New Mercy Rule Aims to Reduce Pain in High School Basketball

Rachel Vigil, Editor-in-Chief

High school basketball has looked a bit different this year.

The Colorado High School Activities Association, or CHSAA, has put in place a mercy rule. This rule comes into place if teams enter the fourth quarter with a score difference greater than or equal to 35 points. When this happens, the clock does not stop in the fourth quarter for anything but timeouts, free throws, or player injury.

CHSAA has introduced this new rule to bring an end to the often grueling fourth quarters that would wear down both teams and players. Bert Borgmann, an assistant commissioner in charge of basketball for CHSAA, said in an interview with CPR that around 20% of games in the 2016-2017 season ended with a point difference of 35 points or more. Often teams run up the scores in the fourth quarter and CHSAA doesn’t want that to continue.

“I don’t think I know anyone in this world that likes bullies. And sometimes you wonder are kids being bullied on the basketball court when they’re being beat by 67 points or whatever,” Borgmann said.
Administrators largely agreed with the choice. In a survey sent out by CHSAA, a large majority of administrators were in favor of the new rule. Among girls basketball coaches, a majority also agreed with the new mercy rule, though they agreed by a much smaller margin than the administrators. Conversely, a majority of boys basketball coaches were against the mercy rule.

Those who oppose it believe that the mercy rule is too easy for students who need to learn harsh, real-world realities. Rick Harris, the coach of Smoky Hill High School in Aurora opposes it for this reason. “There are natural consequences at competing at the highest level and sometimes that’s getting your feelings hurt by getting blown out,” he said in an interview with CPR, “but it’s my obligation as a coach to prepare my athletes for both – the winning and the devastation of the losing.”

One of the reasons behind the implementation of the mercy rule arises from teams who continue running the point even when ahead by impossible margins. Some coaches worry that the mercy rule prevents some players from breaking scoring records.

Wheat Ridge boys basketball coach Tom Dowd is split on the rule. While he largely supports it, he worries about some of the unintended consequences that arise from it: “If you’re the losing team sometimes you want to play in the game.”

Dowd, along with many others coaches, puts in inexperienced lower level players at the end of the game, giving them a chance to learn and giving the starters a chance to rest. With the new mercy rule the game “goes so fast you don’t get a chance to play.” Overall Dowd believes that the “concept of the rule is good, but sometimes it can be bad in execution.”

Regardless of the opinions coaches have on the new rule, it is now in place. Though the majority of games will not be affected, those that it comes into play with will be sped up. Whether it truly makes those games less cruel, or simply hampers teams ability to better play the game is yet to be seen.