Mercy rule

Mercy rule

A mercy rule, also well known by the slightly less polite term slaughter rule (or, less commonly, knockout rule and skunk rule), brings a sports event to an early end when one team has a very large and presumably insurmountable lead over the other team. It is called the mercy rule because it spares the losing team the humiliation of suffering a more formal loss, and denies the winning team the satisfaction thereof, and prevents running up the score, a generally discouraged practice in which the opponent continues to score beyond the point when the game has become out of hand. The mercy rule is most common in games such as baseball or softball, where there is no game clock and play could theoretically continue forever, although it is also used in sports such as hockey and American football. It is very rare in competitive sports beyond the high school level.


Usage details

The rules vary widely, depending on the level of competition, but nearly all youth leagues and high school sports associations, and many college sports associations have mercy rules for sports including baseball, softball, American football (though not college) and soccer. It is common in video game simulations of sports because it helps move the game along.

However, mercy rules usually do not take effect until a prescribed point in the game (e.g., the second half of an Association football game). That means one team, particularly if they are decidedly better than a weaker opponent, can still "run up the score" before the rule takes effect. For instance, in American football, one team could be ahead by 70 points with three minutes left in the first half; in baseball, the better team could have a 20-run lead in the second inning, but the game would continue.

Baseball and softball

In international baseball competitions sanctioned by the IBAF, including Olympic competition and the World Baseball Classic (WBC), games are currently ended when one team is ahead by 10 runs, once at least seven completed innings are played by the trailing team. In women's competition, the same applies after five innings.[1]

The inaugural WBC in 2006 followed the IBAF mercy rule, with an additional rule stopping a game after five innings when a team is ahead by at least 15 runs.[2] The mercy rules applied to the round-robin (now double-elimination) matches only, and not to the Semi-Finals or Final.

In Little League Baseball and Softball, rules call for the game to end if the winning team is ahead by 10 runs after four innings (3½ innings if the home team is ahead).

Softball rules are different for fast/modified fast pitch and slow pitch. In ISF-sanctioned competitions, the run ahead rule (the ISF's terminology) is, for fast or modified fast pitch, 20 runs after three innings, 15 after four, or 7 after 5. In slow pitch, the margin is 20 runs after four innings or 15 after five.[3] The NCAA has also adopted this rule.

In NCAA and NAIA college baseball, the game will end if a team is ahead by at least 10 runs after seven innings in a scheduled 9-inning game. Most NCAA conferences only apply the rule on the final day of a series for travel reasons or during conference tournaments in order to allow the next game to start. The rule is not allowed for the NCAA tournament, where all games must be nine innings.

In NCAA softball, the rule is invoked if one team is ahead by at least eight runs after five innings and, unlike with college baseball, applies in the NCAA tournament as well. In American high school softball, most states use a mercy rule of 20 runs ahead in three innings or 10 in five innings. (In either case, if the home team is ahead by the requisite number of runs, the game will end after the top half of the inning.)

Host state high school associations have rules where a baseball game ends after the winning team has built a 10-run lead and at least five innings have been played; some associations further this rule ending a game after four innings if the lead is at least 15 runs. For softball, the rule is 12 after three innings, and 10 after five (although the home team always gets one last at-bat, and the visiting team can score unlimited runs in the top half of the inning).

Due to the untimed nature of innings, some leagues impose caps on the number of runs that can be scored in one inning, usually in the 4-8 range. This ensures that games will complete in a reasonable length of time, but it can also mean that a lead of a certain size becomes insurmountable due to the cap.

Association football (soccer)

In United states high school soccer, most states use a mercy rule that ends the game whenever one team is ahead by 10 or more goals at any point from halftime onward. Youth soccer leagues use variations on this rule. This rule however is seen as even more demeaning than losing formally, as 1) It denies the winning and superior team the satisfaction of beating the other team, as they did, and 2) because it implies that the other team needs a handicap, and the team should at least be given the chance to lose honorably and go out fighting.

American football

At the middle or high school level, 34 states use a mercy rule that may involve a "continuous clock" – that is, the clock continues to operate on most plays when the clock would normally stop, such as an incomplete pass – once a team has a certain lead (e.g., 35 points) during the second half. Under the rules, the clock only stops for scores (in Colorado and Kansas, the clock does not stop on a score), penalties, injuries, timeouts, and change of possession (the clock restarts on the ready-for-play whistle instead of the snap for possession changes; the clock does not stop for change of possession in Georgia). Incomplete passes and going out of bounds do not stop the clock. In some states, once the point differential is reduced to below the mercy rule invoking amount, normal timing procedures will resume until end of the game or until the point differential requires the mercy rule to be reenforced. In addition, many states do not allow the use of the mercy rule in the championship game. Another variant some states use with the "continuous clock" rule allows coaches and game officials to choose to end a game at their own discretion any time during the second half, especially if a lopsided margin continues to increase or threatening weather strikes.

In some states (where 8-man and 6-man football is widely used), the rules for 8-man and 6-man football call for a game to end when one team is ahead by a certain score (e.g., 45 or 50 points) at half time or any time thereafter. [1]

In Madden Football (video game) when one team is ahead by 21 or more points at halftime or at any point thereafter, the team in the lead can offer mercy to the other team. If accepted, the game ends instantly and the players are credited with a win and loss, respectively. If the losing team declines, then play continues and mercy is no longer allowed to be offered. Also, the trailing team can concede defeat under the same scores as the opponent can offer mercy with the same outcomes applying.


A typical mercy rule used in amateur rugby matches means that the game is stopped if one team leads by a set number of points (usually 50, though each league has its own rules). The rule might be applied immediately, or at the end of the first half.

Cited examples:

  • From "The North Sydney Junior League has extended the mercy rule to include our competitive grades U/9 to U/12's. The game will stop once a differential of 50 points is reached in these grades commencing on Saturday 7th May 2005." [2]
  • From "Mercy Rule - if there is a 30 pt. difference in a game, the mercy rule will be enforced and the score for that game shall read 30-0." [3]

Amateur boxing

If a boxer trails by more than 20 points, the referee stops the fight and the boxer that is leading automatically wins; bouts which end this way may be noted as "RSC" (referee stopped contest) with notations for an outclassed opponent (RSCO), outscored opponent (RSCOS), injury (RSCI) or head injury (RSCH).

While a boxer who loses on the mercy rule is scored RSCOS, and would be similar to a technical knockout in professional boxing, it is not scored a loss by knockout, and the 28-day suspension for losing on a knockout does not apply.


IBSA rules require that any time during a game that one team has scored ten (10) more goals than the other team that game is deemed completed.[4]


In woodsball, if you were within 10 ft of an opposing player and he was unaware of your presence, it is an etiquette to offer the opposing player a "mercy", that is to offer him a chance to surrender and call himself out of the game, instead of shooting him at close range. The opposing player, however, does not have to accept this "mercy" and can attempt to return fire. This rule, however, is not universal and different fields have different variation and interpretation of the mercy rule.[5]


In high school basketball, many states have a rule similar to the American Football rule in that the clock does not stop for anything except charged time-outs when a team is ahead by 30 or more points.

See also


  1. ^ International Baseball Federation (2008). IBAF Official Competitions Technical/Organisational Norms - Valid only for 2008. Rule C7.8, "Run difference Rule". Accessed on 2008-03-13.
  2. ^ World Baseball Classic, Inc. 2006 World Baseball Classic: FAQ. Accessed on 2008-03-13.
  3. ^ International Softball Federation Playing Rules Committee. "Official Rules of Softball (Revised 2005) Rule 5, Sec. 5, "Run Ahead Rule"" (PDF). International Softball Federation. Retrieved 2008-08-14. 
  4. ^ International Blind Sports Federation: Goalball Rules Section 17.7
  5. ^

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