Mercy rule for high school basketball proposed
GRAND FORKS -- William Shakespeare wrote: "The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath." Jay Townsend, the school superintendent at Fairmount in North Dakota's southeastern corner, agree...
GRAND FORKS - William Shakespeare wrote: “The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.”
Jay Townsend, the school superintendent at Fairmount in North Dakota’s southeastern corner, agrees with England’s bard of centuries ago.
Townsend witnessed his school’s boys basketball players, who form a co-op with Minnesota’s Campbell-Tintah, go 0-20 this past season. And the record wasn’t the worst of it; the average score was 75-33.
As a result of this season and previous others for the school district with only 28 students in its top four grades, he’s touting a mercy rule for North Dakota high school basketball, just as it exists in state-sanctioned sports such as football, hockey, baseball and softball. Mercy rules are used to soften the blow - and lessen the point spread - of mismatches.
For instance, in football, North Dakota’s mercy rule dictates that the game clock runs continuously in the second half with a point spread of 30 points. In hockey, a six-goal margin means a running clock in the third period. In baseball/softball, the 10-run rule after five innings stops the game.
Basketball? No such mercy.
Townsend’s idea for basketball runs parallel with the current rules of football and hockey. If one basketball team is ahead by 30 points halfway through the second half, the clock doesn’t stop, shortening the time and, in theory, the point spread.
“My main thing is I don’t know what positives come out of lopsided scores,” Townsend said.
No endorsement yet
The North Dakota High School Activities Association would need to approve such a change. Typically, the NDHSAA acts on proposals that are recommended by either the coaches advisory boards or the school districts’ representatives.
Neither entity has given the idea its endorsement yet. Class B’s district chairs’ straw poll had a majority resisting a change earlier this month. And, with an official vote anticipated in April, the coaches advisory group doesn’t seem to be on board either.
“The Class A coaches have been against it because it doesn’t come into effect that much,” said Dan Carlson, GF Central’s boys basketball coach and an advisory board member. “We also feel we can use junior varsity players when there’s a wide point margin. We have plenty of guys who are happy to play in that time. It comes into play more with Class B because some schools don’t have the numbers and you’ll get a bigger mismatch.
“Also, in football, (physical dominance) gets to be a safety issue. In basketball, it’s not so much.”
Carlson’s view comes on the heels of GFC’s 1-21 season, with an average losing margin of 30 points.
“As bad as our scores were, a 30-point margin isn’t going to happen a lot at a Class A level,” Carlson said. “And, as our season went on, the opposing coaches knew when to back off. I didn’t feel like there was any game where the opponent was trying to run up the score on us. They did a great job of backing off.
“But I can understand the huge mismatches that can happen with some Class B schools.”
Need an endorsement
Justin Fletschock, an NDHSAA assistant director with basketball in his portfolio, said board members are interested in the idea, but likely would want an endorsement from the coaching advisory committee.
“It hasn’t passed in the past mainly because the coaches haven’t supported it,” Fletschock said. “But we’re open to it. Montana, Minnesota and a decent number of other states have them, so it’s not uncommon.”
Minnesota’s basketball mercy rule requires a 35-point margin in the second half, prompting a running clock, not game stoppage.
In need of mercy
The most support for enacting a mercy rule comes from the referees. Of the 91 referees who returned questionnaires about the issue, 85 were in favor.
Larry Grondahl, president of the North Dakota Officials Association, said that officials’ rationale isn’t because they will have a shorter night of work. Rather, it’s because “when you have a wide disparity of a score, bad things are more likely to happen. And, when things go bad, fingers point at the officials.”
He said rough play and poor sportsmanship are more likely in lopsided games. And bigger spreads have been more common in recent years because there’s a wider division of “haves and have-nots.” A Williston resident, he also officiates in Montana, which has a mercy rule. He says there are fewer problems there.
Grondahl said the gap between stronger teams and weaker teams has grown wider over the years. Townsend agrees that the difference between the “haves and have-nots” has grown.
“I don’t see the benefit of winning by a really wide score,” Townsend said. “If we continue to see these wider discrepancies of bigger schools and smaller schools, some say we don’t need a mercy rule but a three-class system.”
Three classes? Now, that’s an issue that would create an even bigger stir.