The Twin Peaks girls basketball team chose to forfeit against Liberty Common this season after losing 57-3 to the Eagles last season.
Resurrection Christian boys basketball coach Bruce Dick tries to walk the line of preparing his team for a state title run while avoiding running up the score.
Everyone in Colorado high school basketball has stories about blowout games, from both the winning and losing sides.
Less than two months into the season, there have been more than 700 high school hoops games in Colorado decided by 30 points or more.
Games with scorelines like 64-10 (Heritage Christian girls over Dawson), 96-39 (Resurrection Christian boys over Union Colony) and 83-32 (Windsor girls over Skyline) are awkward for everyone involved.
In Colorado, there’s no way to speed up a blowout, even one like the 92-11 win by Mancos boys over Nucla.
“A mercy rule is detrimental to development of players,” said Bert Borgmann, an assistant commissioner for CHSAA in charge of basketball. “With that being said, it is incumbent upon the team that is putting the pasting on to address that situation from an educational standpoint.”
Borgmann says the topic of a mercy rule comes up every year when the basketball committee meets, but Colorado has never had one at the varsity level and Borgmann doesn’t foresee that changing in the near future.
Nearly every other team sport in Colorado has a mercy rule. Football has a running clock at a 40-point margin. Baseball, softball and soccer games terminate at a certain score difference.
Four states that border Colorado have a version of a running clock in high school basketball, instituting a second-half running clock in games with 30 to 40 point differences.
Local coaches are torn on the idea of implementing such a policy.
“It’s just tough. You’re not giving your younger kids a whole lot of playing time if the clock is running,” said Perko, whose Windsor girls team is first in the Tri-Valley Conference. “You’re trying to get kids in who haven’t been in. From that perspective, that’s tough. But I can also see it from the other side of once it gets past 30, 35, maybe there should be some sort of mercy rule.”
Packard and Liberty Common coach Troy Ukasick, both members of the Mile High League that lacks depth of talent, say a mercy rule could be beneficial to speeding up lopsided games.
On the flip side, Packard remembers the times when Heritage Christian was growing its program and getting beat soundly, and how it led to growth. Heritage Christian is now undefeated and a top 10 team in Class 1A.
“It was frustrating at times when people slowed the game down so much or played with this very mercy kind of attitude where I’m like, ‘Let’s just play basketball. You might beat my girls by 30, but we need to get better,’” Packard said. “When we had that really bad team, they were all freshmen. By their senior year, they almost won the league title.”
The biggest topic of conversation for coaches isn’t so much a mercy rule, but how to handle blowouts.
For coaches on the winning side, it’s a tricky line to toe between being true to their team and respecting opponents.
For ranked teams with big postseason aspirations, like the Heritage Christian and Liberty Common girls as well as the Resurrection Christian boys, a talent disparity in a weak league creates problems.
Resurrection Christian, the 2A runners up last year, have a state-title-or-bust mentality. Dick has to prepare his team for district and state tournaments where up to three games are played on consecutive days. But with talent that far surpasses most 2A squads, his team routinely rolls over Mile High opponents.
“It’s never a perfect situation. You try and show your players the respect of letting them play as much as they can and still have respect for your opponent that you’re not rubbing it in their face and not doing it in an unsportsmanlike manner,” Dick said.
“In Colorado, kids don’t get to play very many basketball games during the season. At times you almost feel like you’re not respecting your players by not allowing them to play a full game. And yet, if you do let them play a full game, it is perceived as unsportsmanlike. It’s perceived as running up the score. And that’s not the intention of myself as a coach, and talking to other coaches, that’s not the intent of them as well.”
Style of play is another factor.
Perko says you can’t change the DNA of a fastbreaking team in the middle of the game.
Most coaches pull off the press and slow down some but stay true to their systems while giving bench and JV players significant floor time.
And while coaches on the winning side get the attention for a lopsided score, both teams have a role to play.
“Sometimes a team will start pressing my JV girls,” Packard said. “That’s ridiculous. It’s almost like they’re communicating to me that I should put my starters back on the floor.”
It’s an awkward dance with no perfect solution.
Every time a coach sees a score like the Ellicott girls’ 93-6 win over Dolores Huerta, it causes a cringe.
“I don’t know if there’s a good answer to it,” Perko said.
Follow sports reporter Kevin Lytle at twitter.com/Kevin_Lytle and at facebook.com/KevinSLytle.
Blowouts by the numbers
In roughly 3,700 total games this season (boys and girls combined), more than 700 have been decided by 30 points or more.
Of those 700 games, more than 400 are girls games and just short of 300 are boys.
Top 3 biggest score differentials
FNE Warriors 127, Thornton 53
Mancos 92, Nucla 11
DSST-Green Valley 76, Atlas Prep 5
Mesa Ridge 115, Mitchell 29
Sterling 95, Estes Park 14
Ellicott 93, Dolores Huerta 6
Should there be a basketball mercy rule?
“It would seem like if you had a running clock mercy rule, it would solve some of those problems and make things go a little quicker.” – Troy Ukasick, Liberty Common girls basketball
“Personally I think maybe there should be a mercy rule at lower levels, but just because of the minutes and lack of games that are played in Colorado, I don’t think there should be one at the varsity level. If we had the same length of season (as other states) and played 25 to 28 regular season games, I think that would change an opinion as well.” – Bruce Dick, Resurrection Christian boys basketball
“Some game adjustments I would be open to. It happens enough … that I would be open to it.” – Joe Packard, Heritage Christian girls basketball
“A mercy rule is detrimental to development of players. With that being said, it is incumbent upon the team that is putting the pasting on to address that situation from an educational standpoint … When you take time away from a game, you’re taking away opportunities for kids.” – Bert Borgmann, CHSAA assistant commissioner
“I wouldn’t mind seeing (running clock at) maybe 35 to 40. Maybe last quarter is when you have the mercy rule. It’s a tough call.” – Gary Perko, Windsor girls basketball
“I go back and forth on the varsity mercy rule for basketball. I can see some benefits for it, but at the same time, I don’t know, kids have a limited number of experiences as it is. I look at game time as precious time.” – Matt Johannsen, Fossil Ridge boys basketball