“Be a good sport.” I think that is a line from “The Great Gatsby” (1925), but I may have heard it somewhere else. All I know is that in sports, good sportsmanship is a standard for players and teams to uphold, even at professional levels when all the players are grown-up. One of those sportsmanship rules is about running up the score on a team. It is the reason it is bad practice to alley-oop to end a basketball game or go for two when up an enormous amount, just for the sake of doing it. But is it always wrong to keep scoring?
I asked myself that recently while watching a Div. III college basketball team take a bad loss recently. In games such as this, is it poor sportsmanship by the other team to run up the score? To me, the answer is most certainly and definitely: it depends. I know. That sounds silly. I think unwritten rules, though, would agree. If a college football team is absolutely wiping the floor with their opponent, it is unreasonable to keep going for it on fourth down.
A New York high school football coach was recently disciplined for beating a team so badly. The problem was, his team was better and he kept them in. They won 61–13 and he had to face a disciplinary hearing and get a short suspension for running up the score. The reason he was suspended and could not defend himself was because he played his starters even while up so much. I do not think it merits suspension, but I do think it is tough on the players who do not get in so often and work hard to play even one minute.
Had he put in his backups who do not get the opportunity to play when they are losing, those players would have seen their hard work pay off. And if they did score and score a lot, this would certainly not be poor sportsmanship. The coach cannot be expected to ask his players who may only play a few more football games in their career to play and then not score, simply for the sake of not running up the score. But, the coach kept his starters in after they led by a huge margin in the third, with an infinitesimal chance of the other team coming back. Then he kept scoring with the same kids who had already been crushing them so painfully.
There are plenty of players across sports who do not get a chance to be in the spotlight. They only log a few minutes per season and they log a lot more minutes being used to warm up the starters in practice. When they get to play, if they take full advantage of that opportunity, there is no poor sportsmanship in that. It is only a bad look not to give them a moment to bask in their hard work and see if they can grab some glory.