This is competitive sport, not charity


The new basketball mercy rule leaves me queasy.

Tampering with the games under the guise of making everyone feel better bugs me.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association introduced a mercy rule for the current 2021-22 basketball season, and what it does is cut short the pain for teams losing by large margins.

Under this way of thinking, an idea initiated by the Indiana Interscholastic Administrators Association — the state’s athletic directors — puts a let’s-get-it-over-with philosophy in control.

Maybe the Indianapolis Colts would have liked to pack it in early against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the NFL made them stick it out on the field for the entire 60 minutes of play.

When I was young, I played on championship teams and last-place teams. I was on the losing side in a basketball game of about 92-27. Was it humiliating? Yep. But we had to suck it up and play until the clock ran out.

Indiana has had a mercy rule for football since 2019 and introduced it for soccer last fall.

The justification I have heard over time for football is that cutting short the game could prevent injury because a football team that is winning by 50 might be so physically superior they might hurt puny guys on the other team. OK.

Depending on the place, the league and the level, a 10-run rule in baseball or softball exists, although I think there is a better chance a team can come back from 10 runs down given the vagaries of pitching.

If a team loses 10-0 in soccer, well, so be it.

Under the rule being applied this season in basketball, once a team piles up a 35-point lead, the game clock will remain running for the second half. That means the clock is not stopped when the ball goes out of bounds. It seems those benefiting the most are sportswriters on tight night deadlines.

According to Jason Wille, spokesman for the IHSAA, “There was a growing sentiment among athletic directors and coaches around the state that there needed to be a more efficient means to bring games to an end that get out of hand.”

Why? given that many of these sports have been played under roughly the same rules for a century and there always have been disparities of talent between teams. Some years, Team A is going to kick butt because it is better than anyone else in the league, and some years, Team B is going to get its butt kicked every game because it is worse than everyone else in the league.

“Good sportsmanship was a strong consideration, and it’s hoped that the rule can help minimize hard feelings, hard fouls or worse,” Wille said.

Hard feelings? Does a team feel worse if it is clobbered or if it loses a game by two points? That’s something coaches have long debated.

The hard fouls thing is interesting. Will a team losing by a whole bunch hit players harder on the other team? Or will superior players hit losing players harder? That issue seems better left to officials in maintaining control of a game or in the hands of coaches who should bench a player who behaves inappropriately.

The IHSAA has produced numerous high-value advertisements reminding the public why participating in high school sports is a worthwhile endeavor. Playing for a team, blending the individual into the group and the satisfaction of doing a job well are all lessons that can come out of competition.

Sports can build character. I am not sure what is being taught, however, if the rules have a team packing it up before the normal duration of a game is played if a team is essentially granted permission to quit.

More and more, and we see it all the time in the recreational sport level when everyone gets a ribbon for participating, not for achieving, society wants to make sure everyone feels good when leaving the playing field.

But you know, you shouldn’t feel great after you lose a basketball game by 60. You should remember the sting and work to get better.

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