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Lezley Smith, Mercer Island, Mike Lloyd, Kent (baseline); Courtney Potter, Seattle (Photo Credit: Dale Garvey)

The NFHS basketball rulebook makes no mention of a shot clock. But governing bodies in eight states, plus the District of Columbia, utilize a shot clock for high school play in some form or fashion. At least three others are experimenting or have recently experimented with it. And in at least one instance, a league whose member schools are not affiliated with their state athletic association utilizes a shot clock in league games and on occasion in non-league contests as well.

In some instances, the use of a shot clock is a longstanding tradition. In others, it has been introduced to increase scoring and discourage teams from running delay offenses or a stall. Some advocates cite a desire to prepare student-athletes for college basketball, where the use of the shot clock is standard procedure.

North Dakota has utilized a shot clock in its A Division (for larger schools) for nearly two decades. Originally, it was a 35-second clock, but when the NCAA switched to a 30-second clock for men’s games, the North Dakota High School Activities Association (NDHSAA) did the same for both boys and girls.

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In 2012, the NDHSAA instituted a 35-second clock for its B Division (smaller schools). Since the coaches at the state’s smaller schools generally prefer it that way, it has remained ever since.

Justin Fletschock, assistant director with the NDHSAA, said the shot clock was instituted to increase scoring and enhance the pace of the game.

“The games became very coach-dominated,” he said. “Our state-championship scores were in the 30s. I think fans, coaches and administrators had all kind of had enough of that so they implemented the shot clock.”

Fletschock, who has been with the NDHSAA since 2012, said the shot clock has injected new life into high school basketball in the state. “Honestly, the level of play in the higher divisions has skyrocketed since they did that,” he said. “It used to be, we wouldn’t get a lot of fans at those state championships. Interest has increased quite a bit. And I attribute a lot of that to the shot clock.”

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Fletschock said complaints about the shot clock have been non-existent. “Everyone really sees the value in it,” he said. “And the value really is at the end of games because you can’t sit on the ball. You have to play to the end of games.”

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Across the border in South Dakota, the shot clock — 35 seconds for both boys and girls — was implemented over the course of a decade across the state’s three classes: first in Class AA (for the state’s largest schools) in 2008-09, then in Class A six years later and finally in Class B in 2018-19.

“We had a lot of games that just weren’t fun to watch at the AA level,” said Jo Auch, an assistant executive director with the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA). “We had a lot of low-scoring games. The coaches would like to sit back and (tailor) the offense according to their style. Contests would be 23-20 or 25-18 or whatever and it just wasn’t fan friendly. We weren’t getting a lot of support, especially at the girls’ level.”

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In South Dakota, Class A and Class B schools frequently compete against each other. When the shot clock was introduced at the Class A level for the 2014-15 season, the SDHSAA was faced with establishing a protocol for interclass games. Usually, that protocol was determined by the game site — if a Class A school was the home team, the shot clock was used; if a Class B school was the host, the game would be played without it. However there were exceptions.

“If the B school had a shot clock and it was available to be used, even though it hadn’t been brought in yet, the B school had to use the shot clock,” Auch said. “We actually had some B schools that had a shot clock that were seeing what was coming. So, they went ahead and implemented it.”

The concept of using the shot clock in some games and not in others is not unique to South Dakota. The Friends School League is a group of private schools in and around Philadelphia that are not affiliated with the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association. Last season, the league introduced a 35-second shot clock for both boys’ and girls’ games. The clock is used in league games, but at least one school uses it in home games against non-league opponents, unless the opponent’s state governing body prohibits the team from using it.

States that institute a shot clock face consequences for doing so — they are barred from being represented on the NFHS Basketball Rules Committee. Peter Smith oversees basketball for the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), which adopted a 30-second clock for girls’ play beginning with the 1997-98 season and added it for boys’ games a decade later. Today, the shot clock is considered part of the game in the Bay State.

Smith says the MIAA understood the ramifications of adopting the shot clock. “Other states have taken that route too,” he said, “and thought that was the best course of action for the game of basketball in their state, and I think the same is true in Massachusetts.”

How much does the shot clock impact what happens on the court?

The Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) studied the issue during the 2018-19 season. Schools that wished to use a shot clock were permitted to do so with approval from the AAA for regular-season games and nonconference tournaments.

The association collected data from a total of 17 events encompassing 99 boys’ and 67 girls’ games. The data included information on field goals and free throws attempted and made, number of fouls called and players disqualified.

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The same information was collected from the AAA’s 12 state championship games — six boys’ and six girls’ — where no shot clock was used and the two sets of data were compared (see chart, page 53).

Joey Walters, the AAA’s deputy executive director, said that while the sample size was extremely limited, early indications are that the shot clock had a minimal effect on the game. “On the initial first blush, and it was definitely a very limited sample size; it did not really show much of a difference in the game,” he said.

The AAA survey did not chart the average interval between field goal attempts. But the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) did just that at a boys’ holiday tournament during the 2018-19 season that featured 16 elite teams, including some from outside the state, and was played in 20-minute halves with a 35-second shot clock.

Brian Gessner, the AIA’s commissioner of officials, says the effect on the game was minimal. “The shot clock really didn’t come into play,” he said.

Every possession during every game of the tournament was catalogued. The average possession lasted 13.8 seconds. Some were longer, particularly at the end of a quarter when a team might hold for a last shot. Some were much shorter, as the result of a turnover or a team employing an up-tempo offense.

As a point of comparison, the AIA charted possessions during its 18 state semifinals and finals games last season.

“If we would have had a shot clock it would have been less than 16 seconds per possession,” Gessner said. Gessner said opinions on the shot clock are varied among the state’s various stakeholders. He said a survey of administrators showed a majority were opposed to using a shot clock.

“Obviously, the infrastructure cost is one thing,” he said. “You have maintenance costs, you have to have somebody at the table and you have to pay them. And then the question is, if you’re going to (use the clock) for varsity contests, do you do the subvarsity contests as well?”

Gessner told Referee that surveys indicated coaches and officials in the state were roughly evenly split over the issue of a shot clock but response to the surveys was not as large as he had hoped for.

The shot clock has been part of the game in the state of Washington for nearly five decades. It was used in girls’ games even before the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) began administering girls’ basketball in 1974. Prior to that the girls played under the auspices of the National Association for Girls and Women in Sports and used the rules that were used for women’s college play at the time — rules that included a 30-second shot clock.

A shot clock for boys’ games was proposed on a number of occasions before one was adopted at the start of the 2009- 10 season.

Cindy Adsit, an assistant executive director with the WIAA, said the debate over a shot clock for boys’ games broke down along generational lines.

“The old-time coaches wanted to hold on to that notion of running spread offense but the younger coaches had grown up playing AAU and watching the NBA and international ball,” she said. “Finally, the younger ones overtook the older ones and there was enough support.”

Currently, the boys use a 35-second clock while the girls continue to play with a 30-second clock. Adsit expects a 30-second clock to be adopted for boys’ games for the 2020-21 season.

How does the use of a shot clock impact officials at the high school level? Gessner noted that officials’ concerns about the shot clock centered on the fact that most regular-season varsity games in the state utilize twoperson crews.

“Our two-person games would be very, very difficult,” he said. “In fact, I would say it would be virtually impossible to manage a shot clock with two people.”

Not everyone shares that opinion. In Washington, the majority of high school games use three-person crews, but Adsit says that the shot clock was not a problem for officials, even those working in two-person crews.

Matt Bennett, instructional chair for the California Basketball Officials Association (CBOA), said the vast majority of high school games in that state are conducted with two-person crews. In those instances, officials share shot clock responsibilities. “Either official, lead or trail, can call a shot-clock violation at the time of their noticing it,” he said, “which usually is accompanied by a horn. Both officials are responsible for making sure the shot clock is started. There might be a little more onus on the trail official to make sure the shot clock is running, check and see if the shot clock has been properly reset on a missed try. We leave the responsibility with both officials, so that one isn’t overloaded. Both our officials are looking at it and both have the responsibility to make calls if necessary.”

The layout of many of today’s gymnasiums and arenas simplifies the administration of shot-clock protocols, Bennett said.

“So many of the shot clocks are mounted above the board or on the wall,” he said. “Way back when, the shot clocks were portable and sitting on the floor. That could offer some problems. But for us, with most of the shot clocks being vertically mounted above the backboards on the wall, it’s not that difficult for an outside official to see them. We like to have the clock centered as near as possible, not off to one side. If we’ve got a mounted shot clock above the backboard or on the wall, it’s not too tough for a trail official to pick that up.”

Boys’ and girls’ basketball in North Dakota features use of the shot clock. Photo Credit: Tom Mix

Shot clock proposals are considered by the NFHS Basketball Rules Committee on a regular basis. The most recent proposal was voted down this spring.

Theresia Wynns, the director of sports and officials for the NFHS, serves as liaison to the basketball rules committee but does not have a vote.

Wynns said the NFHS does not have an official position on the shot clock. “We look at the rules,” she said. “We follow the wishes of our member states. The committee for the most part speaks for the states.”

And sometimes, the member states themselves aren’t even sure about which direction they want to go. In the summer of 2017, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Board of Control voted 6-4 to implement a 35-second shot clock in both boys’ and girls’ basketball for the 2019-20 season. Six months later, the board rescinded its vote, citing the costs of implementing the shot clock as one of the key factors in its change of heart.

According to Todd Stordahl, executive director of the Washington Officials Association (WOA), shot clock equipment (two clocks and a control panel) costs approximately $1,300. Installation costs can vary between $1,000 and $5,000 depending on site challenges (it’s more expensive if the clocks are mounted on backboards instead of walls, for instance). Schools also may need to compensate someone for operating the shot clock each game at an estimated cost between $25 and $50.

Auch says cost considerations were also an issue in her state, particularly with Class B schools.

“It started out being a cost issue for our smaller schools,” she said. “Now they’ve got to get somebody to run the shot clock; they don’t know how to do it, there aren’t a lot of guidelines other than what we have on the collegiate level. They were more fearful of that than really the advantages of.”

Shot clock proponents contend that it prevents coaches from running a delay offense, but Wynns said nationwide stalling tactics have not been a major issue.

“Based on the information that we gathered, those kinds of games are pretty rare,” she said. “And they don’t become an issue until oftentimes we get to tournament time and a coach decides, ‘I’m going to use this tactic.’”

Some advocates for the clock point out that student-athletes who go on to play in college will be accustomed to it when they get there.

“When we looked at it for scholarships and things,” Auch said, “these girls and boys are going to play with a shot clock so (shot clock advocates) really felt it was best for them to put them in that scenario.”

The flipside of that argument: An NCAA survey published last April indicated nearly one million student-athletes play interscholastic basketball. Of that number, just 3.4 percent of the boys and 4 percent of the girls will play college basketball at any level.

~Rick Woelfel is a freelance writer from Philadelphia.

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