relaxing game of boggle at the 40 for the second string.
6.15.2006 12:25pm
Growing up in Kansas, we had a similar thing for us. My high school team was routinely accused of running up the score on other schools. We averaged something like 55 points a game, while our opponents averaged less than 5. The problem was, we only had 22 guys on the team, playing 11 man football. There is no mercy rule in 11 man football in Kansas, so the game would be played to the end. We scored a couple of times late in the game when our starting running back was put in to get a first down for the second string guys, but then ended up breaking it and running the distance. These weren't five yard scores, but 80 and 90 yard runs.

Eight-man football in Kansas does have a mercy rule. 45 point lead at halftime or at any point in the second half ends the game. I think it's the only fair way to do it.

We also beat a team in basketball 112-46. We played second string all the second half but it didn't matter. The other team just couldn't play.

Some teams just suck and can't do any better. Should players just fall down?
6.15.2006 12:29pm
I don't see what the big deal is. If you are the coach of a team that is up, say, 45 points, you tell your players that if they get within the five yard line, they are required to "fumble" the ball out of the endzone, thereby giving the other team the ball back. Accordingly, the team can play as hard as they want, and they won't run up the score.
6.15.2006 12:33pm
U.Va. 2L (no longer a 1L) (mail):

Would that be the same Jack Cochran who refuses to put in said second and third string until the other team concedes defeat? This rule is a bad idea, but I can't say I feel sorry for him or his team.
6.15.2006 12:35pm
Russ Meyer (mail):
I realize that I will be called a barbarian for saying this, but how about the teams that keep geting destroyed figure out some way to...oh I don't know...actually get better?
6.15.2006 12:42pm
This rule is first-string players!

Listen, first-stringers practicce, work-out, and sacrifice just as much as bench-warmers. Is it their fault that they are better than their opponents. Everyone's solution seems to be "substitute early on" and let the bench players play the balance of the game. That is unfair to the starters, who want to play as much of the game as they can.

Most of the teams that I played on, from pee-wee through college, were on the wrong side of blow-outs. It hurt, but as long as you gave your all, you were happy to be playing the game. I played on three powerhouse teams in my 15 year career, and while winner was great, I never actually got to play all that much. Usually by the second quarter we were up 3-4 TDs and were sitting. That was not much fun.

Spurrier once said that it was the other guys' job to stop his team, not his. I agree with that whole-heartedly. If I can't stop you from scoring, shame on me. Sportsmanship comes from giving your all, every play, cleanly, and knowing that you opponent is doing the same. I don't need a hand-out or mercy--this is competetion. Let the kids compete.
6.15.2006 12:48pm
SeaDrive (mail):
The issue arises even in pro sports. I've seen criticism of baseball players who steal a base with big lead, and of NFL coaches who go for a TD with a safe lead and seconds to play.
6.15.2006 12:53pm
I agree with Russ.

Listen, you can play with conference schedules, move teams around, etc., but the fact is blow-outs can happen at any time; some team is on fire while the other is all backfire. Those of us who play (or played) recognize that as a fact of life in sports.

Again, it is not the other guy's job to make things easy for me. Why is that so hard for some people to grasp.

And eventually, enough ass-kickings and you'll get fired up to turn the tables; the shoe will be on the other foot soon enough (unless you're Columbia. Poor, poor Columbia.)
6.15.2006 12:53pm
Remember the 1996 Fiesta Bowl; Spurrier had RUTSed just about every opponent. Well, the ol' ball coach came into Tempe and got SPANKED, 62-24. Nebraska ended the game by taking a knee on the Gator 1. I, for one, would have loved to have seen the 'Huskers score, then go for two to hang 70 on Spurrier. Seemed like a humiliation, right?

The next year, UF and Spurrier went to the Sugar Bowl and spanked FSU for the Nat'l title. Lesson? Blow-outs build character.
6.15.2006 1:01pm
Colin MacDougall (mail):
I think talk of winning and losing and scores sort of misses what I always thought was the point of the game which is to play the game. I played football and baseball for hours on the playground with dozens of friends and nobody worried if the score was 107-0 because we were on the field, playing the game and that was what mattered. I played organized football as a kid and one season we were 0-10. But there were people in the stands and LIGHTS on the field, it was like being on Monday Night Football. I've also trod the boards in many a high school play and nobody ever suggested calling it off at intermission if we sucked, which we often did. Somewhat less often we even knew it. Humiliation? How's this for humiliation - "The game has been called on account of noone can bear your awfulness any longer, including you?"
Another Question - (personally I say put in everybody on the bench including the water boy in the game, but) if I'm up 54-0 at the beginning of the second half, and put in my fourth string what happens if the losers start to score? - it has happened. Do I let them tie the game before re-inserting the starters? I think the reason we play is that we love the game, and of course we love to win. But if mere losing, even losing badly makes you forget that, you probably ought to be trying something else, probably non-competitive.
6.15.2006 1:06pm
I agree it's a stupid rule. I've coached girls softball, and there is a mercy rule in some leagues after a certain number of innings. We've had times we were down by one run short of the mercy rule, and then roared backed to win, or come very very close. There was one case where the other coach pulled their pitcher to save her for the next game because they were up by more than the mercy, but two innings later had to put her back in because we had tied the game up. You can never tell. You always end up playing games like this rather than trying to just win it, but the girls knew we had a chance, and were always mad if the mercy rule was invoked. Yes losing sucks, but not as much as having the game pulled out from under you.

I also remember a girls basketball team in the area that got these complaints. They would win by 60 or 70 points. People complained about running up the score, but if they didn't, the first string wouldn't get the practice for when they moved up to a more competitive team, maybe in the playoffs.

If we are going to apply this type of "taming down the winner", rather than applying to law school grades (or any grades), I'd rather apply it to $. Bill Gates shouldn't be allowed to earn any more money. He's too far ahead of the rest of us.
6.15.2006 1:13pm
Sometimes it's hard NOT to score.

We beat another high-school team 73-0 once. We tried to stop in the 40 range. But they insisted on passing! Every time we intercepted, the interceptor scored. What was he supposed to do, fall over?

On the last play of the game, we were lining up for a field goal on a first down or something. The holder, in the huddle, threatened to run around end and score a touchdown because it would be easy. I told him if he tried, I would tackle him. When the play started, I didn't bother to block; I turned around and went back to the holder, who looked at me and shook his head; no, he wouldn't run. He just held the ball with his knee down; no kick. End of game.
6.15.2006 1:23pm
alkali (mail) (www):
I understand that this league is so oppressive and heavy-handed in regulating games that they make teams give up the ball after four downs if they don't advance 10 yards. That's just un-American.
6.15.2006 1:42pm
Michael Lopez (mail):
This is ridiculous.

When you are losing by 50 points, you go out and TRY HARDER. If you're losing by 70 points, you go out and damnitall you put forth your best effort.

And the other team puts forward theirs.

And you go home and think about how you can make yourself a better player.

There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG with losing by 100 points. Or being pinned in the first fifteen seconds. Or coming in four minutes behind the second to last finisher in a three mile race.

It happens.

And you know what? When you're AHEAD by 70 points, you go out and you TRY TO WIN. You try to conquer your opponent within the rules of the game. Then when it's over, you shake their hand and you both can acknowledge that best efforts were put forth.

You can't humiliate an opponent who is playing their best game. You can only beat them.

6.15.2006 1:50pm
James Ellis (mail):
Like many other here, I have coached baseball, softball and soccer for years. I feel that if we are going to try to engineer competitive balance, we should probably do it before the game starts, not afterwards, by grouping players and teams of like ability. I know this is hard. The Connecticut rule doesn't seem to have much going for it. Think about the potential injuries to seldom-played third- and fourth-stringers who get tossed into the game against frustrated and embarrassed first stringers who are down fifty points and looking for retribution. Think about the very talented players who are trying to earn admission and/or scholarships from prospective colleges, but whose playing time and statistics are impacted. And what about kickers, long snappers and other special teams players (on both teams) who only get in the game in connection with scoring plays? I doubt there's much of a difference between 49-0 and 51-0, in terms of stigma or anything else.

What if a coach (or player) losing 49-0 is so upset that he deliberately takes a safety? That's what I would do!
6.15.2006 2:14pm
Jeff R.:
How important, I wonder, are raw statistics to college recruiters? Because nobody has yet brought up the possibility that the coach who's letting his first-stringer quarterback rack up hundreds of yards rushing and completions is putting him in a better competitive position to be recruited by the college program of his choice...and that the coach who's bringing in the 2nd and 3rd strings may be hurting the college prospects of his main players...
6.15.2006 2:22pm
Of course the best time to kick someone
is when they are down. They are down where
your feet already are.
6.15.2006 2:32pm
submandave (mail) (www):
"Try to explain [the other team running up the score] to kids ... It's about the game of life and that's how we had to look about it."

Hey, in the "game of life" there are bastards that will kick you when you're down, and it is your character that will sustain you. I think it's very easy to explain that to kids and it certainly provides a better teaching moment than "Oh, we're loosing, better quit."
6.15.2006 2:43pm
randomscrub (www):
Speaking as a recently graduated high school football player, just saying the winning coach should put in the backups isn't enough to stop any scoring. My high school team sucked, posting regular 2-7 records. In one game, we were losing 42-0 at halftime. We knew we had no prayer, and they had already put in their subs. So what happened? We put in our subs too! Both teams had the JV squads on the field, so once again, the whooping resumed. Remember, once a game is out of reach, the losing coach will often put in the backups too.
6.15.2006 2:49pm
Truth Seeker:
Of course it's all political. The Left's position is that everyone is equal, no one should have their feelings hurt, no one is a loser, our oppressive capitalist system gave the winners an advantage over the oppressed losers, blah blah...
The Right's position is, if you were whipped this time, practice more, damnit or find another sport.
6.15.2006 3:15pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Things tend to even out, Alabama kept their top reciever in the game against Florida last year, even thought the outcome was not in doubt. He ended up suffering a nasty leg fracture and probably won't play until 2007 if he's lucky. Would have been nice to let a sub get some real game experience and have the starter available for this years game.
6.15.2006 3:50pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
I have to admit though, I'd run up the score on Florida also if given the chance, as payback for the Steve Spurrier years.
6.15.2006 3:53pm
W. J. J. Hoge:
When I was a student at Vanderbilt back in the '60s, we played Alabama for Homecoming. This was at the peak of Bear Bryant's success as coach at Alabama. During the 4th quarter, the score was 14-0. Bryant left his third-string offense on the field in order to give us a chance to get a score on the board. It was our Homecoming after all. The final score was 22-7. We lost, but I was impressed by Coach Bryant's sportsmanship.
6.15.2006 5:39pm
byomtov (mail):
I think we should get rid of the rule in baseball that says the home team doesn't bat in the ninth if they're ahead after 8 1/2 innings.
6.15.2006 5:51pm
legally naive (mail):
James Ellis has a big point ... safety. I referee soccer and the local AYSO coaches are in big trouble ( as in may be replaced) if a score is too lopsided. In my experience when a team is told to not shoot at all, some of the weaker opponents become so upset they begin to play very unsafely. Fortunately, in soccer the time is kept on the field by the ref whose decisions are final ;-)
If there has to be a rule to prevent blowouts, mercy rules are far safer. If the teams want to keep playing it is up to the stronger team to not go over the mercy score. Better of course to just let the coaches and refs muddle through.
6.15.2006 6:44pm
james (mail):
This rule solves one problem and creates three more. Assuming it gets generalized to all sports:

1) In some sports, point differential matters for tournaments and playoffs. (soccer)
2) Player stats are an important aspect of getting a college scouts to come to an unnamed school.
3) What happens when the backup players are that much better? Do they not get to play?
6.15.2006 7:10pm
knee injury (mail):
Just call the game after a given point spread. Injuries go way up when players are told to play half speed and sportsmanship on both sides goes way down. A pin or major decision in wrestling takes care of this problem. The most unsatisfing and unsportsmanlike games on both sides I ever played in were very lop sided in my teams favor.
6.15.2006 7:47pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
This is not a left/right thing, it's a reflection of sportsmanship. (Not too long ago, we would have considered this a sort of "gentleman's" rule.) And it makes perfect sense to anyone who has ever played or coached high school football. If a team is 50 points ahead and can't stop itself from scoring (my uncle, who is a high school coach, once ran dives for almost an entire half to avoid scoring again), then that's probably a good indication it needs to schedule tougher opponents.
Many high schools don't have a choice in who they schedule. It depends on the state. Where I grew up (MD) our county was our school district was our athletic conference.

As for "running dives for almost an entire half," what possible reason could there be for that? It doesn't make anybody happy -- not the people on the team having to take a dive (literally), not the people on the other team who have to sit and watch the opposing team take a dive, not fans. Players risk injury for no purpose. Players who actually like playing -- especially those who might not get to play much ordinarily -- get screwed out of their opportunity to do so. It is not "good sportsmanship" to quit. It's insulting. When I've competed, at sports or other games of skill, even against those better than me, I wanted to compete. I don't want them to "let me win." Not a game, and not a possession. Think about the poor losing team that finally (say) tackles the leading team's running back for a loss -- only to find out that it was phony, that he let himself be tackled.

Again, if it's that important not to run a lead past 50 points, put in a mercy rule.
6.15.2006 9:37pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
How about that 1984 Reagan-Mondale score? 525 to 13...
6.15.2006 11:38pm
You can use unusual plays. I remember playing in a game where my team was outclassed. The other team tried field goals on first down (their kicker wasn't good, so they mostly missed). They also quick-kicked at least once, again on an early down. I was a defensive end running into the backfield, watching the quarterback pitch to a back--who punted.

Talk about unexpected. I actually stopped and stood there, trying to process what had just happened.
6.16.2006 12:31am
michael i (mail):
I suspect that if one looks more closely at the CONN rule-makers one will find a whole lot of women perched around the table.
6.16.2006 2:48am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
In our area, the "mercy rule" means the clock is running constantly once the score differential is sufficiently large. Everybody can play their best, but the time in which to run up the score even further is limited.
6.16.2006 10:59am
the Real Eric:
This rule isn't about protecting the feelings of the students, it is mainly about protecting the coaches.
6.16.2006 1:02pm
Anon Y. Mous:
I don't understand why the onus of this situation is on the winning coach. He should be coaching his team in the way that he feels will best serve them. Obviously, if he is able to come up with 50+ point victories, he must know a thing or two about how to coach.

It should be on the losing coach - if he thinks there is something to be gained, great - let him compete to the best of his ability. If not, he can always forfeit.
6.16.2006 11:19pm