The Ultimate Guide To The Mercy Rule In High School Football

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In high school football, one true sign of a champion is being a gracious winner. Someone who shows relentless passion, as well as mercy.

I remember the good and bad games as a former high school football player. Being completely overwhelmed by a crushing defeat is always the worst. Fortunately, we were given some reprieve if things got too out of control.

Most people don’t understand how humiliation affects a child. That’s just one reason the mercy rule was created. I’ll highlight a few more helpful points in my ultimate guide to the mercy rule in high school football.

What Is The Mercy Rule?

The mercy rule is a regulation that puts an end to sporting events when the games become too one-sided. You’ve likely heard this referred to as a skunk or a blowout.

It’s normally enacted as a certain score deficit is reached. Your opponent is losing a football game by 42-points, for instance. Whatever the stipulations are, nearly all sports leagues, from youth to collegiate levels, incorporate some form of the mercy rule.

football teammates who have shown mercy in victory

What’s The Purpose Of A Mercy Rule In High School Football?

Primarily, the reason a mercy rule exists is to stop embarrassing the opponent. The psychological effects of playing on a horrible team can devastate children. Such effects include unwillingness to be a team player, lack of self-confidence, and to a certain extreme, suicidal connotations. Remember, youth athletes, are supposed to learn to become better through defeat.

Secondarily, the mercy rule is used to keep sportsmanship alive. The benefits of youth sports outweigh the win-loss record. Kids will still have plenty of fun playing football, even when they are losing by 50+ points. What keeps children from enjoying themselves isn’t losing; it’s their coach and even their parent’s reactions to the losses. Watching an enraged role model in the locker room after huge losses is a surefire way to work up a fear of failure, rather than embracing the overall experience.

Lastly, the mercy rule is a tool that can be used to lower the risk of injury. Football is a rough sport as it is. It may be fun to keep playing, but sprains and strains can still happen no matter how much we enjoy the experience. Keep in mind that as a loss becomes more apparent, the losing team may stop using proper form and cues for tackling. That’s high-risk behavior in itself.

The Mercy Rule Has Been Enacted, Now What Happens?

Normally, the game is finished outright, with the winning squad being awarded the victory. In some regions, however, the game isn’t ended. Currently, there are 34 states where a continuous clock is initiated. This means the game clock can only be halted for a few reasons.

Under these circumstances, the only way the game clock is paused is:

  • A player is injured
  • A charged timeout occurs
  • A quarter ends

So, an incomplete pass, out-of-bounds, or a normal time-out will not stifle activities.

Another unwritten rule a vast majority of coaching staff agree to is the running clock, along with the option to freely substitute players. Allowing your third-string athletes and benchwarmers to get some field time without the added pressure of performing, for example.


Now that you have a better understanding of what the mercy rule in high school football is, I hope you’ve come to respect it more as well. In every high school sport, one-sided games are just a fact of life.

Our athletes just have to be prepared for them, and then overcome them. Not just cower and shy away. These children are our future world leaders. As such, they are molded through team activities. And they are bolstered through setbacks.

Never forget, whether you’re on the losing side or the winning side, both experiences are valuable.

Brad Smith
Brad Smith
Brad Smith has been coaching high school Football for 6 years in Florida. He and his wife have 3 beautiful children who he hopes will become the first Jaguars to win a Superbowl. Other than Football, Brad loves American litterature, parenting, gardening, and home remodeling.