Springfield 16, Willamette 7: Why Scholastic Basketball Needs a Shot Clock Now

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Springfield 16, Willamette 7: Why Scholastic Basketball Needs a Shot Clock Now
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Saturday's Class 5A girls basketball state championship in Oregon ended with just 23 points scored—by both teams combined—in perhaps the oddest circumstance of stall-ball on the sport's highest stage.

The extraordinarily low-scoring affair emanated from Willamette coach Paul Brothers' strategy of keeping his team in the game by preventing opponent Springfield from possessing the basketball, a technique informally known as "stall-ball." 

Though Willamette had only lost two games during the 2011-12 season, Brothers sensed trouble with Springfield: "It came from [Springfield's] Mercedes [Russell] dropping 32 and 31 on us the last two times we played."

So rather than try another unsuccessful defensive scheme, Brothers thought he would play defense while on offense: "We wanted to just hold it in the first half and then just start opening up."

The strategy worked—somewhat—as Willamette took a 4-0 deficit into the locker room at half time after a second quarter in which neither team scored a single point.

For fans of both teams, the title game turned out to be a significant disappointment.

Willamette fan Tom Haller described the reaction of those around him as, "Oh boy, here we go," while an anonymous fan labeled the ploy, "Disturbing because the fans paid $12 to be entertained by the best 5A girls basketball in the state."

Springfield supporter Marisol Estrada framed her response tactfully: "It's not really what we were expecting. We were expecting a good, fair game, and it kind of got boring."

Highlights of the lowest scoring girls state title game in Oregon history, Springfield 16, Willamette 7. Thumbnail image: Springfield coach Bill Wagner is not amused by stall tactic.

 

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) is in charge of putting together an annual rules book for use in all American high school sports. When it comes to basketball, NFHS has repeatedly decided against mandating a national shot clock, instead leaving it up to the judgment of each individual league, conference or state.

In 2011, NFHS basketball rules editor Mary E. Struckhoff explained that while the shot clock idea has gained traction this past decade, "The biggest concern from the committee in voting against a shot clock is the economic climate."

At this point, it should be noted that Saturday's Springfield vs. Willamette took place at the University of Oregon, on a court mandated by the NCAA to carry a shot clock, though for the sake of consistency, it would be unfair to suddenly activate shot clock rules when high school teams arrive on the big stage.

North Dakota High School Activities Association executive secretary Sherm Shylling said that shot clocks can cost up to $2,200 to install.

North Dakota is one of eight states that have adopted some form of a shot clock in their high school basketball games, and with a 35 seconds for boys, 30 seconds for girls-setup, North Dakota joins California, New York, Rhode Island and Washington in mirroring the NCAA setup.

Recall the movie Hoosiers, in which Jimmy Chitwood held the ball at mid-court for several key seconds before scoring his dramatic game-winning field goal?

Now imagine Chitwood holding the ball at mid-court for several minutes before taking that last second shot, which is one of the goals of the stall-ball tactic. Now imagine several minutes of the movie dedicated to that open floor standoff.

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Like watching paint dry—only worse because with paint, you expect it to dry slowly. With basketball, you expect some semblance of athletic activity.

Though employed correctly, stall-ball can be effective in keeping a team in contention, it also takes away from the spirit of the game and quickly becomes monotonous and dull: If the only activity to watch is the game clock losing minutes at a time, why even bother attending?

Usually when a basketball game ends up with such a low score, it is because both teams are poor shooting teams. At least that is exciting, the apprehension over whether a given shot will be successful.

Standing in the open floor and holding the ball for minutes on end is not James Naismith's basketball—it is a chess match in which players fully capable of making a move delay an inevitable defeat at the hands of their opponent.

At least Bobby Fischer's sport uses chess clocks in tournament play.

Still, Brothers considered his coaching strategy a success: "Well, we held them to 16 points."

Unfortunately for Brothers, his own team managed just seven points, nine points shy of forcing overtime.

 

Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Featured Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a website dedicated to the objective and fair analysis of close or controversial calls in sports.

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