Running up the score is more or less perspective

By Shayne Combs,

In all sports, in all areas, in all age groups, you see certain final scores that jump out at you as lopsided. Possibly more lopsided than needed? Well, that is for each person to decide for themselves. This is not a topic that has a set list of rules that tell us exactly when someone is running up the score, and when someone is not doing it. Often times, it can be true that a coach who won by 50 did more to not run up the score than a coach who only won by 20.

It is always interesting for me as an objective observer of so many SVC games to see how there are always two sides of the story. Let’s say you have a Friday night football game that is getting out of hand. As the game gets deep into the fourth quarter, the coach who is ahead wants to get his third-string, senior running back some carries, because he has given the program so much effort over the past four seasons. The senior runs hard on the drive and eventually runs a seemingly meaningless touchdown to stretch the lead on the scoreboard from 28 to 35. Is this running up the score? The team winning probably looks at it as no, because they are excited for the senior who never gets to play. The team getting beat probably says yes, because they want to know why a senior is still out there running the ball in a blowout game.

This is why I say it is perspective. I believe that most people become too consumed with the final score. If both teams choose to put their subs in the game, why not let them play? If I am a junior varsity tailback getting a chance to carry the pigskin on Friday night, I definitely want to do that. The same is true on the other side of the ball. If I am a young linebacker, I want a chance to make a play. I don’t want the offense taking a knee just because it is a blowout.

The other interesting perspective is how this changes sport to sport. The biggest debates in this topic are going to come in the timed sports. I noticed an area volleyball score recently that was 25-1 in a particular set. This isn’t looked at as running up the score, because the rules say the team must score 25 points to win the set. Baseball and softball is another interesting topic, because it has no number to play to nor does it have a clock.

It is also interesting to look at the responsibility of the coach getting beat instead of always putting the scrutiny on the coach who is ahead. For example, in basketball let’s say I am getting beat by 25 in the fourth quarter. If I make the decision to keep pressing all over the court (which is completely fine and does in a way teach kids to keep competing to the end), I must be aware that the other team is going to attack my pressure and continue to score. I can’t expect to keep trapping on every pass and expect them to just stop playing.

This same analogy is true with football. If I am winning, and I try to call off the dogs I believe it is important for both sides to adjust their play calling. The losing coach can’t continue to have his linebacker blitzing the “A” gap and expect my quarterback to not try and make a play.

I know in baseball it often times is my fault if my team gets beat by 20 runs instead of seven or eight runs. At a small school, I must use my pitching staff in the best way possible. I know last year, I was in a game where we were competing with a team that was much better than us. Unfortunately for us, the game started to get away in the fifth inning as we went down 13-4 after only trailing 6-4. At that point, I realized with the pitching staff we were facing that we could not win that game. I knew in the back of my mind we had winnable games coming up on the next two nights. I had to throw a kid out there to “eat” the next couple of innings and as a result we ended up giving up 22 runs. The final score to some probably looked bad, but I knew that it was more my fault than any coach trying to run up the score. I simply explained to my kids after the game why I did what I did, and we were able to be successful later in the week because we saved our best pitchers. We could have easily kept the score down around 13-4, but I did not think that was the best thing for my team at the time. Again, instead of getting consumed with the final score, I think it is always important to have perspective.

I think that coaches can sometimes try so hard to do what they think is right that they do things that could be viewed as embarrassing to the other team. For example, is a football coach going to tell a kid to fall down before the goal line to avoid scoring? Is a softball coach going to have players purposely get picked off or leave the base early to make outs on purpose. There are also some strategies that are somewhat unfair to your own kids. Is a baseball coach going to ask a kid to strikeout on purpose and hurt his own batting average? Is a volleyball coach going to ask a player to purposely miss a serve or hit a kill attempt out-of-bounds?

This is why I feel the best situations that I have seen are when both coaches have an understanding of the situation. They both allow their kids to continue playing hard, but they simply adjust some strategies that make the game finish in a way that is not disrespectful to either side.

All sports have “unwritten” rules that coaches become familiar with over time. Some decide to follow them, and some simply ignore them. I have been beaten by 74 in basketball, and I have won by more than 50 in basketball. I have been beaten by more than 20 in baseball, and I have won by more than 20 in baseball. On all occasions, the circumstances are different. I believe this is why this debate must be viewed as a case-by-case discussion, and even then, it truly is a personal perspective.

*NOTE: Let me hear your thoughts! Email the website at or comment on our blog section of the website. We will be talking about this topic on our upcoming podcast show. We will use some of our best comments and/or questions from our inbox and our blog.

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One Response to Running up the score is more or less perspective

  1. 2oldfan says:

    You cannot put a set of rules on running up the score for any one game, let alone a general rule for each sport. Each sport takes on a life of itself. It is up to the losing coach just as much as the winning coach to call off the dogs. Recently during the Waverly vs. Athens football game the Bulldogs were accused of running up the score. However, Waverly left their starters in only down 3 scores and when they scored late, they tried an onside kick. The Waverly fans cannot get upset when the Athens coach sends in his first string to continue playing hard. I have been on both sides as a player and coach. The moments I remember as standing out was in football, down by 3 scores late and the opposing coach throws a halfback pass to score! Thats running up the score! lol

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