March 18, 2014 • Coaching

Coaches Deserve Benefit of the Doubt in Blowout Games

Last October, Aledo High School (Texas) made national headlines after its football team thumped one of its opponents 91-0. Parents of players on the losing team were furious, prompting one of them to file a bullying complaint claiming everyone in the stadium was a witness to unsportsmanlike conduct by Aledo coaches.

Photo: Kevin Hoffman

More often these days we see reports of coaches who have come under fire for allegedly running up the score. Some say we need to grow thicker skin. Others argue it’s a troubling sign that victory has become the dominant driving force behind a system that’s supposed to put education first.

They’re both right.

Sure, there are coaches focused solely on winning, and it’s often hard to blame them when wins mean the difference between job security and unemployment. It’s also true that losing teaches valuable lessons that ultimately benefit student-athletes.

Aledo coaches were cleared of wrongdoing, and rightly so. Head coach Tim Buchanan pulled his starters in the first quarter, eventually putting his third string on the field, according to media reports. Sometimes that’s not enough, and in this case, it wasn’t.

Other coaches haven’t been so lucky. The head football coach at a Virginia Catholic school was fired in January for apparently running up the score, just months after winning a state title. There’s a very dim line separating acceptable coaching procedures from deplorable winning tactics, and athletic directors must give coaches the benefit of the doubt. Your boys basketball team may have won by 60, but that doesn’t mean the coach did anything malicious.

Most states use a mercy rule in high school, like a running clock or even letting coaches end the game. It helps, but it doesn’t entirely prevent teams from losing by wide margins. That’s why coaches should do what they can to lessen the blow but not be punished if the result is the same.

There’s a delicate balance here, and that’s what athletic directors must consider before coming down on one of their coaches after a blowout win. Did the basketball coach continue to press and trap, or did they do their best to run the clock? Were the starters still in the game, or did the backups get a substantial amount of playing time?

You also must remember that while few coaches aspire to embarrass their opponents, they also have a responsibility to their players. Student-athletes sacrifice a lot to play sports, and they’ve earned the right to go out and compete. Consequently, when they step onto that field or court, they’re probably not going to hold back.

The message here is to not punish quality coaches for something that is largely out of their control. Athletic directors who are forced to evaluate whether their coaches have done anything unsportsmanlike must consider the entire body of evidence, which stretches far beyond the game’s final score.

You already t­­­rust your coaches to run their respective programs, keep the athletes safe during competition and conduct themselves in a manner that accurately represents your school’s core values. It’s fair to say they’ve earned benefit of the doubt.

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