The Phoenix Camelback boys basketball team is 1-13 and has lost 11 games by at least 20 points. It hasn’t had a winning season since 2004-05, and its record the past three years is 18-54.
Knowing those numbers, I place a call to coach Louie Carbajal. I tell Carbajal I’m writing a column on why a shot clock in high-school basketball would be a bad idea — that it would lead to more possessions, more lopsided scores and, in some cases, embarrassment for the losing team.
I expect him to agree with my premise, and I hope he’ll give me a quote I can use high up in the story. Instead, he surprises me.
“Actually, I wish we had a shot clock here in Arizona,” Carbajal says. “I think it would make the game flow better.”
He’s not alone. In any gym in Arizona, fans crank up their displeasure when a team employs stalling tactics, the seconds — and sometimes minutes — slipping away. The ensuing commentary is almost predictable:
The NBA has a shot clock. College basketball has a shot clock. Why shouldn’t high school basketball?
Here’s why: Because it’s not the NBA. Because it’s not college hoops. Because the humiliation of kids isn’t worth the uptick in tempo and excitement a 35-second shot clock might provide. And no, humiliation isn’t too strong a word when we’re talking about teams losing games by 60, 70 or 80 points.
“Scores could get out of control,” Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Director Harold Slemmer said.
Let’s be clear: A shot clock would in no way improve competition. In fact, it would do the opposite. One of the few ways severely undermanned teams can stay in games is by holding onto the ball and reducing the number of possessions their opponents get. The use of a shot clock would eliminate that tactic — and the opportunity for those teams to pull off the upset.
“I think at the high school level, the ability to have to a strategy to keep your kids in the game is part of the game,” Slemmer said. “I’d hate to take that away.”
So would I.
Fortunately, Arizona’s coaches haven’t pushed for a shot clock. Slemmer said he can’t remember the issue even being discussed by the AIA’s legislative council, which is made up of administrators throughout the state. One reason: Cost. A shot clock runs at least $2,000, and that doesn’t count installation, wiring or the cost of having to pay someone to operate the clock at every freshman, junior varsity and varsity game.
The shot clock debate came to a head in 2012, when the Springfield, Ore., girls basketball team defeated Willamette 16-7 in the Class 5A girls state title game. Willamette held the ball to try to stay in the game, and the score at halftime was 4-0.
In May of that year, the National Federation of State High School Associations announced it had voted down a proposal for a national shot clock, instead recommending that each state association decide on its own. Currently, eight states — California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Washington — have either a 30-second or a 35-second shot clock.
Matt Fetsch, assistant director of the North Dakota High School Activities Association, said big schools in his state have been using a shot clock since the late 1990s, and the response has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
“Scoring has increased, the games are more exciting and players buy into the concept that they only have to play defense for 30 seconds,” Fetsch said. “They have that mentality to win games on the defensive end.”
I get all that, just as I understand why a majority of fans would prefer games be played at a faster pace. There’s little enthusiasm for watching some kid bounce a basketball over and over and over again while the other nine players on the floor take a nap.
But it’s hard enough for the “little guy” to compete in high school sports these days.
A shot clock would make it much, much harder.
Reach Bordow at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/sBordow.