Published Online: September 15, 1999
Published in Print: September 15, 1999, as Take Note

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'Mercy rule'



On average, a high school basketball game lasts about and hour and 15 minutes--but when one team is getting clobbered by 30 points or more, those minutes can seem an eternity.

Kansas high schools are experimenting this basketball season with a new rule that could help blowout games go a little more quickly. When the season begins in December, officials will allow the time clock to continue to run if a team takes a 30-point lead in the second half, stopping the clock only for injuries or timeouts.

"We want to prevent lopsided scores and encourage coaches to substitute their players earlier," said Paul Palmer, an assistant executive director of the Kansas State High School Activities Association and a former coach. "Ideally," he added, "we'd have close contests, but that's not going to happen."

Though he is not sure just how often games with such a wide disparity in scores occur, Mr. Palmer estimates that if the rule had been in effect over the past five years, it would have applied to 21 out of 480 Kansas state-championship tournament games.

The rule, which will apply to boys' and girls' teams in grades 7 through 12, has received mixed reactions since it was adopted over the summer. Some coaches have argued that allowing the clock to run out will give their reserve players less time to play. But Mr. Palmer disagrees.

"This rule will give reserves more time to play and with better players. That's how kids improve," he said.


Michigan is also experimenting with the rule this year, and if it proves successful, other states may consider it, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, based in Kansas City, Mo.

Many high school sports, such as football, baseball, volleyball, and wrestling have adopted such "mercy rules," said Jerry Diehl, the assistant director of the federation.

"State associations take the initiative to identify a situation that the rules don't cover. We encourage them to experiment with the rules," he said.

At the end of the basketball season in February, the Kansas association will report its findings to the national organization, which will then consider whether it should become a permanent rule.

"The time saved is inconsequential," Mr. Palmer said, "but the rule may reduce the wide margins of victory."

--Adrienne D. Coles

Vol. 19, Issue 2, Page 3

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