Commentary

No mercy: Blowout remorse

Updated: January 23, 2009, 6:50 PM ET
By Jeff Miller | Special To ESPNRISE.com

A recent private school girls' basketball game in Dallas ended with a score of 100-0.

A public school girls' basketball coach in New York a few years ago ordered the team off the court in the fourth quarter when the opponent continued to press with a 60-point lead.

Check your local newspaper for high school scores like 12-0.

These points beg the questions: When should competition take a back seat to compassion? When is a game won? When should a coach stop pressing the players to score again?

Coaches and athletic administrators across the country constantly debate whether such decisions should be left in the hands of the coaches or legislated into mercy rules. Rules that prematurely end games are an accepted practice in baseball and softball. In other sports, voices often get raised and faces get red in the discussion.

"Coaches involved in games like that while they're going up the ladder should remember that you can go down the ladder, too," said Roger Dearing, executive director of the Florida High School Athletic Association. His organization has mercy rules for six sports, including football and boys' basketball.

In the case of the recent girls' basketball game in Dallas, The Covenant School asked the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools to consider its 100-0 conference win over Dallas Academy a forfeit soon after details of the game appeared in The Dallas Morning News.

Jeremy Civello, who coaches the boys' and girls' basketball teams at Dallas Academy and is the athletic director, told The News that Covenant players continued to press his overmatched team at midcourt through the second half after building a 59-0 lead by intermission.

[+] EnlargeDallas Academy
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Covenant School is seeking a forfeit after defeating Dallas Academy 100-0.

Covenant also made a formal apology to Dallas Academy, which already had canceled not only its scheduled rematch with Covenant but also the rest of its TAPPS District 3-2A games this season. Dallas Academy, which enrolls students with learning disabilities, hasn't won a girls' basketball game in Civello's four years as coach.

Anecdotal evidence shows girls' basketball is particularly susceptible to blowouts, especially when star players are involved.

Cheryl Miller scored a record 105 points in 1981, when Poly (Riverside, Calif.) defeated Notre Vista (Riverside) 179-15. Lisa Leslie was poised to break the record in 1990 for Morningside (Inglewood, Calif.) by scoring 101 points by halftime. But the coach of opposing South Torrance recognized what was going on and took his team home at halftime.

Miller's record fell in February 2006, when Epiphanny Prince scored 113 for Murry Bergtraum (New York) in a 137-32 win over Brandeis (New York), according the ESPNRISE CalHi Sports records.

In girls' basketball, the National Federation of High School Athletic Associations recommends each state let the game clock keep running in most standard stoppage situations once the winning team builds a sizeable lead. It leaves the amount of the lead and the point in the game at which the rule applies to the state organizations.

A handful of states use a mercy rule for girls' basketball, usually with the clock, beginning in the third or fourth quarter when the lead reaches 30 or 35 points. Florida's rule, for girls and boys, is a 35-point lead in the second half.

Florida's football rules state that the clock can keep running when a team trails by 35 points in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, a 35-point deficit results in an automatic clock change.

New York State Public High School Athletic Association officials recently discussed mercy rules for girls' basketball following a column published in the Times Herald-Record of Middletown, N.Y.

Todd Nelson, the sportsmanship coordinator for the New York organization, said none of the state's 11 sections was interested in adding such legislation.

"They decided it was better to handle this from the coaching end than to implement a rule," Nelson said. "It's better to have the coach stop pressing, put in second- and third-team players, use as much of the shot clock as possible."

Nelson said that even in football, the association has communicated with schools it believes let games get out of hand.

"We want to handle that on an individual basis," Nelson said. "They have sent letters to schools reminding them what we're about."

Shane Bybee is the boys' soccer coach at Coppell (Texas) and the president of the Texas Association of Soccer Coaches. He said soccer doesn't require a game-stoppage mercy rule like baseball or softball since it is a time-limit sport -- there are ways to slow down the attack.

"You can do things that make it more difficult to score goals but also make them better soccer players," said Bybee, a high school soccer coach for 16 years. "OK, you can only score off a cross. That will make them better as a team.

"You could play keep away, but you don't want to humiliate a team. And if somebody beats me 15-0 and I come back and want to get revenge by winning 15-0, well, I'm beating those kids 15-0."

Connecticut instituted a mercy rule for football in 2006, but it doesn't end games early. If a school wins by 50 or more points, the coach is suspended for the next game.

Once in place, it didn't take long for the rule to have an effect. Central (Bridgeport) opened its 2006 season with a 56-0 victory over crosstown rival Bassick.

Central athletic director Eric Graf said Central scored its first three touchdowns before its offense took the field. As his Hilltoppers were headed downfield toward what would have been the offending score, Graf said the potential suspension for coach Dave Cadelina became the main topic among the Central fans sitting around him.

"People around me were saying, 'What are they going to do? … Should they fall down?'" Graf said. He said Cadelina already had emptied his bench against an opponent that had not won a game in five years. Graf said a sophomore running back making his first varsity carry broke loose for another touchdown with about four minutes to play. "Here was a kid scoring his first touchdown," Graf said, "and people in the stands were saying, 'What is he doing?'"

Did Central kick the PAT?

Said Graf: "No. They lined up for two, and the quarterback took a knee."

Cadelina appealed the one-game suspension, noting that his quarterback had stopped passing and the timekeeper was told to keep running the clock. Cadelina won his appeal.

Jeff Miller is a freelance writer in Texas and can be reached at miller.jeff55@gmail.com.

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