Covering college basketball for 28 seasons has conditioned me to start looking for the shot clock if an offensive possession seems too long.
It’s something I’ve caught myself doing in the last couple of seasons of covering more and more high school basketball.
Yet, I’ve never walked away from a boys or girls game and thought, “High school basketball needs a shot clock.”
But it’s coming.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union announced this week that girls and boys varsity games will have a 35-second shot clock beginning with the 2022-23 season.
I can be a traditionalist, so part of me got a bit queasy when I heard the news.
The shot clock has been something that has sparked debate on social media, especially when a video of a team holding the ball on offense, and the opponent not wanting to challenge defensively, shows up on Twitter or Facebook. Low-scoring games, especially at the state tournaments, tend to draw attention as well.
But the games of four-corners offenses to protect a lead aren’t as prevalent as you might think. And low-scoring games, especially at the state tournament, are the product of missed shots more than anything else.
West Burlington scored 30 points last season in its first-round Class 3A state tournament loss, but it wasn’t because of a slower pace — the Falcons shot just 32.4 percent from the field, 27.3 percent in 3-pointers. Waukon scored 24 points in its loss, but shot just 27.3 percent from the field. Making teams that are struggling offensively shoot more isn’t necessarily going to lead to a better game.
Still, there is some good to come from this. A shot clock will benefit the teams that can effectively run offenses and play sound fundamental basketball. It’s something that will help players who want to play at the next level.
If this is to work, though, the IHSAA and IGHSAU must have strict guidelines on who will operate the shot clock. Change always brings a new set of growing pains, but both associations should do what they can to limit them when the transition begins.
Officiating games is difficult enough for those who do it, and that number is dwindling. Constantly making sure the operation of the shot clock is correct is something officials can’t be doing in a faster-paced game.That’s why both associations should offer training, and certification, of those who run the shot clocks as well as game clocks. For as much as the sight of a four-corners offense can trigger anger on social media, a shot clock being poorly operated in a crucial in-game situation can prompt just as much controversy.
This isn’t going to be as simple as pulling a volunteer from the grandstands to help out on game night. Operating a shot clock is more complex than one might think. And unlike the college game, there isn’t going to be a replay to use to review if a mistake is made.
It’s hard to tell what kind of difference the shot clock is going to make. The game may look different with a faster pace, the strategies will be different, and the fundamentals will have to improve.
In the end, the scores may look the same.
John Bohnenkamp is a national award-winning sports journalist and a regular contributor to Pen City Current.