Running Up the Score: Is it Ever Acceptable?
Certainly, fans of the professional game pay a lot of money to be entertained. The often high price of a ticket brings with it the expectation that a fan’s favorite team and players will perform at optimum levels, including the ability to compile noteworthy statistics. Consequently, if a team should happen to start scoring at a far greater pace than its opponent, shouldn’t the team that is playing so well be able to score as many points as possible and thus please its fans and players? This mindset is a common theme that is advanced by bloggers and pundits.
This argument perhaps works at the professional level and possibly at the top level of intercollegiate competition. Where the argument is not justified is at the high school level and below. It is at the lower levels of competition that it is incumbent upon coaches and administrators both to teach and to value sportsmanship when those opportunities arise. To say that a high school blue chip athlete might diminish his or her chances of a scholarship if the athlete doesn’t have the opportunity to run up statistics is patently false. A student-athlete who piles on the points against a very weak competitor only diminishes his or her character in the eyes of a recruiter.
Coaches who allow their teams to run up the score usually rationalize their wins by saying that they can’t keep their players from scoring, especially when non-starters are playing. This rationalization demonstrates that these coaches lack not only character but the ability to use the experience as a teaching lesson. In sports such as track and field and swimming, coaches whose teams are winning by a large margin will typically have their top athletes compete in exhibition status instead of scoring. In sports such as basketball, coaches can be creative by requiring a minimum number of passes before a shot, no shots in the lane, no three-pointers, no fast breaks, and no pressing. In soccer, coaches can require that scores come only off of headers or by using the opposite foot. In football, the passing game should be eliminated when a team is close to running up the score. It is in these situations that coaches should present their athletes with the opportunity to work on skill development in areas that may need improvement.
Coaches who run up the score may think that their victories will be perceived by the public as great coaching feats, but in reality the opposite is true. Coaches who do this, and administrators who allow coaches to run up the score, are only remembered as being classless and self-serving. Some states, such as Georgia, have implemented a “mercy rule” in designated sports at the high school level, where if certain point differentials occur, the length of the game is reduced. Unfortunately, this type of legislation may be the only way to force unthinking coaches to realize that running up the score at the high school level and below is unacceptable.
Craig Bogar, EdD
Dr. Bogar is the Dean of Student Services for the United States Sports Academy. He has served as director of athletics for the University of Mobile and Loyola University of New Orleans, and has coached track and swimming