By Jerod Young • Jerod Young • 

Beating the buzzer

The shot clock in Oregon is merely a hoop dream

Graphic by Anna Naef/News-Register
Graphic by Anna Naef/News-Register

The state of Oregon doesn’t currently have a shot clock system, and the National Federation of State High School Associations — the organization in charge of establishing national rules and policies — has made it clear it doesn’t intend to implement a nation-wide shot clock any time soon.

The OSAA’s Assistant Executive Director Cindy Simmons, whose duties include the interpretation of rules, said Oregon has no intention of going against the NFHS.

“It’s just not allowed,” Simmons said. “That’s the short answer. The shot clock in not allowed per NFHS basketball rules.”

The NFHS refuses to implement a nation-wide shot clock system, but it is not indicated anywhere within its rules that states aren’t allowed to implement the shot clock, despite Simmons saying it’s not allowed. There are eight states that currently use the shot clock, and the only penalty they face for not complying with the NFHS is that they lose a spot on the NFHS rules committee. The eight states are: Washington, California, New York, Massachusetts, North Dakota, South Dakota, Maryland and Rhode Island.

The NFHS has just one rule that discusses the use of time to keep track of a team’s offensive possession listed in the rule book under its ‘rule interpretations’ as rule: Section A1-4-10; 9-10-1a:

“If a player is holding the ball, and is continually guarded by any defender that is within six feet of said ball holder, that ball holder has five seconds to legally dribble, pass, shoot, or request a timeout. If a player is dribbling the ball, and is continually guarded by any defender that is within six feet of said dribbler, that dribbler has five seconds to start holding the ball, pass, shoot, or request a timeout. The covering official should have a visual count for these five-second countings.”

According to the NFHS rule, if a team keeps the ball moving every five seconds, there’s no penalty, and a team can hold the ball for an infinite amount of time if there is no one within six feet of the player with the ball.

Every basketball fan can picture the scene: A player stands just over the half-court line, holding the basketball under one arm. They stare defiantly at the five defenders on the court, who are all looking around wondering what to do. Fans in the stands are also in a similar state of confusion, frustration or even amusement. The game — usually known for its fast-paced, back-and-forth nature — has been hijacked by a team’s strategy to even the playing field, and it is at a standstill.

Still, with the way state playoff games have concluded recently in Oregon, and with the state playoffs beginning today for local schools like McMinnville, Willamina, Amity, Sheridan and Dayton, it begs the question: Should Oregon be the ninth state to move to a shot clock system?

“I think that we need some type of clock,” Dayton boys basketball coach Ron Hop said. “I hate to see teams limited to where they have good players and you’re not going to be able to see it that night. I think people come to watch athleticism, and I’m in favor of it to some degree.”

This stall tactic has impacted Oregon schools in crucial playoff games. Most recently during the 2011-2012 season. Dayton faced Valley Catholic in the 3A boys state quarterfinals last March, and the Valiants knew they had to try something drastic to upset the No. 1-ranked Pirates. The final score: Dayton 33, Valley Catholic 18.

“I don’t know that people drove all the way down to Coos Bay to watch a team hold the ball that long,” Hop said. “I understand, but I’ve never been one to install a stall tactic like they did. It takes away from the game.”

Pirates players have not forgotten that game and said a shot clock would’ve helped.

“The Valley Catholic game was just ridiculous,” said Dayton senior Nathan Bernards, who played in the game. “Valley Catholic needed stalling to win the game. They benefit from no shot clock. But, when it comes down to enjoying the game and the fun in competition, not having a shot clock hurts everyone.”

Dayton wasn’t the only Oregon team affected by not having a shot clock to help limit stalling. The 2012 5A girls state championship game was decided by stall tactics. The Springfield Millers and Willamette Wolverines came in with high-powered offenses, but the game was anything but high scoring. Springfield beat Willamette 16-7 in the finals and led 4-0 at halftime.

Outside of Oregon, it was a problem in Kentucky during the Ninth Region girls basketball tournament when No. 3-ranked Notre Dame beat No. 7-ranked Highlands 13-8 in the state playoffs in 2012. Notre Dame led 4-0 at halftime and led 6-0 going into the fourth quarter.

There’s also the infamous boys high school stalling game in Roxboro, N.C. in 1997. Durham Hillside beat Roxboro Person Senior High School 2-0.

West Virginia’s 2012 state championship game was not that low, but it set a state record. Hedgesville beat George Washington 33-32 by stalling. According to USA Today, it was the lowest scoring game in West Virginia playoff history.

“If I could vote, or if our school could put it to vote, I’d vote for a shot clock,” Bernards said. “I think it keeps competition up, and yeah, there’s some real unfair advantages. If it’s only about winning, I guess the shot clock helps. But not having it, and having teams that like to stall, takes away from the fun and competition of sports.”

Hop said if a school’s gym has the capability and resources for a shot clock, it should, at minimum, be put to a vote by the school or school district.

Simmons said adding a shot clock has a formal process, and none of Oregon’s schools have come forward to start it.

“They can put it to a vote,” Simmons said. “Four schools have to come forward. It’s not a difficult process. They first have to go to the coaches association to petition for a shot clock, then we can begin the process, which is a long one, but nobody’s done that, so the shot clock mustn’t be an issue.”

Simmons said schools and coaches haven’t come forward and raised the issue, and until that happens, the OSAA will not consider moving to a shot clock.

“The 5A girls championship game and the Dayton and Valley Catholic game had some problems,” Simmons said. “There’s no question. But coaches and schools aren’t coming forward, so the shot clock must not be that big of an issue. The OSAA doesn’t consider it a problem.”

When asked if it’s possible that schools and coaches may not know they have to come forward first in order to start the process: “It’s in our handbook,” Simmons said. “If they don’t know that, or haven’t read the book — that’s part of their job.”

Willamina Athletic Director Jerry Buczynski said he is against adding a shot clock to high school basketball. He said the stall approach as an advantage for weaker teams.

“I am 100 percent against the shot clock,” Buczynski said. “Basketball is the one sport that as a coach you can control how a game is played when you might not have as strong of a team. I for one have used it in the past when I was a head coach.”

Buczynski said it’s a coach’s job to give his or her team any advantage they can, which includes stalling.

“I say as a coach it is my job to give my kids every chance to win,” Buczynski said, “and if pulling it out on a team then that’s what I need to do. It takes great discipline to run something like that and great coaching. A shot clock would take every bit of strategy away from a team that does not match up.”

While cost is not a concern for Dayton, Buczynski said it’s most certainly a concern for Willamina. Buczynski said it’s the most important justifications for not implementing a shot clock. He said he is more concerned with Willamina School District’s future as a whole rather than one issue in one sport.

“The cost of buying (a shot clock system) and having it installed and paying someone to operate it (is the other problem),” Buczynski said. “With schools cutting programs and teachers every year, we don’t need to be adding new costs when it is not a requirement.”

While Simmons said it’s the OSAA’s position that the shot clock is unnecessary, neighboring states California and Washington have received unanimous support for it. California Interscholastic Federation’s Director Ron Nocetti went into detail about how California was able to implement the shot clock.

“We’ve had the shot clock since the ’97-’98 season for the boys, and the girls had one many years prior to that,” Nocetti said. “We had our governing body vote. All of our member schools pass our rules.”

As far as the cost of the shot clock, Nocetti said he was not with the CIF when it received financial information on implementing shot clocks, but he said he estimates the larger states spent about $1,500 dollars (per school) to implement.

Even though cost was a concern on a state-wide level, the idea was warmly embraced by the majority of California schools.

“It was a financial concern when it came up,” Nocetti said. “But we did a statewide survey prior to putting the shot clock in, and 76 percent of member schools were in favor of moving forward with it.”

Nocetti said the CIF knew it would be out of compliance with NFHS, but said it made a decision that would benefit the game of basketball. He said the biggest reason more states don’t implement rules like adding a shot clock is because the NFHS would remove the state from the rules committee, but bettering the game was more important for California, he said.

“As an example, Texas, in football, follows the NCAA rule book, not the NFHS,” Nocetti said. “All it does is it costs you a member on the NFHS rules committee if you go with the shot clock.”

Nocetti said California has petitioned to the NFHS since the 1997-98 season every year since, to allow state associations to participate on the rules committee despite having a shot clock.

Girls basketball in Washington was a member of the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport in the 1970s. It was an organization that embraced and used the shot clock. Washington later abandoned the NAGWS and went to a state association system for high school sports like the one in Oregon, but the state made the decision to keep the shot clock in girls basketball.

Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s Assistant Executive Director Cindy Adsit said Washington schools joined the NFHS in 1984. She said keeping the 30-second shot clock didn’t come without some struggle between the WIAA and member schools.

“There were a number of attempts by the WIAA member schools over the years for the boys and girls basketball rules to be the same,” Adsit said. “In other words, a shot clock for all, or a shot clock for none. The girls coaches wanted to retain the shot clock, and in 2009 there was support from the member schools to add a shot clock for boys.”

Like California, the WIAA knew the cost would be a concern, so it too reached out the community. Adsit said the WIAA received support from schools and communities when it came to the cost. The boys have a 35-second shot clock, and the girls have a 30-second shot clock.

Adsit said the state didn’t stop at the high school level. Every middle school in Washington uses shot clocks for boys and girls basketball games as well.

Dirk Hansen, Athletic Director of Fort Vancouver High School, shares the opinions of Hop and Bernards on the ideology of the shot clock.

“I personally like it,” Hansen said. “It forces teams to initiate their offenses but most important, it makes coaching defense a lot more fun.”

It is uncertain if Oregon will move to a shot clock. Despite evidence of stalling tactics in crucial games, the OSAA is content with its current basketball structure.

“There are eight states that have the shot clock,” Simmons said. “So that means that there are 42 other states that don’t, and with our current system, Oregon doesn’t need it.”

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