Mercy rule in school sports: is it necessary?

A few years back, there was much hoopla over a girls basketball game in which The Covenant School of North Dallas beat Dallas Academy of the White Rock area 100-0.

The publicity even resulted a funny stunt by a The Ticket radio team to play a basketball game against the Lake Highlands High School girls team.

A few weeks ago, The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools instituted a “mercy rule” for football and basketball that will come into play in the 2012-2013 season.

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According to an ESPN.com piece, the Covenant-Dallas Academy game was cited as the main reason for the change.

The new rule requires that any game which reaches a 40-point difference after halftime will be subject to a running clock for the remainder of the game. This includes plays that end out of bounds and play stoppages for fouls in both sports.

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As much as I dislike bullying, especially in the form of a coach and parents urging players to humiliate a weaker team, I’m not sure that rules are the answer in cases like this. If someone is employed as a football or basketball coach, especially at a pricey private school, shouldn’t part of the job requirement be good judgment, good leadership skills and sportsmanship? Sure, not all of them will demonstrate these things at all times, but when they don’t, they can be reprimanded as anyone else who fails at a job.

Is putting mercy rules in place tampering with the integrity of the game? Might it backfire and embarrass the losing team more than a blowout? Rob both teams of valuable learning opportunities?

Dallas Lutheran coach John Bronkhorst told ESPN that he has declined so-called mercy or clock rolling in the past.

“It’s not to be cruel to my team because it’s a teaching opportunity. It’s an opportunity for us to learn in life you’re not going to get bailed out. We need to learn how to overcome adversity, and I can tell you right now, we grew from that game.”

I watched one of my kids’ public school basketball teams get beat by more than 40 points a couple weeks ago. The other team never let up on defense (they did let up on scoring, it seemed) and the winning teams’ parents, cheerleaders and coaches continued to root their team on to massive victory — no mercy on their end.

Our losing team walked away feeling OK that they had fought to the end. I heard them commenting about how impressed they were by the talent on the other team. They did not seem devastated or broken by the experience. (If I remember correctly, neither did the Dallas Academy girls).

On the other hand, last night’s game was lost by a single point. Now that was more heartbreaking than any blowout.

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