CHSAA's Board of Directors is further exploring the adoption of a mercy rule in boys and girls basketball, and the topic is set to be voted on at its next meeting in October.
It is the continuation of something that was first raised by the Board in April, discussed again in June, and then again at its retreat in August. After the April meeting, the Board requested a survey be sent out to CHSAA member schools gauging interest in such a rule, and sought feedback on what it might entail.
At its meeting in August, the mercy rule proposal was tabled so board members had the opportunity to investigate the rule and get feedback on it from districts they represent. The rule being proposed is this: If a team leads by 40 points or more by the end of the third quarter, a running clock would be started in the fourth that stops only for injury and timeouts.
Most team sports — football, baseball, softball, soccer, hockey, lacrosse — already have a mercy rule, per National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rules, allowing the cockeyed games to end more quickly. Basketball is one of the only team sports that does not have a mercy rule, and Colorado can create one as a state adoption.
The Board of Directors is set to meet again on Oct. 5, and the mercy rule is among the topics on the agenda. The group will vote on a state adoption, and, if passed, it would go into effect immediately with the 2016-17 season.
It would not need to be voted on at the Legislative Council.
CHSAA board of directors Eddie Hartnett said a mercy rule would affect a very small percent of coaches in the state, but it would definitely send a message in regards to the other team sports with mercy rules already in effect.
"When I see some schools trying to beat a team by, potentially, 100 points, I look at the scores and it bothers me," Hartnett said. "That's not why many of us became athletic directors or coaches."
He added: "A mercy rule would put us in line with of our goal of educationally-based athletics."
But one of the biggest arguments against a mercy rule in Colorado is it's less playing time for players who don't normally get an opportunity to get on the court in typical games, and coaches would be missing key opportunities to teach their student-athletes a valuable life lesson.
"I know what it's like being the eighth, ninth guy on the basketball team," Borgmann said. "My extended playing time came during games when we were either way up, or, in earlier years, when we were way down. A mercy rule takes minutes away, and is that really in the best interests of the kids, the sport and the state?"
Legendary Denver Christian boys hoops coach and Colorado High School Coaches Association associate director Dick Katte said there is already a limited amount of time to begin with.
"You only have 32 minutes in a game and five players on the court at once," he said. "A mercy rule would speed that time up and coaches wouldn't be able to play as many kids that way."
Hartnett, a big proponent of the mercy rule, said if a team is up by at least 40 points in the fourth without a running clock, "it's like the Globetrotters playing keep away and it's insulting to other teams."
"The ability level at times is so diverse, especially at the 5A level," Hartnett added. "It'll be less evident with the clock running. Coaches will still have the opportunity to put in players who don't typically play a lot, and they should be doing that anyways."
Over the summer, Katte met with about 80 boys and girls coaches, out of CHSAA's 352 member schools, and walked them through the mercy rule conversations the Board was having.
"I told them that as hard as they practice how to break a press, they should also practice that hard on what to do when the score has become very lopsided — whether you're up or down by 30, 40 points," Katte said. "I said if they didn't manage that, I'm sure there would be a mercy rule put in place in basketball, and the coaches didn't want to have that."
Borgmann said CHSAA invited reps from each league, classes 3A-5A, over the summer prior to the clinic to discuss issues in basketball, and the mercy rule was one of the topics. After many meetings, it became apparent there were communication issues between coaches and administration on the rule.
The mercy rule survey from February showed 84 percent of admin believed there needs to be one. But for coaches, the views are very split: 46 percent of boys coaches are for the mercy rule, 54 percent are against; 54 percent of girls coaches are for, 46 percent are against.
So CHSCA wanted to address this before the rule was voted on, and handle huge score differentials as a coaching issue more than an administrative issue. Katte said he told coaches at the clinic they were the ones who had control over this issue.
"Administration is really getting some heat because of the lopsided scores and they’re ready to go ahead with the mercy rule because almost every other sport has that," Katte said.
For other sports, a mercy rule has some rhyme and reason to it: dangerous arm overuse in baseball/softball, and in football, there’s a higher risk of injury for grossly mismatched teams. But you can't really argue the safety factor in basketball, so then it just becomes the humiliation factor.
"The thing about a mercy rule that people forget is it's a very negative implication to an athlete," Katte said. "That's almost worst than getting beat by 40 points. 'Oh, how did you do? We were mercied.' That's a sad thing for a youngster to leave a game with that feeling."
He added: "If you're in it for the kids, you're giving a very negative lesson to kids."
CHSCA president and Roosevelt athletic director Joe Brown said a mercy rule wouldn't even address the actual problem.
"There might be a team that beats another by a significant amount of points, and making the clock go faster to prevent the score from running up anymore isn't eliminating the problem. The problem is that there's a huge point differential and how to make that better for kids," Brown said. "The biggest part of high school athletics is teaching life lessons and how student-athletes can be successful later in life, and the mercy rule would be missing the boat on educating our kids on how to handle these situations — adversity or success."
Hartnett agrees with teaching game management, but sometimes, not all coaches understand and embrace the educational part, with all the different schools and nuances. Those 100-point games still happen, and those scores show up somewhere different every single year.
"We've been educating our coaches for years and it still continues to happen. There are very few programs out there that would allow this," Hartnett said. "But a lot of times when it does happen, it's too late to educate the coaches, because they've already been educated and have take the CHSAA test; we have clinics regarding sportsmanship and clinics with Positive Coaching Alliance. We have all of these things already available and it still continues to happen."
There is also an NFHS rule that allows games to be ended by mutual agreement of coaches and officials on site.
"It's not like there's never been a way for these kinds of things to be addressed," Borgmann said. "It's just that isn't one of the better known rules."
CHSAA and CHSCA have both taken measures to educate boys and girls coaches on the mercy rule, but even education might not fix outside factors in blowouts.
"It creates a supervision issue, because all the fans on one side are getting embarrassed, and on the other side they're egging it on," Hartnett said. "It's not only a game management issue at that point."
If the mercy rule doesn't pass in October, Brown said preparation for, and management of, extremely lopsided games must be included in coaches clinics, and more athletic directors need to visit with coaches on the possibility of blowout games.
"Admin and coaches must communicate more on, How do you handle one-sided games when you're up? When do you take the starters out? Should there be pass limits? Changing the offensive or defensive sets? Maybe work on things you're not as good at if you're up by 30 or more," he said.
But if it does pass, Brown said maybe that would give coaches a little more motivation to avoid those types of game situations.
Either way, the mercy rule discussion has been around long enough, and it'll keep coming back until it gets voted on and either put to rest or put into effect.