Teams Should Play to Full Strength
At some point in every sporting season, we seem to return to the same points and the same arguments. After Rutgers’ embarrassing 78-0 loss against Michigan earlier this season, the argument that we have come back to is this: is it acceptable to run up the score on an opponent? Is there ever a point where enough is enough?
Honestly, it is acceptable. We love sports, because we love competition. We enjoy watching our team battle it out with another team to prove supremacy and dominance. We want them to perform to the best of their abilities and if it ends up being a blowout victory, all the better.
In many of these games, the starters tend to get things rolling and are then replaced by the second unit once the lead is high enough. It is a technique called coasting and nearly every coach and team does it. You build a lead and then you rest your starters. All you really need from your second unit is to maintain the lead, not necessarily keep running up the score. But when the second unit happens to play better than the other team’s starters, that should be celebrated as a good thing, not seen as a bad one.
The fact is, in football, it can be difficult for second and third string players to get on the field. Usually it takes an injury or exceptionally bad play from a starter for a player to make it. When they finally get their chance, these players want to (and should) take advantage of it. They want to prove that they can step up and make the big plays. Obviously it is a little different in basketball or baseball, or other sports, but the principle is the same — when you have a bench player come in, they will want to perform the very best that they can.
Players who aren’t starters need real game experience in order to succeed. Often, they will only get those chances during blowout wins or losses.
If we are so against blowouts, what do we tell our teams? Do we tell them to be nice and not play up to their potential? Do we tell them to let the other team hang around? Do we tell them they shouldn’t try to win? Do we repeat any of these questions with the second and third string players?
The fact is, sports are about winning. It doesn’t matter if it is by one point or 100, we want our teams to win. So many of us would rather see our team blow out the opponent than win by only a few points. I know I’m certainly in that margin.
We do a disservice to the teams and players involved when we don’t play our best. How insulting is it to the other team to essentially say, “We don’t think you are good enough, so we are going to take it easy on you.”
Sports, especially when it comes to college or professional sports, is about competition. So much of sports is already being ruined by the practice of participation trophies. Telling your team to play badly on purpose is essentially giving the other team a massive participation trophy.
But think about this — how many of us Utah fans cried foul when Utah beat Wyoming 50-0 in a game with an infamous onside kick? How many of us were upset when the Utes beat BYU 54-10 just a few years ago? Did we complain when we beat Oregon last year 62-20?
Besides, just because a team is blowing out the competition doesn’t mean a win is inevitable. I recently watched a Utah Jazz preseason game where they were ahead by 30 points, but ended up losing by one point. Comebacks are a great part of sports, and when a team comes back from a huge deficit to win, there’s almost nothing more exciting. Stop the criticism and enjoy the game for what it is.
There is No Need for Overkill
While most people can’t even about pumpkin spice everything, flannels, and cuddling during the fall, I get jazzed up because autumn is the heart of college football. Whether I am at the tailgate lot, or growing into my couch watching games, football season is always the time when I am happiest. Pac-12, ACC, SEC, Big 10 and even Mountain West, I love a good hard-fought college football game.
You know what I don’t love though? Running up the score.
You see it a lot during weeks one and two of the season, when teams are having their tune up games, and every now and then during the regular season. I don’t like when teams run the score on other teams, but there are a few exceptions.
First, when teams run the score up during conference games it shows that the losing team doesn’t belong in the same league. Take the Rutgers and Michigan game from a few weeks ago. The Big 10 has a solid cast of teams near the top. Marquee teams like Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State give the conference credibility. But with the Big 10, you are either really good, or really bad. Rutgers falls in the very bad column. Games like this would be akin to the U playing Cyprus High School. Sure, there are some decent athletes, but the overall talent level is highly skewed.
Running up the score can also be a scary thing for a team. If a coach is keeping first and second string players in a game where they are up by 40-50 points, they risk injury at every down. Imagine if you are a losing team and you are down by 50 points; your motivation quickly changes from, ‘I want to make this play,’ to ‘I want to get my shots in on the other guy.’ If you know you are going to be that much better, take a note from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and rest your starters. I’m sure they have some nagging injury, or simply need a week off.
While we are on the subject of resting players, let’s look at the roster spots for college football. Looking at the U Football roster, there are 129 players listed on the team. That’s a lot of guys for 11 guys on offense and 11 guys on defense. Now, naturally the number is high to account for injury, or academic trouble, but most of these guys never see the field. What a perfect time to put guys in for a game that you know you are going to dominate from the get-go.
But there are a few exceptions to this: for example if it is a rivalry game. Normally I don’t want to see one team completely obliterate the other, unless the team obliterating is Utah and the team being obliterated is BYU. That would be my one time that I pray a team wins by 80 or 90.
Or if they ran the score up on you recently. If I were Rutgers next season I would want to blister Michigan so bad that there would be no relief. Or maybe if the other team was “talking smack.” A big part of sports is the art of trash talk, but an even bigger part of sports is being able to back-up what you say. If some defensive back is smearing your team’s name through the mud on Twitter, you better defend your honor and make them regret their words.
I have had scores run up on me before. I understand the killer instinct and “step on their throat” (metaphorically speaking) mentalities. But if you are up by 30 or more porints, give the third stringers a chance. If you’re still scoring with them, send out the fourth string. If you are still having your way with a team at that point, then all you can do is wish that the mercy rule was in effect for college games, because it is going to be a long afternoon.