The 50-point mercy rule experiment should end

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The Los Lunas High football team’s Oct. 19 win over Grants was by a 50-0 score, capped by a dramatic extra point by Collin Keeton.

His kick was from 35 yards out, due to a 15-yard penalty from the touchdown play, and it led to a game-ending celebration, as if he had kicked a dramatic field goal at the end of regulation or in overtime.
These dramatic, final moments in blowout, mercy-rule games are great for the winners, but are humiliating for the losers, and are really unnecessary. Supposedly, the 50-point mercy rule was introduced in 2010 to keep lopsided games from getting really out of hand, but three years is long enough. The New Mexico Activities Association’s football coaches, sports-specific committee and the board of directors should take actions to repeal this rule.
The longstanding 35-point mercy rule is a sufficient way to speed up a one-sided football game. The second half goes pretty quickly, even if the team that is trailing continues to score, and the reserves get a chance to play between 10 and 30 snaps or so.
The “knockout punch” with a 50-point margin brings up unnecessary questions for coaches to answer. If teams end up reaching the 50-point margin, then the talk starts about coaches going for the jugular and running up the score, and if they try to avoid it, then it goes completely against the competitive and fiery nature of both players and coaches.
Los Lunas didn’t have much time to decide whether to end its Oct. 25 win at Gallup by the 50-point rule at halftime. After going up 48-0 on a touchdown run with 1:12 to 17.7 seconds left in the first half. Presumably, going for the two-point conversion would have been seen as going for the 50-point margin, so LLHS coach Jeremy Newton elected to have Gustavo Muñoz take the extra-point kick, which made it 49-0.
However, on the final play of the half, Tiger defensive back Chris Sanchez intercepted a pass and ran it back 66 yards for a touchdown, giving the Tigers more than the 50-point mercy-rule lead. The game was ended then, because the margin becomes a mercy rule when one team leads by 50 at halftime or later.
Newton had already started subbing in reserves earlier in the half. If Newton wanted his younger players to play the second half, what could he have done differently? Instruct his defense, ahead of time, to ignore their instincts and fall down if a turnover happens while they’re up 49-0? These are adjustments coaches shouldn’t have to make.
In 2010, Belen had played its Homecoming game in its regular-season finale in November against Grants. The Eagles were pummeling the Pirates, and had to “sort-of-intentionally” botch an extra-point attempt to avoid mercy-ruling Grants at the end of the first half.
Had the game ended at halftime, how many fans would have stuck around for the halftime Homecoming celebration? I wondered if any members of that year’s Belen Intensity Marching Band or Homecoming court considered running on to the field to tackle Dylan Barba or another Eagle player, to prevent the 50-point margin.
Again, these are issues that coaches and other football-game participants should not have to consider.
Two weeks after that Grants game, the Eagles hosted Los Lunas in the second round of the playoffs. Afer being up 48-0 in the third quarter, Belen was able to walk off the field in the middle of the third quarter, ending the game against its fiercest rival, 54-0, on an interception return by Steven Contreras.
It was emotional enough for the Eagles and Tigers to be meeting in the playoffs in the first place. For the Eagles to be celebrating a game-ending touchdown, and the Tigers to have to walk tearfully off the field, adds unneeded fuel to a long rivalry.
Contreras got up limping after the Eagles piled on top of him in celebration. He played the following week, but it made me wonder how coaches would feel if a player gets seriously hurt trying to score the mercy-rule-inducing points.
The possibility of a knockout punch gives teams with significant matchup advantages too much power — there’s too much temptation to go for the jugular, especially in a sport with the intensity of football. It’s time to end the 50-point-rule experiment.


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.