Fair Play and Fighting Spirit

By Sean Cavanagh — March 02, 2009 1 min read

Here’s another good story on the gray area surrounding “mercy” rules—policies aimed at curbing vicious blowouts that are fairly common in high school sports. This article, from the AP, is set in Nebraska, where lopsided scores in girls’ basketball —92-18, 72-13, 92-11 and the like—apparently occur pretty regularly.

The story does a good job of adding some nuance to the discussion of mercy rules that emerged a few weeks ago in the wake of a Dallas girls team’s 100-0 demolition of a rival. In some games, even when the white flag goes up, and coaches take out their starting players, or the game is put on a running clock and thus brought to an end more quickly, it does very little to stop the onslaught, if one side is woefully outmatched. It’s just not that easy.

This reality was reflected in the philosophical perspective offered by Omaha South coach Ricky Ruffin. You might be philosophical, too, if your team had lost by a score of 92-8.

“Did we expect to score just 8 points? No. Did Southeast run up the score on us? No,” he said in the story. “They’re the No. 1 team and they shot lights out. We turn over the ball more than 30 times a game, so they’re going to get easy baskets.

“Could they have beaten us worse if they wanted to? Yes.”

I wonder if creating more high school sports districts, to prevent contests between the larger and smaller schools would help. Then again, in a rural state like Nebraska, school sports teams are generally forced to look for opponents anywhere they can find them.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.

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