Feature: Blowout Games. Unsportsmanlike? Or the Competitive Nature of Sports?



On June 7, 1998, NBA Finals, Game 3, Chicago Bulls defeat Utah Jazz 96-54. On Feb. 28, 2018, NCAA DIII women’s lacrosse, Manhattanville College defeated Centenary University, 27-0. On May 28, 2014, Oregon high school baseball league, Prairie City defeated Grant Union 65-0 in five innings.

A blowout game can be detrimental to the loser, and a massive confidence boost for the victor. The victor can be accused of running up the store. Thus, raises one of the biggest questions in sports, is it unsportsmanlike to run up the score? Or what is the tipping point from a blowout to an unsportsmanlike blowout?

“I think every coach knows when they are crossing that line. It’s definitely subjective, there is no way you can put in a rule, you hope and expect coaches to handle themselves the right way and if your third string guy is scoring three goals, there is nothing you can do about it. It is totally unfair to tell one of you players who never gets a chance to play to just pass the ball around,” said Manhattanville College men’s lacrosse coach, Ryder Boahlander.

Coaches across the nation, from high school athletics to the pros have reacted in various ways. Some victors will say that it is just a part of the game while the losers will say that it is unsportsmanlike. At the professional level players and coaches have a competitive understanding, it is the other teams job to stop the opponent’s offense from scoring. At the NCAA level similar views are shared by players and coaches. It is at the high school level where running up the score become a larger issue in question.

On Oct. 19, 2009 the New England Patriots defeated the Tennessee Titans 59-0 in an NFL blizzard showdown in Foxboro. Tom Brady, the Patriots starting quarterback, threw five touchdown passes in the second quarter alone. His back-up, Brian Hoyer, replaced Brady half way through the third quarter. The Patriots racked up 619 total yards of offense. On the other side of the ball, Titans quarterbacks Kerry Collins and Vince Young combined for minus seven passing yards.

This is the largest blowout since the AFL-NFL merger in 1969.

“I know the score got out of hand, but we were just trying to run our offense,” said New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick in the press conference following the game.

Here Belichick takes the position that it is a team’s job to stick to their game plan. Although he understands that the score ‘got out of hand’, but the way he sees it they executed their game plan to near perfection.

“They were just running their plays and it just so happens that they were working. It is up to us as a defense to stop them and we just couldn’t get them stopped when we needed to,” said Tony Brown, a Titans defensive tackle.

Brown’s comments coincide with Belichick in that it is a team’s job to stop the other team.

Both Belichick and Brown share the notion that the game should be competitive until the end, regardless of the score. Although the Patriots took Brady out of the game, and changed the plays they called, runs instead of passes, there was no signs of letting up or straying away from the game plan.

At the professional level there is more of a competitive understanding; athletes are being paid to beat the other team. The consensus is that on any given day any professional team could beat another professional team, therefore the popular view is that a blowout is not unsportsmanlike, yet it is exposing the weakness of the losing team.

At the college level there is a different view point on running up the score.

In a 2003 NCAA Football showdown between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas A&M Aggies, the Sooners dominated the Aggies with an astonishing 77-0 victory.

The sooners scored on 10 out of their first 11 possessions. All 77 points came in the first three quarters.

“It was an odd situation to be in,” said Robert Stoops, head coach of the Sooners, during the post-game press conference.

Stoops showed mercy in the fourth quarter when the Sooners were three yards away from another touchdown and they ran the ball four consecutive times right up the middles when they could have run countless other plays that would have almost guaranteed another scoring play. Their lineman did everything they could short of falling down to allow the defense to make the tackle.

“I believe in being decent to people.” said Stoops in the post-game press conference.

The Aggies did not fault the Sooners but were just ready to move on.

“I don’t think they ran the score up,” said Texas A&M defensive coordinator Carl Torbush, during the post-game press conference. “It was just a nightmare. I was glad it was over with. It was an embarrassing ballgame.”

The Aggies were more frustrated with themselves then they were with the Sooners. The Sooner’s steamroll of the Aggies emulates reactions that have been shared by players and coaches in similar situations throughout the NCAA.

“There is always a winner and a loser. 27-0, 15-5 you’re still losing the game. For me, I have never wanted anyone to take it easy on me as an athlete, I want you to play your best and for me to play my best and let the score be what it is,” said Manhattanville College women’s lacrosse coach, Jen Nardi.

The level where reactions to blowout victories differ the most is in high school athletics.

In 2015 the Arroyo Valley High School girls’ basketball in San Bernardina, Cal. annihilated the Bloomington High School team 161-2. Arroyo Valley, coached by Michael Anderson, used a full-court trap for the entire first half, leaving the score 104-1 at halftime. Arroyo pulled all of his starters at half time and told the bench players to not shoot until there was seven seconds left on the shot clock. He spoke to officials during the third quarter about implementing the running clock, but California state high school basketball rules do not allow for that until the start of the fourth quarter.

“It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s not something I would put on my mantel, Anderson said to the Orange County Register.

Following the game, he was suspended for two games for the brutal defeat of Bloomington.

Bloomington coach, Dale Chung, was more than disgusted with the blowout.

“People shouldn’t feel sorry for my team. They should feel sorry for his [Anderson’s] team, which isn’t learning the game the right way. He knows what he did was wrong.” said Chun, per the Orange Country Register.

Chung would have had Anderson’s team stop playing defense and stop taking three point shots.

Other coaches from across the nation have spoken up on this issue.

“You never want to go out and embarrass a team. I’m kind of a big believer that once you hit 20,30 [points ahead], you try to pull it back.” said Kristen McDonnell, the head basketball coach at Braintree High School in Massachusetts, per the Boston Globe.

High School sports tend to be more polarizing on the topic of running up the score. Should a coach, like Anderson, be punished for running up the score if they took the proper measures to avoid a blowout? Should a coach be punished for his bench players performing well?

“I didn’t expect them to be that bad. I’m not trying to embarrass anybody. And I didn’t expect my bench to play that well. I had one [bench] player make eight of nine 3’s [three pointers],” said Anderson after the game.

States around the country have implemented mercy rules for their high school sports. The mercy rules attempt to maintain the competitive nature of the sport but limit the embarrassment and tediousness that is a blowout victory. The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference enacted a rule that subjected any football coach who won a game by more than 50 points to a one game suspension. However, mercy rules are not always focused on punishment. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association implemented mercy rules for football and basketball. A running clock goes into effect when a football team is up by more than 42, and when a basketball team is up by more than 40.

“Lopsided scores really do not benefit anyone. I think the idea of having a running clock will just help to complete the game but not prolong the game.” said NCHSAA Commissioner Davis Whitfield, per Asheville Citizen Times.

High school sports are the only level where coaches have been suspended for blowout victories.

Sports experts from ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and Bleacher Report speculate that the reason running up the score is a bigger deal in high school than in the NCAA or the pros, is the expectation of competition. In the NCAA and the pro’s there is a mutual understanding that every team should compete with every team, and in cases where they can’t it is not the victor’s duty to let up to make the game competitive. Whereas in high school, it is more of a development phase of sports, and there is not an expectation that every team will compete with every team.