Moral Mercy…

30 01 2009

Over the past couple of days there has been outcry in America over the result of one high school basketball game. It was not an important game, and in no other way was it remarkable, save for the final score:

100 – 0.

Yes, you heard right. The Covenant School from Texas beat their counter-parts from Dallas Academy by 100 points. To nil. This result has had America up in arms though. It has cost the Covenant School coach his job. It is argued, by pretty much everyone, that such a score, in such an unimportant high-school game, is hugely demoralising, and that when the score got to, say, 40 or 50, the coach should have told his girls to stop. That Covenant School is, unsurprisingly, a Christian school, has simply fanned the flames further, with parents and teachers alike admitting that such a drubbing is un-Christian-like. You can read more of the details here.

Basketball has no mercy rule. Nothing to tell the winning side to stop when the margin gets silly. The girls from Dallas, who were on the losing end of the result, are winless for four years now, but this drubbing must have done so much more to shatter any confidence than anything previously. Pundits, commentators, and the public alike are reasonably unanimous in arguing that the coach had a right to stop his team inflicting such a hammering on the Dallas team. I agree. It was wrong of the coach to let the match continue with his team so comfortably in front. He should have had a responsibility to the match, rather than just his side.

Yet, I cannot help but recall a rugby scoreline from just a few weeks previously, where Alcester beat Coventry Saracens 194-3. There was no such media outcry over the result. Nobody really heard about it, and fewer still cared about it. The only difference that I can really see (other than the obvious one of different sport) is that the ages of the different sets of competitors was different. In America we are looking at high-school kids. In England, the guys were older, in their 20s and 30s. It seems somehow more acceptable for older people to lose by hugely demoralising scores. This maybe because they could just go to the pub and drink away the pain and humiliation of defeat after the game. It may be because we, as a global society, are more sensitive to stuff affecting young people. I would argue however, that regardless of age, a defeat of such gargantuan proportions (Alcester must have scored 26 converted tries [7 points], and 4 penalties [3 points] – or some other combination) would be hugely demoralising. Does the Alcester coach have a responsiblity to stop his team from butchering their opponents? Not in the eyes of the British media, who instead marvelled at the ‘record’ score (which has since been wiped from the records due to Coventry not fielding enough players).

It seems to me that you either need to have mercy rules enforcable in all sports, thereby protecting all teams from an embarassing hiding, or none at all. We either need to accept that teams are going to get beaten, potentially by a lot, or we need to give the rubbish teams a safety net to stop them being so overwhelmed by superior teams. It should not be left to the morals of the individuals involved, as this has been shown to be an entirely ineffective way of preventing thrashings such as that in America.

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