The debate over whether high school basketball needs a shot clock has raged for years. But recent "stall ball" incidents at playoff games in Michigan and Utah, initiated by teams holding onto the ball for nearly an entire quarter — they barely even freakin' dribbled! — while crowds let the boos fly, have prompted calls for reassessment.|
In what Deadspin.com called an "abortion of a second quarter," Muskegon Heights Academy stalled for all but about a half-minute of the second quarter in Michigan Class C regional semifinal action Monday night against Galesburg-Augusta. (Quarters are eight minutes each.) According to Deadpsin writer Barry Petchesky, "Muskegon Heights held the ball. And held it some more. Two Tigers guards stood at half-court, occasionally passing the ball to each other, for more than seven minutes. Finally, with 20 seconds left on the clock, they ran a play: a three-pointer that clanged off the rim."
Heck, Aaron Sydnor even had time to pick his teeth with one hand and hold the ball with the other.
A couple weeks earlier in Utah, on March 1, Brighton High School's strategy in a Class 5A state semifinal game against Lone Peak — a team ranked number one in the nation for more than a month by Max Preps — apparently was to air only one shot during seven minutes of the second quarter. Here's what that looked like.
I'm not even going to bother mentioning which teams won those games. The point is that such despicable behavior should never have been allowed to occur. Coaches who resort to those tactics teach their players nothing about sportsmanship, let alone the value of playing hard to win. Yet, Brighton coach Jeff Gardner defended his actions to the Deseret News by saying he put his team in the best position to have a shot at victory. “It was a delicate balance — the plan wasn’t to stall,” he said. “The plan was to draw them out, and we felt that at 14-7 we needed to give them a different look because they had us on the ropes. We felt that was our best chance offensively — to space the floor and give our guards more room."
Lone Peak was prepared, and coach Quincy Lewis took Brighton's approach in stride. "That's his call," he told News reporter Trevor Phipps, referring to Gardner. “I’ll tell you what, we’ve put a lot of time in practice working against these types of things. We know that we’re going to see this kind of thing.”
But with a shot clock in place, no teams would have to waste time in practice preparing for opponents who waste time in games. The NBA was the first to introduce a shot clock (24 seconds) in 1954, women's college basketball adopted a 30-second clock for the 1970-71 season, and the NCAA introduced a 45-second shot clock to the men's game in the 1985–86 season and reduced it to 35 seconds for the 1993–94 season.
Only eight states allow a 30- or 35-second shot clock at the high school level (California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Washington), but doing so violates National Federation of State High School Association rules and denies those states a vote on the federation's Basketball Rules Committee. Last spring, that committee considered a proposal to officially add a shot clock (which can either be rented or purchased by schools) but determined that — based on results of a questionnaire sent to coaches, officials and state association administrators — the sport was functioning fine without one.
“In addition to the fact that there is some concern about the costs associated with the use of a shot clock, the committee also expressed a belief that the game is typically played with an up-tempo style even without a shot clock,” Kent Summers, director of performing arts and sports at the NFHS, said at the time. “In addition, the committee believes that coaches should have the option of a slower-paced game if they believe it makes their team more competitive in specific situations. This could be especially true for smaller schools with limited budgets, which comprise a significant number of the 18,000 basketball-playing schools. Since the NFHS writes rules for all sizes of schools and teams, it has to consider what is best for the masses.”
A survey conducted by the Idaho Falls Post-Register in February contradicts that thinking and indicates 61.7 percent of head boys' and girls' high school basketball coaches in Idaho are in favor of a shot clock; support is nearly equal among boys' coaches (64.3 percent) and girls' coaches (59.1 percent). There's even a Twitter page dedicated to establishing a shot clock in every state called @ShotClockHS.
At the other end of the spectrum is Quinton Martinez, a sports reporter for the San Angelo (Texas) Standard-Times. In a February column, he wrote:
I have no problem with coaches using the strategy, because that is exactly what it is — a strategy. It isn’t any different from choosing to trap, or use a full-court press or change from zone to man defense. Instead of complaining that coaches are instructing their players to stall, coaches should find ways to beat it. Those who complain about it always refer to how “boring” it is to watch. Is it really worse than watching an obvious mismatch develop before your eyes? Worse than watching a team win 90-30? I applaud coaches that are willing to chuck out their normal playbook to do what they can to win the game.
Martinez concluded by stating that "[m]aybe instead of turning our attention to a shot clock we should be trying to improve fundamentals at the high school level — something that gets worse and worse every year."
Martinez will get no argument from me there regarding skills improvement. But why can't we turn our attention to both issues? After all, I've started to see stall ball creep into middle school basketball games. In seventh-grade boys' games with seven-minute quarters, coaches call time out and then have their players execute the tactic with as many as three minutes remaining in either the second or fourth quarters. I even recall that happening when my son played in a third-grade — third-grade! — league.
Should we just add a shot clock to all levels of the game and be done with it?