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VANDYKE: High School Shot Clock: It's only a matter of time

Josh VanDyke • Jan 24, 2019 at 3:00 AM

Imagine putting in the time, effort and sweat for a regular season that spans 20 games and four months, only to watch an opposing team exploit a loophole and end your season in the playoffs.

While that might seem hyperbolic, that's often the reality come tournament time in March, when prep basketball teams in Michigan put their seasons on the line. As one of 42 states across the U.S. that have not adopted a modern shot clock rule at the high school level, many teams have implemented a "four-corners" or stalling offense to simply hold the ball near halfcourt and watch the clock tick away.

Naysayers may blame the losing team for putting themselves in a deficit to begin with, but when a team holds the ball and stalls for nearly an entire quarter of play, that's not competitive — that's lazy and cowardice.

In 2013, the Muskegon Heights boys basketball team held the ball for seven straight minutes against Galesburg-Augusta in the Class C regional semifinals, melting away the entire second quarter in the process. The Tigers went on to win the game by double-digits, proving that the clock-chewing strategy was unnecessary and the tactic was simply an assault on sportsmanship.

The stalling offense is still being used this winter, as evidenced when the Rockford boys basketball team stood at halfcourt with the ball on their hip for the entirety of the third quarter during a non-conference game against Spring Lake on Dec. 11, 2018.

The Rams went on to win that game by 32 points, proving that the only thing they prevented during their stalling process was allowing the game to proceed.

Coaches will preach the importance of taking care of the ball, limiting turnovers and being efficient on every possession, but when it comes to adding a shot clock to the game, most are quick to dismiss it.

In a time when pace and space have never been more important in the game of basketball, adding a shot clock would not only increase the speed of the game and level of play on the court, it would clearly define the objectives for both the offense and the defense and demand that efficiency that so many coaches crave.

With a shot clock, an offense would have 35 seconds to create an open shot at the basket. If you can't create an open shot in that amount of time, you probably aren't going to score anyway. On defense, you know that if you play lockdown defense for 35 seconds and don't allow your opponent a shot, that's a turnover.

In college basketball, a shot clock violation can create a huge swing in momentum. Imagine a tightly contested regional final game between two rivals, where a defensive stand and a shot clock violation late in the game turns the tide and ignites a comeback.

That's a reality for eight states — California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Washington — while the rest simply dream of a game that matches the current state of basketball.

The NBA instituted a 24-second shot clock in 1954, while women's college basketball added a 30-second shot clock in 1970. The NCAA wouldn't add a shot clock to the men's game until 1985. It started with a 45-second shot clock and changed to a 35-second shot clock in 1993.

Washington was one of the first states to use a shot clock at the high school level in 2009. That's 10 years of results that prove adding a shot clock at the prep level isn't going to ruin the game or turn a talented team into the Bad News Bears.

COUNTER CLOCK

The two biggest concerns voiced by most school administrators and athletic directors is the challenge of finding and training a shot-clock operator to reset the clock with each possession and the cost of the shot clock itself.

Finding an additional trained official to operate the shot clock could prove to be challenging, but hitting a reset button isn't exactly rocket science. It's more of a chore than anything and something that could be done by a volunteer or even an assistant coach from the freshmen or junior varsity teams if schools are in a pinch.

The price of a modern shot clock can range from $1,500 to $5,000, depending on the size and installation cost in a particular gym. That's understandably not cheap, but I find it hard to imagine a fundraiser or a few donations from donors across the community wouldn't put a serious dent in those expenditures.

I would personally donate to the cause myself if it meant not having to witness any more of these atrocities against the game of basketball.

MHSAA VIEW

I contacted Geoff Kimmerly of the Michigan High School Athletic Association for the MHSAA's views on the shot clock dilemma. As the media and content coordinator and editor of the MHSAA Second Half website, Kimmerly views a nationwide shot clock movement as a distant reality.

"When we have a rule change for any sport at the state level, it comes down from the National Federation of State High School Associations," he explained. "This is not an NFHS rule, and when a state does implement it, they lose their ability to vote on future NFHS rules.

"In Michigan, we have a BCAM (Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan) committee that meets every offseason that discusses rule changes and votes on issues and passes those on to our NFHS representative council to bring to the table at the national voting process.

"I know the BCAM committee hasn't voted on a shot clock rule in years, and we haven't really had much push for it in our community of coaches, so it doesn't seem like the majority of high school basketball coaches in Michigan feel like that is something that we need to do.

"I'd be surprised if we had shot clocks nationally any time soon."

MY PROPOSAL

Purchasing a shot clock, installing it and training someone to operate it at 14,000 varsity games, as well as junior varsity, freshmen and middle school games, might prove to be too much of a hassle for some schools to deal with. However, I think I can find some middle ground between the Twitter zealots ready to riot and the coaching council that prefers the game the way it is.

My solution — a stalling penalty.

In high school soccer and lacrosse, there is a stalling penalty when a player doesn't make a play toward the opposing goal. In football, referees will count down when there are less than 10 seconds remaining on the play clock. In the game of basketball, there's already a penalty when a player doesn't make a move toward the basket when he is closely guarded for five seconds.

So, why can't a referee do the same thing when a player holds the ball at midcourt with no intention of advancing the ball?

Whether it be a personal foul for delay of game or even a technical foul if it's deemed that egregious, I believe the referees officiating the game should have the power to force a team to play the game that they signed up for and people paid money to watch.

Kimmerly viewed my proposal as a happy medium for the pros and cons involved with the dilemma.

"I think a stalling penalty would be a very interesting idea," he said. "That would prevent schools from spending money on another piece of equipment and paying another official for every game at every level. I know a lot of coaches in the state say their teams don't hold the ball for more than 30 seconds a possession anyways, so a penalty against teams that do stall would be a way to prevent any excessive use of a stalling offense.

"I think that idea would be a great way to manage the game statewide without making any wholesale changes."

A compromise. What a concept.

And it's all for the love of the game.

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