In general, is it considered unsportsmanlike to continue scoring points at the end of a game that has clearly already been won? Or is it generally the standard that teams continue to score points as possible?

I.e., if a basketball game is 100-80 and there are 10 seconds left on the clock, and the dominant team has a shot, do they generally take it, or do they try to stall? There's pretty much no chance they can lose at this point, so do they take the points?

This isn't meant from a strategic perspective but from a sportsmanship perspective - I understand there are cases where a dominant team may play defensively because it's the smart move strategically - this is a question where the dominant team has an easy shot and can score more points without a strategic risk. Do they generally take it?

(My perspective is that the competitive nature of the game implies going for more points, as well as the effect on ranking, stats, gambling, etc..)

The inspiration for this question is from an esport where some of the gaming population frowns on scoring in the last few seconds of a game, in part because every score stops the clock temporarily for about 30 seconds as the teams reset, and it's considered a time waster and unsportsmanlike. I'm curious if this perspective is held in other sports, or if the general rule is to keep on scoring as possible.

I understand there are extreme cases, such as incredibly outmatched teams where the dominant team stops scoring out of pity, this is not that question. And that there are cases where what seems to be a dominant lead can suddenly disappear in a matter of seconds. This is also not that question.

  • Depends. For example in NCAA football when the game is no longer on the line, the head coach often brings in a number of non-starters (typically underclassmen). Basically to give them a bit of experience that will help them develop in seasons to come (and a boost to their morale). Of course, if you have star players with a desire to compile impressive stats they may or may not continue to play. Depending on the head coach (who may think it's more important to protect the star player from the minute risk of season-endangering injury). Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 8:31
  • Right, as I mentioned my question is more about the ethics of continuing to try to score - not a defensive or protective strategy. Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 19:27
  • 1
    Wikipedia Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 19:45
  • That's a really useful article and somewhat disagrees with the answer below. I will say that I am surprised to see a statement like "it is considered poor sportsmanship" without a citation on Wikipedia. This definitely does give one answer to the OP, though in my specific case in a game that already has mercy rules (as is mentioned on the Wikipedia page) this would seem to not apply. Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 22:29

2 Answers 2


In professional sport, the rule is pretty much "score as many as you can". To take one recent example of this, Ajax beat VVV-Venlo 13-0 in the Erdedivise (top-level Dutch soccer league) on 24th October 2020, including scoring in the 87th minute. In soccer, there is a good strategic reason for this as goal difference is the primary tie-breaker, and top level leagues have been settled on goal difference. Some sports may slightly frown on running up the score, perhaps most notably baseball's "unwritten rules" which are generally accepted to include "don't steal a base" and "don't swing on a 3-0 pitch" when you've got a big lead, but this doesn't stop teams scoring a ton of runs anyway, as is shown by Atlanta's 29-5 victory over Miami on 10th September 2020. Neither of these games resulted in any accusations of bad sportsmanship.

Amateur sport is a very different question, and it generally would be deemed to be bad sportsmanship to run up the score "too much". NCAA football and basketball are perhaps the highest profile examples of this, where you will see teams playing their second or even third string players when they have a big lead, and very much slowing the game down rather than scoring as many points as they can.

  • Thanks for the specific examples, that's very helpful. In the specific case I am talking about there is a maximum cap on score difference that results in a "Mercy Win" and ends the game, so it's impossible to run the score up above that delta. Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 0:53
  • As far as playing 2nd/3rd string players, wouldn't that mostly be for just getting more experience to those players as well as giving your 1st string a rest? In other words, a strategic calculation, as opposed to one of ethics? Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 0:54
  • Sure, there's always an element of protecting your best players, particularly in an injury-prone game like American football, but teams definitely do make decisions which are there to slow the scoring as well (e.g. "always run on 1st and 2nd down", "don't shoot until the shot clock is under 6s").
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 12:18

In football (soccer), the tie breaker in a league table is goal differential, goals for, and goals against in that order. For that reason, teams should always aim to score goals.

But, when one team has a huge lead over another, celebrations are more calm. Also, star players may be given a break to prevent injury and players that don't play as often may be put in.

If the losing team thinks you are show-boating or want to take out their anger on losing badly, they may start playing dirty or make dangerous tackles.

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