Shot clock debate leaves Illinois high school coaches split

Only eight states have adopted the shot clock at the high school level. Illinois isn’t one of them.

To understand the history of the shot clock, one must go back roughly 70 years. In the early 1950s, the NBA was just being founded, but struggling to garner the national attention that the MLB commanded. Teams were building leads and holding onto the ball, leading to low-scoring affairs.

Former Boston Celtics guard Bob Cousy once said, “That was the way the game was played — get a lead and put the ball in the icebox. Teams literally started sitting on the ball in the third quarter.”

Naturally, this led to poor attendance, next to no press coverage and left a bad reputation on the game. Danny Biason, former owner of the Syracuse Nationals, saw this and spearheaded the campaign to add the shot clock. After just one scrimmage, NBA owners were so impressed, they decided to implement the system for the 1954-55 season.

As it stands, there are currently eight states that have mandated the shot clock at the high school level: California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Washington. Almost all of these states give 35 seconds to the boys and 30 seconds to the girls, including California a state that has used the system for over 20 years.

National debate over whether or not to add the shot clock system has gone back and forth for about a decade now. A nationwide adoption would raise both personnel and financial hurdles.

Last year, coaches across the state of Illinois voted 224-216 for its introduction. Local coaches differ in support and opposition for the prospective system.

Cissna Park Boys’ Basketball coach Seth Johnson is in his first year as the head coach of the Timberwolves but knows firsthand how the shot clock can affect a game. The 6-foot-10 Johnson played four years of collegiate ball at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

“As a coach at the high school level, one of our biggest issues is getting players to make smart, quick decisions,” Johnson said. “I think the shot clock would help with that. I think it will help the players develop a skill level that is closer to the college level, which college coaches are looking for.”

Other area coaches don’t think it will do that much in terms of preparing high school players and that the addition of a shot clock will likely create more problems than it would resolve.

Chad Cluver is entering his fifth season as the boys’ basketball coach at Watseka Community High School after a successful stint at Maroa-Forsyth where he went to back-to-back state tournaments in 2005-06 and 2006-07, bringing home the state championship in 2007.

“From a financial standpoint, I’m not sure how we could do it. I think it’d be intriguing for me as a coach, you’d definitely have to change some things,” Cluver said. “There’s a lot more strategy with the shot clock. Late game situations would be different. There’s times I wouldn’t have to foul and things like that. You’d have to have a lot of certain plays for end of shot clock situations that may come up.”

The biggest challenge would come for the players, the ones out on the court working to score before the clock’s expiration. Keegan Boyle, a senior at Cissna Park, played a significant role in the Timberwolves’ success last season. Now a captain on this year’s team, Boyle helped lead Cissna Park to a Class 1A State Championship Runner-Up finish and sees the shot clock as a way to help the game.

“It would speed up the game a lot more,” Boyle said. “It would make things happen. You wouldn’t be able to just spread out the ball and delay the game which you see a lot in high school. It’d force teams to make plays. I think it’d make the game more interesting to watch.”

One thing is certain, coaches would have a lot more to think about.

“It may speed the game up. Because as coaches, if there’s a minute left, you don’t necessarily have to foul,” Cluver said. “If I can hold you for 45 seconds, and you want to hold the ball, it’s probably going to be a bad shot. Now, we’re only down two, and I got the ball… That part, from my own personal standpoint as a coach and always wanting to better myself, I think it’d be really challenging and it’d be really good to have to work through.”

The shot clock wouldn’t just affect coaches and players, however. There’s also the issue of training officials on how to run the system and adding another position to the scorers’ table to control the shot clock.

“Obviously, I think a shot clock is going to literally make these teams play harder, play quicker in the sense that they’re forced to do something,” said IHSA official Jacob Rajlich. “As such, I think you would see a decent change in the way the game is played. It’d be a bit more aggressive I imagine.

“From an officiating perspective of mechanics, we would probably have to be equipped as officials with the boxes on the waist that you see at the NBA and college levels to start and stop and reset that shot clock… I’m not sure that would be the best for officials as we’re working on developing skills and other skill-sets and not trying to worry about things such as the clock already, that’s literally outside of our jurisdiction as an official. That’s up to the official scorekeeper.”

Most of those officials at the scorer’s table are volunteers and parents throughout the community. Installing a system like this would mean taking time out of their own days to come in and be trained on how to properly manage the new clock.

The price tag of the shot clock itself can range anywhere from roughly $1,500 to over $10,000 per unit, but it might not stop there. If introduced, the system could lead to other expenses and changes such as installing new backboards equipped with LED lights that go off when the shot clock expires or the receivers officials wear. Plus, the cost of adding another clock operator to the scorer’s table.

“We just recently got new scoreboards, part of that [shot clock] technology is there in the computer part of it,” said Cissna Park Athletic Director Josh Landon. “Again, that’d be another paid position to monitor [the shot clock]… We pay a licensed official to do that, between JV and varsity, that’s $100 at a position right there.”

So while the effects of a potential rule change would be mostly positive from a basketball standpoint, do they outweigh the financial obstacles?

“Financially, if this is going to be something that’s mandated by the state, then that’s just something the school is going to have to figure into its expenses,” Landon said. “No different than when we pay our regular season workers. It’s going to be just like adding another position to that so it’s going to be something else that just gets figured into the overall budget. Something could be reduced as a result, but again it’s going to be up to the state to come in and say, ‘Yep, this is where we’re going.’”

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