A mercy rule is a rule in any game or sport that states when one team is beating another by a certain set amount of points/runs/goals, even before the regulation amount of time has expired, then the game is over.
Most frequently this rule is seen in the 10-run limit of the Little Leagues: if a team coming to bat is up by ten runs or more, the game is called. When I played club soccer, we had an 8-goal mercy rule.
Currently, no professional leagues have any sort of mercy rule. This has sometimes led to some lopsided scores.
- In 1990, the San Francisco 49ers dominated the Denver Broncos 55-10 in the Super Bowl. However, this is actually only the second worst shellacking in an NFL championship game: in 1940, George Halas led his Chicago Bears to a 73-0 victory over the Washington Redskins.
- On December 17, 1991, the Cleveland Cavaliers took it to the Miami Heat, winning 148-80, creating the largest margin of victory in NBA history. In November of 1990, the Phoenix Suns set an NBA record with 107 points in the first half - and walked into the locker room with a 42 point advantage over the Denver Nuggets.
- Way back in 1894, the Cincinnati Reds would've killed for a mercy rule. They got stomped 43-11 by the Boston Pilgrims (later the Atlanta Braves). Some things never change ...
- The modern day record for margin of victory in Major League Baseball is 27 when the Texas Rangers pounded out a 30-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in 2007, eclipsing the old record of 25 set in 1950 when the Boston Red Sox crushed the st. Louis Browns 29-4. Three years later, the Browns were out of the league. You gotta wonder ...
- At the same time the Browns were slinking away into the footnotes of baseball, the Red Sox bats came alive again, spanking out 17 runs in the 7th inning of a game in Detroit on June 18, 1953. And just to prove that the third time's the charm, in 2003 the Red Sox clobbered out 14 runs in the opening frame against the Florida Marlins, tied for the most ever in the first inning by one team. That included 10 runs before they even got the first out!
- In 1930, the Philadelphia Phillies should've applied for a mercy season against the relentless Chicago Cubs: the Bruins scored 230 runs against the Phils, the most by one team against another in one season ever.
- In 1920 the Montreal Canadiens Zambonied the Quebec Bulldogs with a 16-3 win. However, this is only the second highest margin of victory in the NHL - that honor belongs to the Detroit Red Wings who, on January 23, 1944, gave up the opening goal to the Chicago Black Hawks - and then proceeded to score 15 straight goals to win 15-1. For a more modest record, the Buffalo Sabres set the most goals in one period record when they put 9 pucks in the net on March 19, 1981 - but at least the Toronto Maple Leafs got 3 back in the period to keep it marginally close.
Of course, these are all men being paid to perform their best. More importantly, they are being paid to entertain their fans. Having a mercy rule would ruin the entertainment - sort of like turning off the movie once you reveal the bad guy. On the other hand, what about college sports? Sure, they're there to entertain the fans, too, but college sports is also about teamwork and healthy competition and dignity. Are there mercy rules for collegiate players?
Are you kidding me?
- On the diamond, the Division III records show an amazing lopsidedness compared to most Division I records. For example, in 1999, the Marietta baseball team beat La Roche 48-0, including a 24 run fourth. Still, sometimes it's a good thing they don't have a mercy rule - after going down 18-0 in the first inning, Redlands came back to beat Pomona-Pitzer 28-27 in the 10th, for the biggest comeback in NCAA baseball history.
- On the larger front, Nebraska crunched Chicago State 50-3 waaaay back in ... March of 1999. And the most prominent call for the mercy rule in college baseball? St. Francis's 71-1 mopping up of Robert Morris on April 2, 1996.
- Concordia Moorhead trounced Macalester on the football field 97-17 in 1977. Back when UConn was Division II, they smashed Newport Naval Training - yes, Newport Naval Training - 125-21. And on November 8, 1980, Portland State traveled down to their hated rivals Delaware State and put on a spectactle, winning 105-40. However, the biggest thrashing of them all was way back in 1949 when Wyoming demolished Northern Colorado 103-0.
- Heading to the basketball court (where the scoring is even more outrageous), we see many more blatant evidence of a need for the mercy rule: Tulsa 141, Prairie View A&M 50; Mississippi College 168, Dallas Bible 50; Eureka 149, Barat 37. On November 29, 1998, Seton Hall opened up for 34 consecutive points before Kent responded - with a free throw, making it 34-1. It's a good thing, though, they didn't give up - Duke has the record for a second-half comeback by winning despite being down 29 to start the final 20 minutes.
- If you thought the boys were bad, Louisana Tech once beat Texas Pan-American 126-25! And Prairie View A&M once again ended up on the short side of the stick, managing a mere 19 points against Jackson State (81) on March 3, 1983. These pale in comparison to that dark day of November 30, 1993. Cal Lutheran stepped out on the field against Pacific Christian and put on the greatest show in the history of organized basketball, winning 124-9. All 9 points were scored in the second half on free throws.
Amazingly, there is a mercy rule in college softball. It's a good thing they implemented it, too: after the 48-6 defeat of Robert Weslayan at the hands of Canisius in 1985, it's a good bet there were some crying eyes in the locker room. Or maybe it was the 47 runs Winston-Salem put up against Bennet in 1994. Or the nice round 50 New England College whacked against Pine Manor in 1991. Now you see plenty of games where a team comes up and smacks a game winning grand slam - but instead, only two of the runs count, giving them an eight-run mercy rule victory.
So, not convinced yet? Think people just need to grin and bear it? Take their lumps? Well, here is a story you might not have heard. A story about the great Johnny Heisman and a little school called Cumberland University.
You see, Heisman wasn't just a football legend at Georgia Tech - he also coached baseball and basketball there, too. In 1915, Cumberland had challenged Tech to a baseball game and had demolished them, 22-0. Later, Heisman learned that Cumberland had hired ringers - non-students - to play the game. Heisman seethed, but decided that revenge is a dish best served cold. So he called up Cumberland and made them an offer they couldn't refuse: $500 if you play us in football, and $3,000 if you forfeit. The school needed the money. What did it have to lose?
So on October 7, 1916, the two teams met in a gridiron battle.
It was over before it even started.
Tech won the toss and elected to kickoff. The Cumberland drive stalled and they punted. On first down, Tech ran a sweep left. Touchdown.
On the ensuing first down for Cumberland, they fumbled at their own ten. Tech scooped it up and ran it in. 14-0.
Another first down for Cumberland, another fumble, another sweep by tech, another seven points.
This scenario repeated itself frequently that day. By half time, it was Tech 126, Cumberland 0. Early in the third quarter, as Cumberland once again fumbled the football, the exasperated quarterback yelled at running back Birdie Paty, "Pick up the ball! Pick it up!" To which Paty replied
You dropped the ball. You pick it up.
By the time the game ended, the score was 222-0. It is the most lopsided score in sports history.
The game was called five minutes early by Heisman, apparently having had enough fun for the day.
Mercy rules. Gotta love 'em.