A matter of time: Basketball coaches weigh pros, cons of shot clock adoption

Published 2:43 pm Tuesday, April 30, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

Under the bright lights of the Legacy Arena at the BJCC for the AHSAA’s biggest annual basketball showcase, the Final Four, the Clements Colts and Trinity Presbyterian Wildcats girls basketball teams started their Class 3A semifinal matchup in a stand-still.

While the players stood motionless with the ball in hand, time did not stand still, with nothing stopping the offense from letting seconds tick off the clock to slow the game down.

The incident was one of many over the last several high school basketball seasons to ignite debate about whether the AHSAA should adopt a shot clock for its basketball games.

While the usual pros and cons were tossed around as the video clip trended online, the state soon decided to join a growing movement nationwide to allow the use of a shot clock.

At an AHSAA Central Board of Control meeting on Wednesday, April 10, the board approved the use of a shot clock in non-area games only if both schools agree to its use.

However, as coaches expressed their widespread support for a shot clock, some expressed concerns and suggestions for the AHSAA to help the rollout go smoother.

“I know people have wanted it for a long time and I have too, but there’s a lot more too that goes into it, especially when you talk about small schools on them just saying, ‘Yeah, we’ve got a shot clock,’” Vincent varsity boys basketball head coach Seth Ford said. “We’ve got to figure out how to run it and make sure that it doesn’t affect the game in a negative way at the same time too.”

Pacer test

The decision to adopt a shot clock comes after the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) cleared the road for states to decide whether or not to implement a shot clock in 2021.

Beginning with the 2022-23 basketball season, state athletic associations could adopt a 35-second shot clock that resets on a made or missed shot. The clock differs from the 30-second shot clock that the NCAA currently uses in college basketball and the 24-second shot clock in the NBA.

In addition, while higher levels of basketball call for additional partial resets of the shot clock after certain plays like an offensive rebound, the only national requirement is a reset to 20 seconds “when there is an intentionally kicked or fisted ball with less than 19 seconds on the shot clock.”

Since the NFHS gave states the green light, 27 of the 50 states have used a shot clock in some form or capacity over the last two seasons, with Connecticut, Idaho, Minnesota, North Carolina and Oregon most recently joining the list ahead of Alabama.

Pelham varsity boys basketball coach Greg Dickinson was among the coaches who voiced their support for the shot clock.

He said that by eliminating one of the biggest differences between high school and college basketball, coaches will better be able to prepare their players to play in college. He also believes it will improve the pace of play and make the game more entertaining.

“It’s going to change the game by making it more exciting, in my opinion,” Dickinson said. “You won’t see people holding the ball for two to three minutes anymore. Also, it benefits the kids that are trying to go play on the next level. It prepares them to get used to playing with the shot clock. It’s a big benefit for those guys because it’s a big difference with having a shot clock hit and then being able to play on offense for two or three minutes just by holding and passing the ball the whole time. I think it does no justice to the game of basketball.”

While some coaches around the state continue to play a slower style of basketball, some, like Chelsea under varsity girls basketball coach Jason Harlow, play a more up-tempo style of basketball where possessions are typically done in less than 35 seconds on both offense and defense.

Harlow believes that the game is already moving alongside Chelsea to play at a faster pace throughout the game, but he thinks the biggest change will come from teams being forced to speed up the game in the final minutes instead of slowing the game back down.

“I’m sure people are going to think it’s going to speed it up a little bit in comparison to what it’s been, but I think the game’s kind of been moving that way regardless with style of play over the last decade or so really,” Harlow said. “I don’t think it will have drastic effects on the way that we play. I think more than anything, it’s going to change end-of-game scenarios probably. In comparison to what we’ve seen over the last few years, the way the game has been played, I think it’s going to have a bigger impact on the end of the game than what it does throughout the flow of the game.”

Oak Mountain varsity boys basketball coach Joel Floyd echoed Harlow’s beliefs about the end of the game being impacted the most by a shot clock and believes it will force coaches to adapt and adjust their game plans to the new rules.

“The end of quarter and end of game will be the biggest thing that if you have a lead, you can’t just hold the ball at the end of the game,” Floyd said. If you have the ball with a minute left at the end of the quarter, you can’t just hold the ball for that last shot. That’ll be a big change, but there’ll be some other game adjustments and schemes that coaches can try to do. It’ll be fun.”

Harlow also thinks that further embracing a quicker pace of play will lead to more interest in the sport with a generation that craves fast-paced action.

“I am for a shot clock if it is what’s best for the game and maybe increases the amount of interest that kids have in the game,” Harlow said. “We live in a generation today where you can keep people’s attention span for about 30 seconds anyway, right? And I think by speeding the game up, it’ll increase maybe some interest with our youth in it.”

It’s only human

While Floyd, Dickinson, Harlow and Ford are all in favor of the shot clock, all four pointed to the roadblocks that remain before a shot clock can become a universal and functional component of the modern game.

Some, like Harlow, pointed to the human element of the shot clock operators and officials that will be needed to work each game.

Officiating controversies regularly come up in the state, from the common foul calls that coaches regularly protest to more high-profile issues like Vigor missing the Final Four in 2024 after an official went against the advice of the scorebook keeper and took a point away from it that later led to an overtime loss.

Harlow expressed the concern that adding another area for potential human error could negatively impact the game if the AHSAA and the officials association rush the roll-out without proper time for training.

“I get what they’re trying to do and I’m probably one of those guys that’s kind of caught in between being what I used to be, a young coach, and now I’m kind of one of the older guys, I guess,” Harlow said. “I get the game is going to change, but I just want to see it happen and us make sure that we’re prepared to see to it that when we get in big game scenarios that it’s an afterthought and doesn’t become part of problems that exist within the game.”

Some of those concerns are already addressed in the central board’s plan. Schools will only be allowed to implement the shot clock in non-area games in the 2024-25 season and can’t use it in area games or the state tournament.

In addition, the AHSAA will use the shot clock during its summer classics and the North-South All-Star Games in July to help train its officials and gather data ahead of when schools can first use it in November.

“I think the state’s doing the right thing in that when they are rolling it out, it’s just partial,” Harlow said. “It’s not going to be something that affects you every night. And I think they’re addressing some of my concerns in the rollout. We’re not going to end up in a situation this year where we’re playing in a sub-regional or we’re playing in a state tournament game or an area championship in which this is going to come into play where the shot clock thing didn’t get restarted and the officials have to huddle up and address it. I think what this is going to do is it’s providing us an opportunity to train individuals in regular season scenarios on how to do this so that when they roll it out, that becomes permanent, we’re prepared and we’re ready to go.”

Small schools, bigger problems

The other concern that has been a significant roadblock to the state universally implementing shot clocks is how the smaller schools will handle the transition.

Many coaches pointed to how they will need to look at how their school can afford a shot clock and either find a volunteer or pay an official to run it. Both issues are compounded by the lack of financial resources and manpower that small schools face across the board.

After the central board ruling, the AHSAA provided a list of three companies who could provide shot clocks: Future Ones, Pro Sports Team Outfitters and OES Scoreboards.

Future Ones’ basic package of two shot clock number displays and a wireless remote costs $1,146, with Pro Sports’ “Game Day package,” which is similar to Future Ones’ offering but comes with brackets for mounting, is $1,317.50. If schools want to pair that with an LED backboard light that triggers when the shot clock expires, the price rises to $2,285 for Future Ones and $2,430 for Pro Sports. OES did not quote any prices in its provided brochure.

Equipment costs are nothing new to schools who have to purchase scoreboards for multiple athletic venues on campus, and in some cases, multiple time-keeping devices such as for football, which requires both a play clock and a game clock.

For a Class 2A school like Vincent, Ford said that while the initial cost would affect their bottom line, the real long-term challenge would be finding someone in the community to operate it for every home game, and if they couldn’t, potentially pay another official.

“I know the other schools too, even bigger schools, I know they don’t just bleed money, so it’s not like it’s just they have extra money just to throw around at those things, Ford said. “It’s just probably even more than funding, buying the actual shot clock is just for us, just the manpower of having somebody willing 12 nights, 13 nights a year that’s able to run it and educated on how to run it.”

Ford said that adding another person to the gameday crew puts an even greater strain on a department that already has all hands on deck.

“We have a hard-enough time just getting somebody to keep the gate, work the concession stand, so I can only imagine having somebody that’s got enough basketball knowledge that’s just sitting around with nothing to do,” Ford said. “And us in a small school that’s just hurting for manpower to find somebody to run that, that’s going to be a challenge. Paying for it initially, yeah, that hurts a little bit, but that’s not something that we couldn’t do, but that’s probably the biggest challenge for me at a small school is just having somebody that’s educated enough to know the rules, to know how to do it, that you can depend on and be willing to run it every single home game.”

Those challenges are only compounded by the reality that the shot clock is not required for any game at this stage. Ford is a shot clock proponent and is open to playing with one on the road, but he said that since it isn’t a requirement for any game or even allowed in area play and the postseason, Vincent will likely kick the can down the road until a shot clock is mandated.

“For us, we probably won’t, since it’s not something that you are going to be able to do in area play and in tournament play and championship play,” Ford said. “We probably won’t. For being a small school, it’s going to be a big cost to us, even though I definitely would like to play under a shot clock. But for us to have the manpower to have somebody run it, being a small school and finding a way to fund it, and then it’s not even going to be a factor in tournament play, we probably this year won’t even address it, to be honest with you. I wouldn’t be opposed to it if a school had it, and they were willing to run it on their home court because really, for us, it’s not going to change a lot of the way that we play.”

Ford hopes that the state can come in and provide low-cost equipment options as well as affordable officials who can operate the shot clock until more volunteers can be trained. However, he and multiple coaches are looking forward to a day when shot clocks are mandated across the board so implementation can be pushed across the finish line.

“It’s good that it’s a start and I know they have reasons for the why they do it the way they do it, but I’m just looking forward to it being something that’s across the board, that’s something that’s just not an option, that we just all do and it’s something that we do every single game and tournament play because it really doesn’t do a whole lot of good to practice with it or to play in regular season games and non-area games if it’s not going to be something that you’re going to be dealing with in area play,” Ford said. “But it’s a start. It’s a step in the right direction.”

Dickinson believes it will take collective buy-in from across the state to help prepare the AHSAA to be comfortable enough to permanently mandate a shot clock for all games.

“I think it’s going to take everybody to get on board,” Dickinson said. “Honestly, I think more so with the smaller schools or the schools that’s not as fortunate to be able to afford them. I think that’s probably the biggest concern with some of them. But I think that’s probably what it’s going to take.”

Floyd agreed that schools affording the shot clocks was a hurdle but hopes that if the roll-out proceeds smoothly, it will become more of a state-wide movement.

“Of course, the financial concerns about the cost of the new shot clock and having a shot clock keeper for the game, I mean, that’s something that’s a hurdle to overcome for the entire state,” Floyd said. “And I’m not sure what our plans are on moving forward for that, but I know that’s one of the big concerns, but hopefully in this trial phase, things will go well and we’ll have more support and maybe we can get it moved to statewide.”

All four coaches said that they have already started conversations with opponents about using it for road games, and some even hope to have a shot clock at home this season. Floyd in particular looks forward to utilizing the new rules whenever he can.

“I think that’s a good way to kind of ease our way into it with the non-area play,” Floyd said. “But I’m all in to do it for every single one of our games that’s not area this year. Of course, we have to be in agreement with our opponent, but I look forward to trying to use it as many times as we possibly can and get going adjusting to being able to play with the shot clock.”

Overall, the prevailing sentiment from the coaches was that this roll-out was a solid first step of a long-overdue process.

“I think it’s a good start and we’re moving forward to something we should have been done a long time ago,” Dickinson said.