The Minnesota State High School League recently approved a 35-second shot clock for high school basketball. This mandatory new ruling will begin with the 2023-2024 season. College and pro teams have used a shot clock for years, and the high school ruling does not surprise me.
An article in the Star Tribune on Dec. 3, 2021, provided the announcement. It also mentioned that the League’s Executive Director Tom Critchley cited a report that said, “82.7% of coaches were in favor.”
The cost of a shot clock was one of the long-standing roadblocks to the rule’s adoption. Critchley said, “the cost of shot clocks to schools was estimated at about $3,700,” a cost about which Zach Loy, head coach of the Braham Bombers girls’ basketball team, is concerned. “I do worry about how the implementation is going to go for the small rural communities,” Loy said. “It’s a sizable upfront cost, and it will require another full time worker for every game and the cost of paying them.”
The article included input from Barb Metcalf, a former North Dakota high school and college player and a former coach at West Fargo High School. Now the coach of the Buffalo High School girls’ team, she’d always had a shot clock until she came to Minnesota. Metcalf was quoted as asking “Why would you prepare kids to play a style they wouldn’t play in the future?”
It’s a good question. Strangely though, the new rule applies only to varsity games, not to junior varsity and lower-level games. So, if playing with a shot clock is an important part of a varsity player’s preparation for college ball, isn’t playing with a shot clock important to a younger player’s preparation for varsity play? I’m just asking.
As if to reduce the negative impact of this cost, Metcalf said it “could likely be covered by booster clubs.” As a basketball supporter, a spectator and taxpayer in a property-poor district, I am flabbergasted. Doesn’t she realize that, in small districts, relatively few people financially enable every school program?
Proponents of the shot clock, such as South Saint Paul boys’ coach Matthew McCollister, believe it will “make for more strategy, better defense and a crisper game.” He noted that the MSHSL was “giving the players space to grow the game and take it to the next level.” Metcalf claims it “makes for a cleaner game, a more fun game. It’s better for fans, and it’s equitable.” All of that is far too subjective for me.
Proponents also claim the rule will make the game more exciting by eliminating those times when a team simply holds the ball. Coach Loy, who favors the new rule, told me that “Nobody wants to see a team stand at half court and hold the ball for minutes at a time.”
While I certainly agree that a team’s holding the ball for minutes at a time can be agonizing to spectators, it is the elimination of this “stalling” tactic that sits most unfavorably with me. Some coaches employ this tactic to protect a narrow lead near the end of a game or to hold a high-scoring team to a lower point total. The rule literally takes from them the strategy which might be their best, maybe their only, path to victory.
As with most rule changes in sports, it will take time to assess the shot clock’s true value and impact on the high school game. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to watch for that oh-so-rare “stalling” tactic which is about to go the way of the dinosaur. Just call me old school.
Loren Brabec is a contributing sports writer for the Kanabec County Times, Isanti-Chisago County Star and the author of several Braham sports books.