Every couple of years, the debate over whether to add a shot clock to high school basketball percolates up. And every couple of years, it quietly disappears.
Post Falls athletic director Craig Christensen initiated the latest campaign for a shot clock, recently writing a letter to the Idaho High School Activities Association. The IHSAA’s board of directors added it to the discussion agenda of its Jan. 16 meeting, but it died there. No action was taken to add it to a future board meeting’s agenda.
IHSAA board member and Shelley Joint School District Superintendent Bryan Jolley expressed interest in conducting a survey, but that also died at the meeting.
The Post Register emailed 277 head boys and girls basketball coaches in the state of Idaho asking for their opinions. The responses showed 3-to-2 support for a shot clock.
One hundred eight of the 175 (61.7 percent) coaches who responded to the Post Register survey favored adding a shot clock. The support held up among both boys coaches (64.3 percent) and girls coaches (59.1 percent).
Of the coaches polled, only those from District IV collectively rejected the idea of a shot clock, with 64.9 percent (24 of 37 coaches polled) expressing opposition to the idea.
“We have not had a winning season in 20 years here at Wood River. The only chance that we really have of winning is by slowing the pace down and cutting the amount of possessions the other team gets,” said first-year Wood River boys basketball coach Andy Miles. “(A shot clock) is not a necessary feature in high school basketball. If you want the ball back, then play better defense.”
District II had a 50-50 split among the 18 responding coaches.
Coaches in the larger classifications showed the most support for a shot clock. Coaches at the 5A level voted 28-4 (87.5 percent) for a shot clock, 4A coaches voted 24-14 (63.2 percent) in favor of it, and 20 of 25 3A coaches (80 percent) wanted a shot clock.
Support waned in the smaller schools, with 11 of 23 2A coaches (47.8 percent), 12 of 24 1A Division I coaches (50 percent) and 13 of 33 1A Division II coaches (39.3 percent) in favor of a shot clock.
A 35-second clock gained a clear majority for how long the shot clock should last, with 65 percent of the coaches in favor of a shot clock voting for it. NCAA men’s basketball uses a 35-second clock while the NCAA women use a 30-second clock.
Coaches against adding a shot clock cited cost as their major concern. A pair of shot clocks would cost approximately $2,000, plus the cost of someone to run it. And with education and athletic programs facing continued cuts, Jolley said that’s a major hurdle.
“As a superintendent in my own district, I would tell the high school if it’s something they want as part of their program, they’ll have to take it out of their gates, or take it out of something, to pay for it,” Jolley said. “It isn’t something we should take out of district finances.”
Cost and removing an option from the coaching toolbox has remained the core of the argument against a shot clock for years. But it continues to gain support.
Eight states — Washington, California, North Dakota, South Dakota, Maryland (girls only), Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island — have added a shot clock despite the addition knocking them out of compliance with National Federation of State High School Association rules, costing them a vote on NFHS rule changes.
Many of the coaches in favor of a shot clock cited concerns about opponents stalling for a strategic advantage. Two-possession leads prove nearly insurmountable late in the game due to the tactic. And some schools use the tactic for all 32 minutes to compete with a superior team.
Two extreme instances show their point.
In 2001, Borah topped Boise 17-7 for the 2001 A1 Division I girls basketball title. Boise entered the game with just one defeat and had beaten Borah three times earlier in the season, all by comfortable margins.
Borah coach Jim Pankratz told the Idaho Statesman after the 2001 game that Boise had the best talent in the state and the only way his team could compete with it was to stall. He admitted he didn’t like the strategy, but it gave his team the best chance to win.
“They were too scared to play basketball against us,” Boise’s Krista Perry told the Idaho Statesman through tears. “They had to do something so we couldn’t play.”
But the pro-shot clock movement gained its largest momentum after last year’s 5A state girls basketball championship in Oregon. Willamette attempted to stall and keep the ball out of the hands of Springfield’s Mercedes Russell. ESPN ranks Russell as the top recruit in the nation in the 2013 class and she has signed a letter of intent to play at the University of Tennessee.
The plan didn’t result in a Willamette victory, but it did slow the game to a crawl before Springfield claimed a 16-7 victory.
“How extreme was it Saturday?” The Oregonian wrote in its game coverage. “After Russell hit a bank shot to close out the first quarter and give (Springfield) a 4-0 lead, (Willamette) took the ball to start the second quarter and held it — literally stood and held it — until they turned it over with six seconds to play in the half.”
Some Oregon fans asked the Oregon School Activities Association for a refund after last winter’s championship and the story garnered national attention. The NFHS contemplated making it a national rule at its April meeting in Indianapolis. But the governing body rejected the proposal, citing its role to represent all schools in the nation and the financial burden a shot clock mandate would place on small schools.
Christensen acknowledges money is a burden for some schools. That’s why his proposal called for adding a shot clock in 4A and 5A only. But he said support is out there, and it’s only growing.
“It’s one of those things where maybe the superintendents and the (athletic directors) and principals haven’t really had the conversation with their coaches,” Christensen said. “At least we got the conversation going. I have a feeling there’s more support out there than they think there is out there.”