Its intended effect is to prevent teams from being humiliated. But does it actually hurt feelings even more?
Most high school and youth sports have some version of a mercy rule. In basketball and football, games with wide margins in scoring have a running clock. Softball and baseball games implement the mercy rule in its truest form: After a certain scoring margin is reached, the game ends.
The intention of the mercy rule is simple: to prevent one team from humiliating another. But does the mercy rule actually harm more feelings than it protects? Are there negatives to having such a rule?
For starters, I believe the rule punishes children who play sports because they love it — not just to win. It also punishes good teams for their success. I don’t think it’s necessarily a great idea to force teams to play fewer minutes or innings because of a large lead. And what about the bench players on those good teams? By cutting a game short, those players miss out on a chance to play.
To be fair, I must say that there are certain aspects of the mercy rule that I do appreciate. Who wants to watch a full game where one team has no chance at winning? The mercy rule is definitely efficient and time-saving to a degree.
But I absolutely disagree when proponents of the rule contend that it prevents humiliation.
Is it not humiliating in and of itself to be mercy-ruled? Is there no negative, hurtful stigma to teams that are consistently put in this position?
I’ve covered multiple games across a variety of sports where a mercy rule was put into effect. Most recently, in youth baseball. In every single circumstance, the players on the losing teams had similar reactions: flowing tears, heads between their knees and looks of utter dejection.
Instead of a mercy rule, I think teaching young athletes to play on — despite the score — is the best solution.