Editor’s note: This story originally was published March 15, 2015. The Idaho Statesman republished it as fans continue to debate adding a high school shot clock.
Few teams in Idaho run the floor like the Skyview High boys basketball team.
Led by coach Aaron Sanders, the Hawks always feature a bevy of guards who can gun it from nearly everywhere, pouring in so many points that teams have to keep pace or become roadkill.
But at the 2014 4A state tournament, Sanders had a choice. Facing top-ranked Bonneville and two Division I prospects in the first round, the Hawks could stick with their traditional style and become roadkill themselves.
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Or they could stall.
Skyview burned nearly two minutes off the clock on its first possession before converting a layup. Two possessions later, Skyview ran 3 minutes, 19 seconds off the clock and ended the first quarter ahead 4-0.
Bonneville rallied for a 32-29 victory, but the strategy kept an over-matched Skyview squad in the game.
Sanders believes Idaho should have a shot clock for high school basketball. But without one, he refused to throw away a tool in the coaching toolbox.
“People have asked us before, ‘Should Idaho have a shot clock?’ And I’ve always said, ‘Sure,’ ” Sanders said after the loss. “We never take long enough to shoot anyways. But we knew we kind of had to throw something different at them tonight. Bonneville is a really good team.”
WHAT DO COACHES SAY?
Sanders is far from alone. The Idaho Statesman conducted an online survey of Idaho’s high school boys and girls basketball coaches in 2015, and 66.4 percent (144-of-217) favor a shot clock, an increase of 4.5 percent from a similar survey conducted by the Post Register in Idaho Falls in 2013.
Seventy-eight of Idaho’s 295 coaches could not be reached or opted not to reply to the survey.
Support was strong among boys coaches — 69.3 percent (79-of-114) — and girls coaches — 63.1 percent (65-of-103).
The majority of coaches from every classification and every district voted in favor of a shot clock. The strongest support came from coaches in the largest classifications. In 5A, 83.3 percent (35-of-42) of boys and girls coaches voted for a shot clock, as well as 74.2 percent (23-of-31) of 4A coaches.
Support waned at the 1A level, with 23 1A Division II coaches in favor of a shot clock and 22 against.
In all classifications in the Treasure Valley, 74.7 percent (56-of-75) of coaches want a shot clock.
THE CASE FOR A SHOT CLOCK
Stalling techniques have enraged fans and opponents across the nation for years. But it hit a fever pitch Jan. 31, 2015, in Alabama.
Bibb County High’s boys team beat Brookwood 2-0, the lowest-scoring game in the country since 1977, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
The only basket came 15 seconds into the game on the opening possession. Bibb County attempted four shots in 32 minutes, and Brookwood put up three shots as neither coach gave in.
Idaho had its own outrage moment in 2001 when Borah beat Boise 17-7 for the A1 Division I (now 5A) girls title.
Boise entered the state championship with one loss and swept three previous meetings with Borah. Lions coach Jim Pankratz told the Statesman after the game he didn’t like to stall, but since Boise had the best talent in the state, that was the only way to compete.
“They were too scared to play basketball against us,” Boise’s Krista Perry told the Statesman through tears in 2001. “They had to do something so we couldn’t play.”
But those games remain outliers.
Teams feel the effect of playing without a shot clock most often at the end of quarters when an opponent drains a minute off the clock for the last shot. And even more so in the fourth quarter, where some teams nursing a two-possession lead will start milking the clock and force opponents to foul in order to get the ball back.
That’s a tactic shot clock supporters say eliminates defense from the game and turns it into a free-throw contest. Skyline girls coach Shari Moulton points to the 2015 2A girls state final as an example.
“Soda (Springs) starts stalling at the beginning of the fourth and Ririe is forced to foul,” Moulton said. “(The) fourth quarter takes 45 minutes.”
Supporters say a shot clock would reward a team with a great defense by forcing a shot and possibly a change of possession, and increase the possibility of comebacks.
“Most people understand the benefits the shot clock will have on the offensive end of the court, but one of the biggest benefits is that it rewards great defense too,” Timberlake girls coach Matt Miller said. “If you see a team play good enough defense that the opposing team can’t get a good shot off in 30 seconds, then they should be rewarded for that defensive effort, not punished.”
WASHINGTON: A CASE STUDY
Idaho’s neighbor has played with a shot clock in girls basketball since 1974, then added it for boys in the 2009-10 season.
Washington, California, North Dakota, South Dakota, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maryland are the only states with a shot clock.
Scoring increased in Washington in the six years after adding a shot clock. The median boys team in all classifications averaged 52.81 points per game in 2008-09, according to Statesman analysis of data from MaxPreps.com. In 2014-15, the median team averaged 54.87 points, an increase of 2.06 points per game.
The median Idaho team averaged 51.3 points in 2014-15.
“I think it has an effect,” said Paul Kautzman, the athletic director at Mt. Spokane High and the former boys coach at Idaho’s Timberlake High. “The scores are up, and the pace of play is definitely a little more exciting.”
Just like in Idaho, debate over adding a shot clock percolated in Washington for years. But a 2009 survey of boys coaches showed two-thirds supported a shot clock — the same level as in Idaho — prompting the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) to make the change.
“It was not unanimous by any means,” said Cindy Adsit, the assistant executive director of the WIAA. “But it was a definite clear majority of boys coaches that were in support of it.”
Since Washington schools already installed shot clocks for girls games, the only added cost was finding someone to run the shot clock. Kautzman said he pays someone $20 a game to run the clock, racking up a cost of $400 a year for 10 boys and 10 girls home games. He said some schools have one person running both the game and shot clock. Others have fans and parents donate their time.
Six years later, the only remaining debate in Washington is why the boys play with a 35-second clock and the girls with a 30-second clock, following the NCAA’s model.
“I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but we haven’t heard any real complaints about it,” said John Petersen, the athletic director and former boys coach at Willapa Valley High, which plays in the equivalent of Idaho’s 1A Division I classification.
THE CASE AGAINST A SHOT CLOCK
While some Idaho coaches say it adds more coaching to the sport, others claim it takes coaching out of the game.
Unlike in college and at the pro level, high school coaches can’t choose their players. Coaches have to make due with the players in their boundaries, players who often fall short of the talent at rival schools.
Detractors of a shot clock say it reduces the ability of David to beat Goliath.
“This rule will mean that a team with less talent has no chance,” Nezperce girls coach Dave Snodgrass said. “All teams are not created to run. This rule has turned girls basketball in Washington into a turnover fest in weaker schools.”
And with a shot clock forcing teams to shoot, teams can’t hold on to the ball against inferior opponents, increasing the likelihood of blowouts.
“Shot clocks only advantage the better teams,” former Riverstone boys coach Eric Chapman said. “In this state, at this level (1A Division I), there is such a wide disparity of talent levels that the better teams do not need any additional advantage.”
Detractors also point out if someone doesn’t like an opponent stalling, then it’s up to them to stop it. And out of the hundreds of possessions a high school team plays each season, only a handful last longer than 35 seconds.
“Basketball has evolved significantly over the past 15-20 years, and the speed of (the) high school game is already higher,” former Meridian girls coach Amos Lee said. “A shot clock is not going to change the speed considerably.”
COST, NATIONAL RULES
The true sticking point for a shot clock comes from the price tag.
Sales representatives from Nevco and Daktronics, two of the leading scoreboard manufacturers in the country, told the Statesman in 2015 installing a pair of shot clocks to existing scoreboards would cost from $1,500 to $3,000. Zach Wilson, the Idaho sales representative for Daktronics, said wireless capability would add another $1,000.
For schools in more affluent areas, the one-time cost doesn’t pose a significant barrier. But for Idaho’s rural and poorer schools, a couple thousand dollars provides a major hit to already slashed budgets.
“When I was at Hagerman, if we had a $300 gate, that was great. So how many $300 gates do we have to have — and save all the money and buy nothing else — before you can afford to buy a shot clock if the district doesn’t have any extra money for you?” said Ty Jones, executive director of the Idaho High School Activities Association and the former superintendent in Hagerman.
Jones also points to complications with Idaho’s membership with the National Federation of State High School Associations.
NFHS rules do not include a shot clock, and the organization has balked at legislating every school in the country must buy and install one. But the NFHS also punishes states that decide to use one on their own.
The eight states that use a shot clock cannot sit on the national basketball rules committee. Individual states do not have a vote, but Idaho is eligible to sit on that rotating committee four out of every 20 years.
Washington surrendered its candidacy for that committee 40 years ago by installing a shot clock for girls, but Adsit said the state hasn’t felt much effect. She said the national rules committee rarely makes significant changes.
The threat of losing a future seat on that committee led the IHSAA to reject a proposal from Centennial High to experiment with a shot clock at a holiday tournament at CenturyLink Arena in 2014-15. And a proposal from Post Falls in 2012 to install shot clocks at only 5A and 4A schools died with the IHSAA board of directors, never earning a vote.
NO CHANGE EXPECTED
Outside of those two proposals, Jones said the clamor for a shot clock isn’t there.
“It’s not something that you have a ton of schools that are stepping up going, ‘We need to have a shot clock,’ ” Jones said. “They just don’t. If it was, we’d take a lot more serious look at it.”
Jones admitted rule changes have a way of trickling down from higher levels. The NCAA dropped its men’s shot clock to 30 seconds in 2015-16 after experiments at the NIT and CBI postseason tournaments. But with the current board of directors, Jones doesn’t see Idaho changing anytime soon.
Peterson of Washington’s Willapa Valley said the evolution of the sport eventually forced the change in Washington, where players are only getting stronger, faster and more skilled by the year.
“I get the traditionalist point. They want to play the game the old way, and that’s fine. I just think the game has evolved so much.
“Our little school won the Washington state title in 1936 when there were no classifications. ... We had 96 kids, and they had jump balls after every basket then.
“The game has evolved. It’s changed. It’s faster. It’s better.”