If you have a son or daughter playing high school sports, chances are you’re familiar with the various mercy rules in your child’s sport.
In baseball and softball, a run rule exists to cut short lopsided games when it’s clear one team is vastly superior to the other, and continuing to play beyond a certain point would result in 3-4-hour games by the time the seventh inning is reached. It usually goes like this: If a team reaches a 15-run lead by the third inning or later, the game is called. Ditto if a 10-run threshold is met in the fifth inning or later. While the losing team must get a chance to bat during the run-rule inning, failure to cut into that lead before making three outs results in the mercy rule being triggered.
Last Thursday, I attended the Choctaw Central slow-pitch softball team’s home game against Neshoba Central. In the top of the fifth inning, Choctaw Central had a 13-3 lead, which meant the game would be called in the Lady Warriors’ favor if the Lady Rockets got three outs before scoring any runs. It brought a seventh-inning feel to the game, and though Neshoba Central staved off being run-ruled by scoring three runs in the top of the frame, the Lady Warriors scored four in the bottom half of the inning to walk off with a 17-6 win.
It’s not often Neshoba Central gets run-ruled — the Lady Rockets are usually the ones run ruling other teams — but Choctaw Central is a good team that took advantage of an off-night for the Lady Rocket bats. While this doesn’t describe Neshoba Central, if one team run rules another in slow-pitch, it usually means the losing team is significantly outmatched, generally speaking. The fact is, nobody wants to sit around and watch one team tee off against the other one for hours upon hours. (OK, maybe if you really hate the other team, it would have to be an intense hate to want to stay sitting there for seven innings of a blowout.)
As I was driving back to the office to write a story about the game, my mind began to wander back to a question I heard posed several weeks prior: should college football games have mercy rules? I don’t remember where I heard this question, nor do I know if the proposition was for a run-rule like automatic stoppage of play, or for simply running the clock continuously like they do in high school football games. You can imagine my surprise when I researched this topic.
Apparently, a rule exists where game quarters and halftime lengths can be shortened if the head coaches of both teams agree to it. This was implemented by Georgia at the start of the 2018 in a 45-0 rout of Austin Peay, where the coaches agreed to shorten the fourth quarter from 15 to 10 minutes. Given the likely heat that day in Athens, Georgia, and the fact that the contest had been well decided by that point, it’s a decision for which I don’t blame the coaches — and I wonder if it should be taken a step further.
Often times a Power 5 team’s non-conference schedule includes one “marquee” opponent (Texas vs. LSU and Auburn vs. Oregon are examples from this season off the top of my head) and teams that the Power 5 schools are otherwise expected to beat by a comfortable margin. Sure, once in a blue moon these smaller schools might pull the upset, like Tennessee against Georgia State a few weeks ago or Appalachian State against Michigan in 2007 or Southern Miss and Central Florida against Alabama in 2000. Usually, though, these smaller schools are paid money to roll into town and take a butt whipping, and the games amount to little more than glorified scrimmages as the Power 5 schools work on some things in preparation for bigger opponents.
It’s not uncommon for fans to leave these contests well before the end of regulation. They had their fun time tailgating, the outcome was decided midway through the second quarter and who wants to sit in traffic? Or, for that matter, who wants to sit in 95-degree temperatures with awful humidity to watch the backups play in the third and fourth quarters?
With this in mind, why not amend the “mercy rule” already in place? Decide on a point threshold that automatically triggers a clock that doesn’t stop running except for timeouts, injured players or the changing of quarters. One of the reasons Russell Christian Academy football games have been stress-free for this sports journalist is the Warriors have dominated during home games for several seasons now, and a running clock is typically employed in the second half of their games. The game is over by 8:30 p.m. and I’m back at the office at 9 p.m. with plenty of time to both write a story and construct the weekend sports section.
Don’t just do it for the beat reporters on the job, do it for the fans. Acknowledge that these Power 5 versus smaller school games are mere formalities 95 percent of the time. Realize they’ll be leaving anyway and just get the games over with. Sure, the college football purists won’t like it, but there’s no pleasing them anyway, and everyone else will be thanking you.
Drew Kerekes is the sports editor at The Meridian Star. He can be reached at email@example.com.