Running Up The Score: Fair Or Foul?

Isabelle KhurshudyanContributor IFebruary 10, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS - JANUARY 17:  Quarterback Brett Favre #4 of the Minnesota Vikings looks to pass against the Dallas Cowboys during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on January 17, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

How far is too far? Who is the judge of what is “too far,” and what are the consequences? These are the questions that plague me when I consider the concept of running up the score in a game.

Coaches and players run up the score in all levels of sports. We hear about it in high school, college, and professional athletics.

But what is it exactly that makes running up the score so wrong?

Several weeks ago, the Minnesota Vikings were up by three touchdowns against the Dallas Cowboys with less than three minutes left in the game when they chose to go for the touchdown on a fourth and three instead of kicking a field goal.

The Dallas players were visibly upset by the Vikings’ decision, especially after Brett Favre connected with Visanthe Shiancoe on the touchdown, and proceeded to accuse the Vikings of playing with no class.

While this could be construed as running up the score, it is exactly the opposite. Had Minnesota kicked the field goal, they would’ve just been putting petty points on the board. By going for the touchdown, the Vikings in essence respected the Cowboy defense enough to give them the chance to stop them, which is their job by the way.

To give a real example of running up a score, some may recall when the Covenant School defeated Dallas Academy by a score of 100-0 in a high school girls’ basketball game in Texas.

After Micah Grimes, the head coach of the Covenant School, refused to apologize for the lopsided victory, he was fired. But honestly, why should he apologize for winning?

Sure, it’s just high school. In reality, what is the necessity of winning 100-0 instead of winning 100-50. A win’s a win, right?

But what message are you really sending your team if you tell them to stop playing their hardest. Don’t win as well? If we use sports as a parable to the real world, then shouldn’t we encourage giving 100 percent 100 percent of the time.

The headmaster at the Covenant School said that the win was “shameful and an embarrassment” and did not reflect an “honorable approach to competition.”

But was the team really dishonorable? They shook hands after the victory. They didn’t cheat. To quote Grimes, his team played “with honor and integrity.”

Sure, winning by such a margin isn’t “nice” to the other team, but life isn’t always nice. The players from Dallas Academy were likely crushed after the loss, but they moved on to other games. Who’s to say that losing to the Covenant School won’t be a learning experience for them in the long run?

Sometimes, a team is simply outmatched and a coach doesn’t even intend to run up the score. For example, in October 2008, Naples High School defeated Estero High School 91-0 in a football game.

What makes this game a prime example of a poor matchup is that the head coach of Naples hardly utilized his starters throughout the entire game. In fact, parents complained that their sons saw little playing time in the shut-out.

It’s pretty simple. Naples High School had won the 3A State Championship just the year before. They were just so much better of a team than Estero High School that the JV squad would have likely pitched a shut-out as well. Can you really blame the coach for that one?

And isn’t sports all about the unexpected? Earlier this year, the Chicago Bulls gave up a 35-point lead with 8:50 left in the third quarter in a loss to the Sacramento Kings. Who’s to say that coaches don’t run a score up to prevent such a comeback?

While I personally never want to witness a game where any team loses by a 100-point margin, I don’t feel that winning convincingly warrants someone losing their job or a win being called wrong.

Last time I checked, playing bad warrants the penalty, not the other way around.