Apr 30, 2014
Millbrook QB (14) Reid Herring hands the ball off. Millbrook defeats East Wake 20 to 14 Friday night September 6, 2013. (Photo by Jack Tarr)
High school sports are about teaching life lessons. They're about instilling qualities that people need to be successful for the rest of their lives.
That's what makes high school sports so important and so valuable.
But the lessons taught through a mercy rule aren't the lessons we should be teaching.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association passed a measure that introduces mercy rules to high school football and basketball in North Carolina effective next school year. In football, the magic number is 42. For basketball the threshold is 40. At that point (as long as it is after halftime), the game can either be ended by mutual agreement or a running clock will be used.
Mercy rules are for young kids who are just learning about competition, sports, and life. High school kids aren't part of that population. They're no more than four years away from entering the "real world," whether it is in school or in work.
In real life there are no mercy rules. If you get beat at work, you get beat. There is no one to say, "Oh, that's bad enough. Let's call it quits." That's not how the real life works.
First things first, the new mercy rules only mandate what teams had the option of doing before. And that option has been utilized. With a mutual agreement between both coaches, teams have always had the option of moving to a running clock. And sometimes that happened before a 42-point mark was reached.
The new rule gives a milestone for players to shoot for, and don't think they won't. The goal now won't be to just win, the goal will be to win by more than 42 so they can say they "mercy ruled" the other team. Essentially, this rule is encouraging teams to blow other teams out. That's the great irony in this story.
With all that said, forcing a mercy rule on teams sends bad messages. When you're losing by a lot, do you want to tell your kids that it's OK to quit? I don't think quitting when life gets tough is the message we want to send.I don't think accepting you're not supposed to be on the same field as the other team is a good message either.
We should be teaching our kids to compete, to fight, to not back down, even when the cards are stacked against them.
That's my biggest issue with the whole idea of a mercy rule. Especially in a sport where there is a clock, where eventually the time will run out. I understand why a mercy rule is needed in a sport like baseball or softball where there aren't timed periods. In baseball, the game may never end without a mercy rule of some sort.
Another issue I have though is the opportunity that is taken away from some of the kids.
On every team there are players who come to workouts, who work hard at practice, who are dedicated teammates, but who aren't able to see much time – if any – on the field or court. Lopsided games are when those kids get playing time. And those kids deserve playing time. A running clock will greatly limit those opportunities.
A running clock is not a new idea. It has been done for years in games that warrant them, but only if coaches agree to do so. The NCHSAA has created a red line though. It's a benchmark that teams will now aim for.
Why can't we trust the good people we have as coaches to do the right thing? Do we really have that many episodes of blatant unsportsmanlike conduct where coaches keep their starters in play after play, series after series, just to embarrass the other team? I've been around high school sports enough to know the answer to that question is "no."
Are there some who have done that? Yes. But they're in the minority, and they can be held accountable by their administrations.
The rationale given at the board meeting for the creation of the mercy rule? "Lessons of sportsmanship will be taught and learned."
No. Sportsmanship isn't forced. It can't be forced. That's called rule following. Sportsmanship is taught and learned, then sportsmanship is executed when the rules don't require it. Teaching and learning sportsmanship would be discouraging blatant blowouts voluntarily, not legislating it.
Setting a mercy rule for sports like football and basketball though, it's not needed. It's overkill. And it accomplishes nothing positive.
Follow Nick Stevens on Twitter @NickStevensHSOT