The days of Georgia high school basketball teams being able to stall in an effort to drain minutes off the clock late in games will soon be a thing of the past.
Earlier this week, the GHSA approved a proposal to phase in the use of a 30-second shot clock for all varsity games over a three-year period. The decision came Tuesday during the governing body's semiannual meeting of the state executive committee, which was delayed a few months due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Although nearly every public high school head basketball coach in Bartow County said they supported the decision, each also voiced concerns over varying aspects, most notably the financial ramifications and possible technical difficulties.
By and large, though, local coaches believe the implementation will be a positive thing for basketball in the Peach State, giving future college players an easier time adjusting to the next level.
“I think long term it’s definitely a good move for basketball in the state of Georgia,” Woodland head girls coach Kyle Morgan said. “… It’s kind of where the game’s going — more possessions, more up-tempo.”
Cartersville head girls coach Cindy Moore pointed out that teams playing that fast-paced style have become the rule, not the exception, at least among the strongest programs.
“Now, it’s pretty much the norm,” she said. “Teams want to press and run the break. When you watch the better teams that have had sustained success, that’s been their philosophy for a while.”
In the same vein, those most impacted by the GHSA's vote, which was 53-10 in favor, will be programs known for playing deliberately. Most of the time, those teams play that style in an attempt to overcome a gap in athletic ability.
Now, those programs will be forced to look elsewhere to find an edge.
“It should, in theory, create a sort of level playing field,” Morgan said. “Everybody will be forced to play a certain style of basketball, to a degree. … The biggest negative would be for teams that aren’t as skilled or athletically inclined as some of their opponents, trying to limit the number of possessions in a game.”
This coming season, assuming there is one, the shot clock can only be used in approved holiday tournaments and showcase games. During the 2021-22 school year, it can be implemented for region games — at the region's discretion — along with the aforementioned events but not state playoff games. Beginning with the 2022-23 season, all varsity games, including postseason ones, will be played with a shot clock.
Every local coach that was in favor of the decision was thankful that it will be a phased-in implementation.
“I don’t think it could get passed by the GHSA; I don’t think there would be enough support if it was just snap your fingers and now you have a shot clock,” Adairsville head boys coach Alex Disbrow said. “They had to phase it in to get that legislation passed.”
While the first- and third-year scenarios are pretty cut and dry, it will be intriguing to see how individual regions handle the second year. Will the decision to use or not use a shot clock in region play give either side an advantage in state tournament games?
“If all of the regions agree to go to it, that’s great," Cass head girls coach Burt Jackson said. "If you have half and half, that, to me, is what will make the second year interesting. …
“To me, the pros still outweigh the cons. I’m for the shot clock, but I’m also a realist — in terms of I anticipate there being some problems, especially in the second year of the phase in.”
Jackson's biggest concern is inexperienced individuals being asked to run the shot clock, potentially, leading to costly errors in region tournament games. Unlike Division-I basketball and the NBA, there won't be instant replay to help correct those mistakes.
Others also mentioned the possibility of technical issues that just slow the game down period.
Mike Tobin, Cartersville head boys coach, said he was in favor of the proposal, but he did post a comment on Twitter prior to the GHSA meeting, pointing out the potential for issues with mechanical malfunctions and finding people to run the shot clock. He reiterated his concerns following the approval.
“I used to be the AD at Woodland, and if I was an AD, I would be concerned about having someone to run the clock correctly,” Tobin said. “I’ve been to a lot of NAIA games. Maybe 1/3 or even 1/2, they have to stop the game, because something is wrong with the clock or the person doing the shot clock isn’t doing it right. That kind of messes with the flow of the game when that happens.”
There's also a hard-to-estimate monetary burden associated with the decision. Where the money comes from to pay for potentially expensive equipment upgrades could differ.
It might have to come from the basketball programs themselves; it might have to come from the individual school itself; or it might have to be a system-wide budgetary item.
“We have a great athletic program, and I think Bartow County Schools are really trying to develop their athletic programs,” Woodland head boys coach Jacob Selman said. “The general athletic fund is going to have to help out a little bit with that.”
GHSA assistant executive director Ernie Yarbrough sent coaches a brief email, obtained by The Daily Tribune News, mentioning some of the steps he and others plan to take to mitigate some of the concerns.
“I am recommending if you have not already secured the device equipment, don't yet,” Yarbrough wrote in part. “I am looking into a variety of models that would be best suited for our needs at the high school level, along with an affordable expense for our member schools.
“Additionally, we are developing a certification program for the individuals assigned to operate the device.”
Likely sent in an effort to try to ease the minds of many coaches, the email, which was sent early Friday afternoon, didn't contain any further details.
The only one of Bartow's eight public high school head coaches who said they were completely opposed to the decision was Sean Glaze, head coach of the Cass boys. In an email to The Daily Tribune News, Glaze said he didn't support the move, calling it an "unnecessary and expensive addition."
"[T]he reality is that it affects very few games and very few possessions," Glaze wrote. "So you are forcing all schools to pay for technology that won’t have much impact on the game — but will have a huge impact on their budget."
Even though those technical issues and monetary worries were expressed by others, Glaze was the only one who noted great concern at a possible negative impact on game play.
"I think it takes away some of our responsibility as coaches to scout and scheme for our opponent’s style of play," he wrote. "Now you’ll see a clock dictating that after 20 seconds of defense, most every high school offense will deteriorate into high ball screens and isolation plays."
Some coaches did mention the possibility of more teams employing a zone defense. However, most didn't believe fans would notice a large difference in play until the fourth quarter, when the pace of play can sometimes grind to a halt with "stall ball," as Disbrow called it.
The first chance for local teams to experience the change might come at the annual Rome News-Tribune tournament in mid-December. It would be easier to implement at that tourney than most others, because all of the games are played at colleges that already have shot clocks.
It seems less likely that high school-based tourneys like the Adairsville Ace Christmas Clash will be able to get the necessary equipment installed or individuals certified to run the shot clock this season.
“I think it’s probably too much to make it happen for Christmas, honestly,” Adairsville head girls coach Melissa Winters said. “You’d have to have equipment and people have to learn how to run it before that can even happen. … I don’t know that I would be a fan of that for that Christmas tournament.”
One thing Winters is a fan of is the addition of a second mandatory dead week, which was also approved at Tuesday's meeting. Starting in 2021, the Monday-Sunday period beginning with Memorial Day will be the first dead week, and the Monday-Sunday period that includes July 4 will be the second.
“If we can get families to plan some of their vacations around Memorial Day or July 4, during those dead weeks, then we would have a better attendance rate during the summer,” Winters said. “It can definitely be beneficial, as well. It gives everyone a transition from school ending to summer beginning.”
A majority of the coaches agreed with Winters, with several pointing out that teachers often spend part of that week doing post-planning days.
“I really think it will take a little pressure off people,” Jackson said. “You’ve got a lot of teachers who obviously still have a lot of responsibilities doing these post-planning days, and then on top of that, they’re trying to scramble and get some of these practices in.”
Disbrow, though, was vehemently against the decision.
“I really don’t understand their motivation there,” he said. “Obviously, I wasn’t asked. That week, when school gets out, is really when we start our basketball. That’s when we make system install changes. That week of Memorial Day and June is when we have summer basketball. It’s basically taking a week away from summer basketball. ... I don’t see any common sense for it. I’m totally against it.”
Whereas he said he was sent a survey regarding the shot clock proposal, Disbrow said he hadn't heard anything about the possibility of adding a second dead week prior to the vote.
“They’re just taking away development from high school coaches and forcing kids to go to low-level travel teams, so they can actually play instead of sit at home,” he said. “… I feel like GHSA is pushing summer basketball away from high school coaches into the private coaches. As a high school coach, I don’t like that.”
In Disbrow's eyes, the GHSA gave he and his colleagues one thing they wanted (the shot clock) and one thing they didn't (the second dead week). Both will take some adjusting, and even Glaze acknowledged his players will learn to adapt to the shot clock change.
The situation made a few coaches of a certain generation reminisce about the implementation of the three-point line. That move didn't change the game overnight, but now, it's hard to imagine a high school game without it.
“It’s just like anything else, we’ll get used to it,” Jackson said. “Five to 10 years from now, I think, what you’ll see is a lot of people go, ‘Gosh, what took so long for them to implement the shot clock?’”