David Adam

Mercy rules not needed in most prep sports

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 30, 2018 8:55 pm Updated: Jul. 1, 2018 12:26 am

It's time to re-examine mercy rules and their usefulness.

The idea behind the use of mercy rules is to prevent the loser of a game to be unnecessarily embarrassed and keep teams from running up scores for whatever reason.

Mercy rules are used in multiple sports. The 10-run rule in baseball and softball is the most commonly used. The clock rarely stops in football once a teams has a 35-point lead in the second half. When a soccer team takes a 7-0 lead at halftime or anytime after the start of the second half, the remaining time is cut in half.

The Illinois High School Association Board of Directors voted in June to accept a proposal from its basketball advisory committee to adopt a mercy rule for all regular season games starting in the 2018-19 season. A running clock will be used in the fourth quarter in which a team has at least a 30-point lead.

Is such a rule necessary?

Are players in danger of being injured or overused if one team in a basketball game has a 30-point lead? If not, then what are the benefits of shortening such a game? How much time is really being saved?

The basketball advisory committee offered little explanation for its support of the mercy rule. The minutes of its April meeting read that the rationale behind adopting the rule was that it was "allowed for in accordance with the (National Federation of High Schools) Basketball Rules Book."

A rule isn't needed for such situations. Strong administrators at a school are.

Basketball coaches usually can keep things from getting out of hand. They can call off the press, play a soft zone defense, pass the ball for a minute or so, and take only certain kinds of shots.

If a team takes a 30-point lead and blatantly turns it into a 50-point lead by keeping starters on the floor or pressing an overwhelmed team, an athletic director or principal should have a chat the next morning with the coach.

The same can be said for soccer. Coaches can mix up positions or allow shots to be taken only within a few yards of the goal or only on headers.

An argument can be made for keeping the 10-run rule because of the recent concern and emphasis on pitch counts, but shortening the game by two innings takes away the opportunity for extra at-bats for players who don't get to play much.

In fact, those are the players who are affected the most by mercy rules -- the ones who rarely play.

Mercy rules make sense only when they help promote player safety in contact and collision sports. If a football team wins by 50 points, significant size and weight disparities likely helped create the outcome. Those factors can increase the risk of injury to players on the outclassed team.

Football is the only high school sport in which a mercy rule truly makes sense.

Should coaches be given the option of using a mercy rule before a game? Maybe a coach would agree to it before a game if the team has a limited roster because of injuries or a lack of players.

If a mercy rule is in place just to spare the hurt feelings of a team, prep athletes typically can handle lopsided defeats adequately if their parents and coaches offer proper guidance.

Ending a game prematurely can be worse than dealing with the score itself.

Talk with athletes and ask them what they feel about mercy rules. The ones who sit at the end of the bench just want a chance to get in, using the same rules that everybody else played under instead of using a game clock that doesn't stop like it typically would.

When a player's chance to play is diminished because of a rule designed to avoid potential embarrassment, it's actually more embarrassing.