Column: Running up the score has no definitive moral significance

Courtesy of FastModel Sports

Courtesy of FastModel Sports

Brian Bloom, Staff Writer

Controversy is something seen all over sports. In football, controversy is seen through penalties whether they are called or missed. In basketball, there is controversy surrounding who the greatest player of all time is, whether that be his “airness,” Michael Jordan, or the king, LeBron James. One conspicuous controversy in all of the sports world is whether running up the score is acceptable or not. 

Running up the score isn’t something that can be definitively said as repugnant but it’s not something that is tolerable by everyone. While some believe that running up the score shows bad sportsmanship, the coin is two sided. Others believe that players are getting paid to perform their best and that the games are just games, not life lessons.

It’s prudent to discern what running up the score truly is, however. Some have a diluted view of what running up the score means. For example, the Indiana Pacers held a convincing 15-point lead over the Toronto Raptors in the final seconds of their final meeting of the 2017 season. Lance Stephenson of the Pacers scored an uncontested layup with a mere three seconds left in regulation. This isn’t running up the score.

Was Stephenson in the wrong for doing this? Yes he was. One of the unwritten rules of basketball is that you don’t score when you have the ball in the final seconds of a blowout game. However, running up the score is not the same as breaking an unwritten rule.

Running up the score has several flaws and teams garner extreme backlash from it. One of these flaws is that it’s a sign of bad class. This can be seen through the biggest blowout in all of sports history: the football game featuring Georgia Tech University and Cumberland College in October of 1916. 

The final score of this game was 222-0 and Georgia Tech scored no less than seven touchdowns in a quarter, even scoring 63 points in each of the first two quarters. Scoring even 63 points in a game in today’s sports climate can be viewed as running up the score. However, the way and the reason behind the barrage of points lacks class. 

According to an article by Daniel Wilco, the game really began during the previous baseball season. Georgia Tech’s baseball and football teams were both coached by the legendary John Heisman who’s better known for being named after the most prestigious award for DI football: the Heisman Trophy.

The baseball team had been demolished by Cumberland by a score of 22-0, but the football team played them in the next fall. Heisman paid Cumberland $500 to come to Atlanta to play them, with all of their expenses paid for. The rest is history, Heisman got his long awaited revenge with their 222-point annihilation of Cumberland.

Running up the score on a team, just for the sake of revenge, is unacceptable. Bad sportsmanship is absolutely not acceptable when it comes to playing sports, especially when the younger generation sits in attendance, soaking up the way that their role models collect themselves.

While winning is one of the best feelings a person can experience, it’s not the main goal of a sports game. Coaches say all of the time that the most important part of the game is to have fun. Running up the score takes the fun out of playing a children’s game. 

Tom Kuyper, a journalist for The Republic, outlines a situation where a coach took running up the score too far. Down 35 points in a basketball game, the opposing coach continued to run his full-court press, prompting the coach to kindly ask his opposition to stop the pressure and just let them play. The coach agreed, but the next time down the floor, the team ran a half-court trap to steal the ball and score more points. 

Kuyper and I share the same opinion on the opposing coach’s actions. “This is not the way to handle a blowout at all… He should have never kept pressing, trapping, double-teaming, and forcing the turnovers,” Kuper wrote.  

Recreational sports and professional sports are not remotely the same. In recreational sports, you are just playing purely for your love of the game. While we all have different levels of competitiveness, it doesn’t entitle any kind of recreational sport to forget about what good sportsmanship is. Recreational sports are about having fun, not about winning. That changes drastically for professional sports.

In most professional sports, it’s widely accepted that running up the score is just a part of the game, that the losing team can take advantage when the winning team takes their foot off of the accelerator. New England Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick, is one of the main advocates for running up the score. 

“When I was coaching defense, it was my job to keep the score down, not theirs. When you’re playing defense, it’s your job to stop them,” Belichick said in 2007. “It’s not (the offense’s) job to not score. It’s like I tell the offense, ‘what do you think I send you guys out there for? To punt? We have a punt team for that. That’s not your job. Your job is to go out there and score points.’ If you come off the field and you haven’t scored points, you haven’t done your job.”

Professional athletes get paid to perform and are expected to perform well. These games are their livelihoods The Patriots, due to Belichick’s coaching, are notorious for running up the score on teams. Their Week Seven game against the New York Jets is clear evidence of this. The Patriots routed the Jets 54-13, with 20 of those points coming in the fourth quarter, when they were already winning by three touchdowns. 

While this is considered running up the score, the tolerance of running up the score in professional sports is significantly higher than recreational sports. Professional teams are expected to perform their best, game in and game out, no matter what the circumstances are. The organization makes their living off of the success of their team, so for them, running up the score is a sign that the team is going in the right direction.

For this reason, it is unrealistic to state that running up the score is all bad, or that it is all good. Running up the score can show poor sportsmanship, especially when it is just a recreational sport. However, running up the score takes on a different meaning when it comes to professional sports. If recreational sports paid their players to play, that’s different. When your livelihood depends on the way that you perform, you should give all-out effort for the duration of your time on the field, court, ice, etc. 

Running up the score is a broad argument, that cannot just be settled by saying it’s all bad, or all good. In fact, it can be bad in certain situations, but it’s also good in certain situations. After all, controversy is one of the driving factors behind arguments in sports.