Where do you draw the line?

When people ask if I played basketball in high school, I never feel right answering in the affirmative. I usually just say that I was on the team. I didn’t exactly play too much.

If my team were ahead by a considerable margin, which did happen fairly often on the way to the Massachusetts state semifinals my junior year, I was able to get a couple of minutes on the floor. The only catch was that our coach wouldn’t let us reach the 100-point mark. Since we ran Paul Westhead’s famed up-tempo offense and usually had about 90 or so points on the board by the time I got in, we were effectively being told not to actually do anything.

That took away from the enjoyment — at least a little. It also helps to explain why I can still remember my career scoring total: eight points.

That came to mind while involved in a conversation on press row during Columbus East’s girls basketball game at Bloomington North on Tuesday night. The game was a complete mismatch from the jump. The Olympians had a 41-0 lead at one point and took a 49-4 cushion into halftime before calling off the dogs after the break.

I agree with the notion that there’s no point in rubbing it in against an overmatched opponent, and had East coach Danny Brown continued to apply a full-court press in the second half of that game, any outrage from the Bloomington side would have been understandable. Nobody wants to see a team get embarrassed. Bloomington South’s 107-2 drubbing of Arlington three years ago is something nobody wants to see again.

But there is more to consider than just the final score when deciding what constitutes embarrassment.

If the superior team effectively stops trying and wins by 40, is that any less embarrassing than losing by 60 against a team that kept trying? I’d feel just as lousy if an opposing team spent the entire fourth quarter playing keep-away and not putting forth a real effort. Any real competitor wants to feel like he or she is taking an opponent’s best shot. Anything less, at least to me, would be patronizing and no less humiliating than losing by an extra 20 points or so.

There are reasonable steps that can be taken to keep the final scoring margin down; most coaches will stop pressing and empty their benches once a victory is completely safe. But asking any team to go beyond that is a reach, at least in my mind. For the kids who don’t get to play that much, being told to go in and effectively drive with the governor on isn’t fair. If the losing team can’t handle life against an opposing team’s mop-up squad, then let the margin be what it will be. At some point, the losing team has to be at least partially responsible for keeping the game closer.

I’m all for showing a little compassion and not completely pummeling a lesser team into oblivion; merciless slaughter benefits nobody. But asking the kids on the winning team who only get on the court in those situations to go through the motions during the only playing time they get isn’t fair, either.

Benchwarmers need love, too, you know.

Ryan O’Leary is the sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at roleary@therepublic.com.