When the Centennial (Las Vegas) girls basketball team played Bonanza earlier this season, the final score was the same as the halftime score: 51-2.
The reason, another bucket by Centennial would push the margin to more than 49 points and end the game based on the Nevada mercy rule that was implemented in 2011. Nevada goes to a running clock once the margin reaches 40.
“I was informed by an administrator if we were to score over the 50 points that I could possibly lose my job,” coach Karen Weitz told ESPN. “Sometimes it’s hard to hold back your players or even your bench players when you teach them to go hard all the time.”
RELATED: ESPN report on Nevada mercy rule
The rule says if a team wins by more than 49 three times in a season the coach is suspended.
The rule has led to some ugly games with Centennial – and other Nevada girls basketball powers – playing keepaway or not shooting in the second half or intentionally missing shots. (The rule also applies to boys basketball, but it does not come into play as often.) To some, the result is a mockery of the game with frustration for both the winning and losing teams. ESPN suggested that the rule is ruining high school basketball in the state.
The state association could revise the rule at a meeting in April.
According a survey by the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations in 2013, more than 20 states had some provisions for a running clock, generally when the differential reaches 35 or 40 points. Some states start the running clock in the second half, others only in the fourth quarter. Georgia allows teams to play six-minute quarters in the second half under regular timing when the halftime margin is at least 40.
A federation spokesman said there was “no specific state adoption option” in the national rulebook for a rule similar to Nevada’s that calls for a basketball game to be stopped. That is not the case with some other sports.
Mercy rules in baseball and softball in some states call for stoppages usually when one team is ahead by 10 runs after five innings or later, or 4 1/2 innings if the home team is ahead. In ice hockey, a number of states have implemented mandatory stoppages. In Michigan, the game is stopped if the goal differential reaches eight goals at the end of the second period or at any point in the third period.
“In a way (stopping the game) can be as embarrassing as putting another 20 points on a team,” Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association executive director Bart Thompson told ESPN. “With rotating starters in a different way or rotating other kids in to play with those starters that can take place early in the game without ever getting to the end of the game and be threatened by some type of points limit or having to play keepaway.”
Weitz said the rule often prevents her team and others from getting to the point where she can play her five starters or her usual rotation in advance of the playoffs when Centennial — ranked No. 4 in the Super 25 — will face the state’s top teams.
Nevada coaches used to have to write letters to explain why their team went over the 50-point limit and the mercy rule was used. They no longer have to do that, but Thompson said it is good that coaches are aware.
“There is some belief among some people in our state that we need to start asking for those letters again,” Thompson said. “That Centennial is concerned about it is a good thing because now they are conscious of what is perceived out there in many instances as being unsportsmtanlike.”
And as chronicled in the ESPN report, playing basketball this way is just no fun.
The coach of Gilmour Academy, which beat Northeast Ohio Prep, said his team was not trying to run up the score.
“We did what we had to do to respect the game and respect our opponent and I’m really proud of the way our kids responded,” Buetel told Fox 8 in Cleveland. “I was real proud of the way the girls responded because they did nothing to disrespect that team. We are not going to try and embarrass anybody, we are not going to disrespect anybody, you have to do the fundamental things right.”
A game in Kentucky ended 86-7 last week. In New York State, a playoff game last week had a final score of 76-11. A coach at a top program in Westchester County (N.Y.) said he would have his team take shot-clock violations to avoid scoring given the lopsided margins. He stopped doing that when other coaches complained that he was embarrassing them.
In late January, Clovis West knocked off fellow California program Rivera-Los Angeles by a final score of 114-9. The 105-point victory marked the second time that Clovis West had scored more than 100 points and held an opponent to single digits in the same game. In January 2015, San Bernardino (Calif.) Arroyo Valley’s girl’s basketball team beat Bloomington by a final score of 161-2. Arroyo Valley head coach Michael Anderson was suspended for two games.
The examples are everywhere, but what’s the solution?
“As long as the other coach you’re playing is respectful, I think you have to have your kids play,” said White Plains (N.Y.) coach Tara Flaherty. “The only time I would get upset is if a team was still pressing in the third or fourth quarter when we are clearly down by 20-ish points and we’ve got one kid that can dribble up the court. That kind of makes me mad.”