The right idea

May. 04, 2014 @ 06:00 AM

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) stirred up some controversy last week when they approved a mercy rule for football and basketball.

The football mercy rule says that if the point differential reaches 42 or more by halftime or any point thereafter, the game will resort to a running clock with timeouts after scores or when called by teams, or will be terminated by mutual agreement. For basketball, if the score reaches a 40-point differential at halftime or thereafter, the game will resort to a running clock, including administration of free throws or all other dead ball situations, except for timeouts called by a coach.

Seems reasonable enough, don’t you think? I can’t recall the last time I saw a high school football team erase a 42-point deficit or a basketball team that made a 40-point comeback. I can’t even think of a team that played its hardest when they were getting run off the field or court. Not to mention blowouts aren’t terribly exciting to sit through.

Of course everyone has an opinion on the matter. Some hate it, some love it and others care more about the reasons why Pluto is no longer a planet. But I read one column that really made me think.

Shortly after the rules passed, I came across this column on Twitter and decided to give it a few minutes of my day. The headline read “Mercy rule doesn’t accomplish goals, teaches wrong lesson.” The man behind the article, Nick Stevens, is the senior editor of out of Raleigh.

Let me preface my points by saying that this site does a great job covering its area and the NCHSAA. Being based in Raleigh makes it much easier for them to cover statewide policy change as opposed to myself who would have to plan a day-trip to Chapel Hill to be a part of any meeting. With that said, the coverage of this story has been stellar and Stevens made some good points. However, his column was an opinion piece that I happen to disagree with on a few points.

One argument is that a mercy rule could keep other kids from getting needed playing time that they would normally get in a blowout. I would argue that coaches should pull their starters long before a football team is up by six touchdowns. And maybe this new rule would discourage a coach from running up the score so he could get his second-tier players in the game. And chances are, if your starters are 42+ points better than the other team, the second string is probably a good bit better as well.

I know that blatant poor sportsmanship between coaches is rare, but it certainly happens. And when it does, it’s the kids that are ultimately punished for it on the field.

But that’s the simple issue. The part of the column that really made me think on a different level was the headline and what it meant. Here’s an excerpt from the column:

In real life there are no mercy rules. If you get beat at work, you get beat. There is no one to say, “Oh, that’s bad enough. Let’s call it quits.” That’s not how the real life works ... We should be teaching our kids to compete, to fight, to not back down, even when the cards are stacked against them.

On the surface that all sounds reasonable, and on the first read I didn’t think much of it. Let’s ignore the fact that the new rules have nothing to do with quitting. The RULE, which merely moves the game to running clock, is only meant to expedite a game that is out of hand. If the game is stopped, that’s a decision made between both coaches, not the players. But let’s think of the lessons Stevens is referring to.

I agree that we should teach kids to compete and not back down. I agree that real life has no mercy rules. But this isn’t real life we’re talking about. These are kids. These are games. Football and basketball serve as an escape from the “real” world for many of these players. So many kids are already being kicked while they’re down. Too many kids leave practice and go to a home where they have no food, no power and sometimes no parents. Too many kids show up to practice without clean clothes. Too many kids would rather stay on the football field or in the gym than go home to a place that feels like anything but.

Some may think that these kids aren’t yet in the “real” world, but I argue that some kids live in a world that’s more real than we’ll ever know.

Don’t let the football field or the basketball court be just another place for them to be beaten down. Let these kids have this refuge that some so desperately need.

This rule isn’t about quitting, it’s about exactly what it’s named for, mercy. I know there have been times where I would have liked some mercy when I felt like I’ve been down by 42 points.

Let football and basketball teach lessons of hard work, determination, perseverance, teamwork, trust and discipline. Kids have the rest of their lives to let the “real” world put them in situations that seem to have no end in sight.