I've tackled this topic before, yet feel compelled to answer some pretty serious allegations by ESPN's Rick Reilly. In his most recent column, Reilly essentially called for a suspension of the boys' basketball coach at Yates High School in Houston because his team beats its opponents too badly.
Now, the scores of some of the games on Yates' schedule are much more lopsided than you are accustomed to seeing. Coach Greg Wise led his team to its second consecutive Class 4A state championship Saturday with a 92-73 victory over Lancaster, ending a streak of 15 consecutive games with at least 100 points. This included a 170-35 rout of Lee High School in January and 154-39 throttling of Davis later in that same month.
Coach Wise, in various articles I've seen, doesn't apologize for this. He teaches his players, all 15 of of them, to trap on defense and push the pace on offense, no matter the score. He feels if he asks his bottom five players on the court at the end of one of these uneven matchups to stop pressing, or stop shooting, he's not treating them fairly as their coach. I agree with him.
Never mind that Reilly accused Coach Wise of inciting a riot when Yates defeated Booker T. Washington High School 132-68 on Feb. 20. There was a scuffle in the parking lot outside the gymnasium after the game, and Reilly reported shots were fired. For this, he blames the margin of victory.
Really? So in addition to mentoring his players, Coach Wise is responsible for the behavior of his fans and fans of the other team AFTER the game? As someone so quaintly pointed out, was it the fault of Maryland coach Gary Williams when some students at his school were arrested during rioting following the Terrapins' upset of Duke? Of course not. Reilly is way off the mark here.
So, for the final time, here is my view of "running up the score:" there is no such thing. If Yates can hold a team scoreless while putting up 150 points of its own, go for it. The duty lies with the other team to put up the effort to keep the margin closer. If this isn't possible, don't play the game. Forfeit. Would that help the morale of the players on the opposing team, to realize they are so bad they can't even be on the same court with Yates? I doubt it.
As some of you know, my local high school, Richmond Senior High in Rockingham, N.C., has a wonderful football program, one of the top ones in the state. A few years ago, I attended the homecoming game against Pinecrest High School, at the time a perennial doormat. The score at halftime was 59-0, and in an effort to keep the score down, the second half featured a continuously running clock. Not only that, Richmond completely stopped trying to score, choosing to run basic plays up the middle with his third- and fourth-stringers, all so no one for Pinecrest would be offended.
Was this fair to those Richmond players who might have seen their most extensive playing time of the season in this game? Of course not. Sure, there is a fine line between embarrassing an opponent and simply doing your best -- I would never advocate a fake punt in this scenario, but passing certainly should be allowed -- but to shut down completely does a greater disservice to the other team.
A friend of mine had a family member playing for Pinecrest that night, and he mentioned to me how proud this young man was that he and his teammates held Richmond scoreless in the second half. Really? He needed a running clock and an obvious surrender by the Richmond coaching staff to feel proud? That's pretty sad. I would think he would feel better if he would have made a tackle against somebody actually trying to score, not someone simply going through the motions to get the game over as quickly as possible.
So here's to Coach Wise and his Yates team. Congratulations on winning another state championship and putting up some amazing numbers along the way. And shame on Rick Reilly for wrongly making Coach Wise the bad guy. The only one filling that role in this scenario is Mr. Reilly.