The Oregon high school basketball season enters its final stretch with the OSAA Class 4A, 5A and 6A tournaments taking place this week.
It’s also one last chance to say goodbye to four-corner stalls and “holding for the last shot” when there’s still three minutes on the clock. These strategies have been used in high school hoops for more than a century, but next season they’re going away for good.
After years of discussion and debate, the shot clock is finally coming to Oregon.
In 2021, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) distributed guidelines allowing for a 35-second clock starting this season. The OSAA approved the clock in September for use beginning in the 2023-24 season.
There have been calls for a shot clock in high school basketball going back to the mid-1980s, when men’s college basketball instituted a 45-second clock (it’s now 30 seconds in both men’s and women’s games).
OSAA executive director Peter Weber acknowledged that coaches and fans have been asking for it for many years, but the main obstacle was that the NFHS didn’t allow for it and the OSAA adheres to NFHS regulations.
“If you had a shot clock, you couldn’t be a part of the NFHS rules process,” Weber explained. “But now that state associations can implement it and stay compliant with NFHS rules, we did some surveying and found that support was growing.”
Though not all coaches and administrators are in favor of the clock, all OSAA schools will be required to comply with the new rule. The clocks will be required for varsity games only, but schools have the option to use them for sub-varsity competition.
For fans, watching teams bleed clock with no intention to shoot can be frustrating. A game in Oklahoma in early February that ended 4-2 due to the stalling tactics of the losing team led to national attention and ridicule.
The most recent high-profile example of stalling in Oregon came in the 2012 Class 5A girls state championship game, which Springfield won over Willamette 16-7. In that game, underdog Willamette attempted to account for a talent disparity by holding the ball for nearly the entire first half. Willamette trailed 4-0 at halftime and 7-1 through three quarters before playing a more conventional fourth quarter. That game drew attention from the likes of ESPN and Bleacher Report.
While the use of the shot clock prevents such dull — if sometimes effective — strategies, support for the move in Oregon was not universal.
Weber said about 75% of coaches around the state supported the change, while roughly 15% were opposed and 10% expressed no preference. About 63% of athletic directors were in favor, including 90% in Class 5A and 6A. But the clock was overwhelmingly rejected by ADs at the 2A and 4A levels.
Much of the concern centered on the costs of purchasing and installing shot clocks, which is the responsibility of each individual school.
Weber said the OSAA has been in regular contact with schools to ensure they have the information needed to find and purchase equipment. Though the next basketball season doesn’t start until December, more than 20 states are planning to implement the clock this year. This means that suppliers could get backed up trying to fill the demand.
“That’s why we approved this back in September,” Weber said. “That gave schools more than a year to get it put in place.”
A pair of standard wired shot clocks from Daktronics, one of the biggest suppliers, runs about $2,900 before shipping and installation. Clocks that are wireless or include extra features, like an integrated game clock, can run anywhere from $4,000 to $9,000 per pair.
Those prices are for clocks that integrate into an existing scoreboard system. Weber said that schools can opt for a more simple system of clocks mounted on a pole sitting on the floor near each baseline, which can be done for around $1,000.
Estacada athletic director Andy Mott said another issue is finding someone who can run the clock at every game. The shot clock operator is a distinct job and cannot be the same person who’s running the main scoreboard and game clock.
The person running the shot clock also needs to be trained on the nuanced rules of when the clock should and should not be reset.
“It’s hard enough for us to get clock people as it is, so it’s already on my mind finding someone who’s going to be able to run this,” Mott said. “People will need to get trained up on it and there will be a learning curve, and it’s not going to be easy to just find someone in a pinch to help out.
“There’s a lot more concern on this side of it than for the effect on the actual game. Our coaches were pretty indifferent on it.”
Mott said Estacada, a 4A school, has already installed shot clocks with money from the school’s capital improvement funds.
“We didn’t want to get stuck waiting for it because we’ve replaced scoreboards and it’s amazing how easy it is for things to get back-ordered,” he said.
Weber said OSAA has put together a committee to help with the transition and to focus on offering training for folks interested in running the clocks. He said the association doesn’t have any plan in place at this time for how it would proceed if a school chose not to install clocks, though he has not heard of any school refusing to comply.
Jordan Sammons, who coaches the girls team at 2A Bandon, said he’s “torn” on the adoption of the clock. He also cited staffing the clock and the expense as “barriers for multiple schools.”
“It will align the game for those who plan to play in college, but the vast majority of high school players won’t play competitively after this,” said Sammons. “But teams can’t play stall ball so I’m excited about that from a defensive standpoint.”
Jesuit girls coach Jason Lowery believes the clock is “needed,” but that he thinks it’s going to be an advantage for teams that play tough defense.
“For teams that play great defense, knowing that I can tell my team to guard well for 35 seconds and get the ball back, offenses are going to have to deal with that clock running down a lot,” said Lowery, whose team is the top seed in the Class 6A tournament.
Lowery added that the clock will “clean up the end of games and be good for the flow of basketball.”
Wilsonville boys coach Chris Roche, a five-time state champion at the 5A level, said forcing a shot-clock violation will be “similar to taking a charge in that it will pump up your players.”
“Nobody wants to see a 2-0 score at the end of the first quarter, that’s not basketball,” Roche said. “I think this will make the game better particularly because it’s 35 seconds, which is an amount of time that won’t result in drastic changes.
“A team with inferior talent can still play the game strategically and have the same chance to beat a gifted team. A 24-second clock would’ve been too dramatic a shift.”
Weber said the OSAA has been in contact throughout the season with state officials in Montana, which implemented the shot clock this season. Weber said his committee has learned from that state’s experience, but is encouraged that things have mostly gone smoothly:
“There’s going to be a transition period with hiccups,” he said. “But we’re not the first state to do this so we’re optimistic.”
— Scott Sepich for The Oregonian/OregonLive