Maybe It’s About Time For The Clock In High School Basketball
Last Friday night, top-seeded Abington Heights clashed with second-seeded Crestwood during the PIAA District 2 Class 5A championship game at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza. It was, maybe, the must-see game of the district championships.
Score of that game at the end of the first quarter: Abington Heights 5, Crestwood 4.
I followed closely via the magic of social media when I noticed my esteemed Times-Tribune colleague Conor Foley commented that there was hardly a big offensive bang when the Lackawanna League’s Comets collided with the ones from the Wyoming Valley Conference.
“Did someone say shot clock?” Conor tweeted.
Try to understand this: My opinion on shot clocks and high school basketball games is not popular. Won’t go so far as to say it’s wrong. But likely, you’ll have difficulty finding more than a handful of basketball coaches around the area who will back it. I’ve never spoken to one who has exactly sided with me.
Fresh off watching a painstakingly sloppy championship game at the arena — I’ll spare everyone the details on which one it was — I cast myself into a debate in which I’d be the ultimate underdog.
“Put a shot clock in,” I shot back to Conor’s tweet, “and the quality of play in most games will get worse.”
The more I think about it though, we’re both right.
Not keeping pace
If you were told 11 championship games would be played at the arena last week — six on the girls side and five on the boys— how many of those 22 teams would you have figured would top 50 points?
Half? A few more? A few less?
How about none.
Only three teams reached 48 points. If you want to count only the Lackawanna League teams, Scranton Prep’s boys led the way with 47.
Three teams scored in the 30s. And won.
Three teams scored in the 20s.
One didn’t even get that many.
Forget the 50-point plateau. Of the 22 teams, 10 didn’t reach 40 points.
What does this mean? Maybe nothing, because there are some external factors that could lead to that. Nerves contribute. So do unfriendly buckets at the arena, where teams don’t get to practice leading up to the game.
Besides, 11 games hardly provides enough of a sample to judge any of this.
There are perceptions about a shot clock that would remedy some of the up-and-down play we see during basketball season. Put in a shot clock, and teams will be forced to play at a quicker pace. Teams will get more shots, and naturally, they’ll make more.
Players will have to develop as much offensively as they do defensively, which might lead to the production of more college-level talent. They’ll also not be allowed to hold the ball as much. Both might help draw more fans to games and raise interest in an already popular sport.
Doing all of that clearly would help once these teams get to the biggest stage the area provides during those championship games at the arena.
We’re too often enticed by the easy solution when it comes to high school sports, though.
The debate over whether high school basketball needs a shot clock is not a new one. The National Federation of State High School Associations, which sets rules for scholastic sports, has voted down implementing a shot clock multiple times, leaving it to individual states to decide if they want to implement it. Eight states — California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Washington — use a shot clock of 30 or 35 seconds for either boys or girls or both.
The NBA was the first to introduce a shot clock, a 24-second one in 1954; women’s college basketball adopted a 30-second shot clock in 1970; and the NCAA debuted a 45-second shot clock for men in 1985, reducing it to 35 seconds in 1993.
The shot clock is hardly a guarantee to make high school basketball better here in the near term.
A shot clock would help the really gifted players; no debate there. The best dribblers. The best shooters. The players who can create their own space to work and can do so quickly. Playing without a shot clock severely restricts their ability to take over a game the way they can. They simply don’t get the ball as much as they would in a shot-clock league.
When you’re talking about those kinds of players and the teams for which they play, however, you’re talking about a handful of schools that reap the benefits.
The vast majority of the others are the ones who benefit from the current clock-free system. They can rely on the fundamentals they’re taught in practice, and if they execute it well enough, they can give themselves consistent chances to upset a team that might have more talent.
Playing without a shot clock favors the underdog. It favors clever coaching. It promotes many different styles. Think it’s difficult come playoff time to beat those nonboundary schools from the big cities? Try beating them when the rules force you to play at the pace they really want to play, a pace that best showcases their ability.
The guess here, if a shot clock were put into play, is the typical high school basketball game in Pennsylvania would be disjointed and sloppy. The gap between the best teams and the mid-level teams would widen. The excitement the shot clock promises wouldn’t immediately be noticeable.
I’m no longer sure those are good enough arguments against the clock anymore.
The question shouldn’t be how much a shot clock would improve high school basketball in the short term, but whether it can make a big change over the longer term. The national trend isn’t away from shot clocks, but toward them. They aren’t getting rid of them at the college level, either.
It’s never a bad thing to consider how to help a sport become better. Forcing the shot clock down the throats of teams now would cause immediate problems, but would also provide the impetus for high school teams to play a game more in the college style, at the pace players really want to play.
The current style is stuck in the past, and while it’s putting the area’s best schemes on display, it’s not allowing its most gifted players a chance to show everything they can do. Nor is it allowing other players the opportunity to adjust their games in the face of that quality of play.
The easy thing to do is go for the quick fix, but the shot clock is no quick fix.
Doesn’t mean, though, it isn’t the right one.
DONNIE COLLINS is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.