We here at USA TODAY High School Sports love a good-natured debate. Every Wednesday, we'll invite you into our sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted (but always passionate) takes on various topics that pertain to high school sports, and feature commentary from high school athletes. We invite everyone to sound off in the comments and on Twitter and Facebook. Go ahead, tell us why we're wrong. We'll try not to take it personally.
QUESTION: At what point should a team take the foot off the gas in a blowout win?
Jim Halley, Reporter
There's no hard and fast number, but every coach who's been around should know when to take his foot off the gas, or rather, the throat of an opponent. If you're up by three touchdowns in the first quarter and your opponent can't pass, it may be time to start bringing in a few of your subs. The problems come in when a team's bench players are better than the other team's starters. You shouldn't ever tell players to take it easy. But, that doesn't mean you can't try a few new plays, or work on parts of your team's offense that aren't your strong suits. Who knows, maybe trying different players and plays may pay off down the road. Sometimes I worry that our Super 25 rankings may encourage teams to run up the score. While we do look at game scores, anything over 21 points is gravy. Winning by 50 points unfortunately says more about your opponent's weaknesses than it usually does about your team's strengths.
Jason Jordan, Reporter
I’ve seen outrageous blowouts and I felt sorry for the kids on the short end, but, here’s the thing, if it’s a blowout and the subs are in the game the other team can’t be mad at the subs for scoring. I’ve seen coaches go crazy because they think the winning coach is rubbing it in their face when the third-string guard drains a 3-pointer. I mean c’mon! Sounds like the coach needs to do a better job of preparing his players. I’m not for keeping starters in when you’re up 30, but if the second- and third-string kids are better than your starters, that’s the coach's problem.
Sarah Gearhart, Reporter
Let me throw it down like this. If the W's absolutely in the bag, true competition ceases, so what's the point of keeping in starters? If I was in that situation, I'd be bored from a lack of challenge, and then I'd probably start getting lazy with my skills, which in turn sets up the possibility for injury. Throw some shine to benchwarmers during the second half or fourth quarter. They'll eat up the opportunity and play to their full potential.
Scott Allen, Content Producer
I'm with Jim. A coach should know when to insert his subs in a lopsided game and it depends on a variety of factors. If the subs continue to dominate, there's not much more a coach can do short of trying new plays or, in the case of football, running the ball on every down. While I don't mind the idea of a running clock, I'm not a fan of rules like the one in Connecticut, which punishes a coach if his team beats another team by 50 or more points.
NOW LET'S SEE WHAT A FEW STUDENT-ATHLETES AND COACHES HAVE TO SAY...
Marcus Lee, Basketball, Deer Valley (Antioch, Calif.), Senior
I was taught both ways on blowouts. I learned to keep my foot on their throat and then I also learned that it’s not good to be disrespectful. You don’t crush dreams. You’ve got to put the subs in. If it’s a team that we play again, we just keep pushing. If it’s a team that we don’t play anymore we pull back.
Jake Smirk, Football, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.), Senior
I do not believe a team should ever take its foot off the gas as far as playing to their full potential. But, when the score reaches running clock, that's when it's time to replace the ones and let the two and threes play.
Kyle Recker, Football, Perrysburg (Perrysburg, Ohio), Sophomore
It all relies on the coaching. If a team's up big and the coach doesn't sub players and just keeps the foot on the throttle, then yes it's [an issue]. If the coaches make substitutions and the game results keep growing, there's really nothing you can do.
Matt Logan, Centennial (Corona, Calif.) football coach
I always play through the first half, regardless of the score. If you get into the second half and you have a four-touchdown lead and it's against a team you don't think has the ability to recover, you slow things down. Sometimes that depends on the subs. If your subs are really good, it's hard to keep the score down. I've been on the other side of a rout and I don't have a problem with whatever another team does. If they have their third-string running back in and he's still scoring touchdowns, it's our fault for not tackling him.
Kevin Wright, Carmel (Ind.) football coach
We play about 16 players in the starting rotation on offense and about the same on defense. If we're able to jump to an early lead and feel like we have control of the game, we're going to start subbing as early as the second quarter. But, every game is different, as far as your opponent and their ability to come back. A few years ago, we played East St. Louis (Ill.). We were up 49-14 at halftime and we subbed the second half. At one point, we were up 70-30, but every time we put in our twos, their ones would score on us. The score ended up being 70-50 and they had a chance to cut it to two scores with five minutes to go.
Kevin Smith, Woodbridge (Va.) football coach
We can call off the dogs by making sure we sub our starters out. I try to put myself in the position of the other coach. If I'm down by 30 points, do I want them running the score up on me? Last week, we were up 17-7 against Stonewall Jackson (Manassas, Va.) and got a first down at the three. There was only a minute left, so we took a knee. There was no need to score.