Fixing that which isn’t necessarily broken

On Thursday the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, everyone’s favorite sports sanctioning body (insert eyeroll here), decided to implement a shot clock in the 2019–20 basketball season.

The Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook’s Mark Miller doesn’t like the decision for five reasons:

1) Speeding up an opponent is a strategy used often by high school coaches during game planning for an opponent. The idea is to make the opponent play faster and thus rush into rash decisions that negatively affect their team.

After watching high school games all over the state, both in season and during the summer, it has become abundantly clear to me that the vast majority of players struggle when the pace of the game increases. Speeding up kids on the basketball court most often leads to poor decisions. The elite-level players can handle the quickened pace of a shot clock, but the overwhelming majority of kids playing the game are not at an elite level. When forced to make a quick decision at the end of a shot clock, poor shots will be forced. That can happen without a shot clock as well, but my hunch is you will see even more bad shots taken when the WIAA moves to a shot clock in a few years.

2) Yes, professional and college basketball teams play with a shot clock. And it is fun to watch plays develop with the shot clock winding down. However, the players at that level are good enough to play with a shot clock. Professional players have competed in the game much, much longer than high school kids. College players, no matter the level, represent a tiny fraction of the entire high school crop. The fact so few states currently use a shot clock is a clear signal that it’s not something most view as necessary for the high school game.

3) An occasional slow-down game does create some uneasiness among the fans in the stands. Antigo’s 14-11 road victory over Rhinelander in the 2016 WIAA playoffs being a prime example. But those games are rare. I feel adding a shot clock will greatly decrease the chances of the underdog to pull the upset. Teams with less depth, less skill and less size than their opponent will have to play in a similar way with 35-second possessions. It takes a good chunk of the strategy out of the game. That is not a minor loss to the game.

4) Part of the beauty of following high school basketball is watching a deliberate team play against a full-court pressing team. Which team will dictate tempo? Who is better at making the opponent play their style? Much of that is now out the window with the addition of a shot clock. Teams that like to make an opponent play defense for minutes at a time will now get a mere 35 seconds for each possession. Most teams able to run their offense for minutes at a time end up with very high percentage shots. It is much easier to play defense for 35 seconds than two or three minutes.

5) And now the kicker. The fifth foul so to speak. More game-management personnel for each game leads to more expense. The implementation of a shot clock at the prep level is mind boggling when you consider most — not a few — but MOST schools struggle to keep track of the score, the game clock, the possession arrow or the scorebook accurately. Schools need to find a competent person to run the shot clock, pay that person and find room for that person at the scorer’s table. Adding shot clocks to close to 500 gyms across Wisconsin is obviously a big expense. Running the shot clocks during games only adds to the expense.

And by the way, where will the shot clock be located? Are all gyms equipped to add a shot clock above the basket? Will it be located next to the scoreboard? How many times during a game will officials have to stop the game because of shot clock malfunctions and/or mistakes?

In short, the WIAA Board of Control committed a huge turnover today by adding a shot clock to the high school game. Others obviously disagree with that statement, but it is my belief the WIAA just hand-delivered a big headache to athletic directors across the state while at the same time taking away a great deal of coaching strategy from a game that wasn’t in need of a fix.

I must say I prefer watching up-tempo basketball. (Though it is harder to announce.) However, as a fan I like to see a variety of styles of basketball, not just one (as sometimes is seen with all the Dick Bennett and Bo Ryan disciples out there). One thing that was cool about announcing the Division III Midwest Conference is that you had the whole gamut of basketball styles, from plodding (St. Norbert and Lake Forest, though not so much now) to what’s-defense? (Monmonth under Terry Glasgow) to Grinnell, which was in its own universe as far as pace.

Basketball coaches play the style that they’re accustomed to playing based on the talent of their teams. It is unlikely teams with three offensive linemen playing forward are going to be able to run up and down the floor. As for teams with quicker players, there is nothing stopping them from playing an up-tempo style now. I can foresee a lot of teams running 34 seconds of offense and then flinging a shot up at :01 on the shot clock. I can also see a lot of blowouts because teams with good coaches will be able to adapt to the shot clock, because good coaches always can adapt to rules changes.

The WIAA may be visualizing a dramatic increase in scoring on the level of high school all star games. (This year, on the boys side: Division 5 South 102, North 86; Division 4 South 83, North 73; D3 South 111, North 87; D2 North 107, South 96; D1 North 109, South 85.) They’re not going to get that. As with the three-point shot, scoring may blip slightly upward, but it will settle back eventually once teams learn that all they need to do stop another team is play 35 seconds of defense. The three-point shot is useless if you can’t shoot from the outside, and the shot clock is useless if you can’t run an offensive set to set up a shot before the buzzer goes off.

 

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