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  If I Were The Basketball Rules Editor

The five high school basketball rules that I would change and implement if I were in charge. Hopefully that's not a scary thing.

By: Matt Harris
Published: 12/1/2017 2:52:43 AM

With fall sports now firmly in the rear-view mirror for all of Idaho, we turn our attention to the sport that is played by both genders at most schools throughout Idaho: basketball.

I won't lie - basketball has been, and always will be, my favorite sport. My parents have pictures of me trying to put a small toy ball into a Larry Bird basketball hoop before my second birthday (seen below). I had posters of NBA superstars covering every inch of my bedroom walls growing up. I had two little dollar-store basketball hoops attached to those bedroom walls at opposite ends so that I could play 'full court' in my room (much to that chagrin of Mom and Dad). 

Heck, I even had one of those Little Tikes tape recording devices with a microphone on it and would mimic the play-by-play that I heard on the NBA on NBC broadcasts. I would tape it, then go to a 'commercial break' with one of my made up commercials (I believe that Chevrolet and Coca-Cola got a bunch of free ads from me), then go back to the "action".

Yeah, you could say I lived and breathed basketball - not only the game, but the aesthetics of it and everything else that went with it.

We lived in southern Alberta about 60 miles north of the Canada/U.S. border. Since it was Canada, you would think that it was a hockey crazed area - it was. But where we lived, there was a ton of support for high school basketball. Our district tournament (known as 'zones') was held at the Canada Games Sportsplex (now the Enmax Centre) in Lethbridge, AB, a multi-purpose arena which served as the home of the Western Hockey League's Lethbridge Hurricanes and sat nearly 5,500 people (so, like half the size of the Idaho Center). And as luck would have it, my dad was a basketball official and one who just loved the game.

(The Canada Games Sportsplex, now known as the Enmax Centre, hosted our zone tournaments - don't worry, they covered up the ice for us).

I got to go with him to games on occasion. I would watch him officiate, the players play, the coaches coach (and sometimes yell at the players and my dad), and how the fans reacted to the game. Those are memories that I will always thank my dad for.

But, while at those games I also happened to watch how the game officials (not just the ones in stripes on the court) did their job. I'm mainly talking about how those who ran the scorebook, the timekeeper, and the shot clock did their job (You heard me right about the shot clock - more on than in a moment). I loved watching them for some reason or another, as weird as that may sound.

One day, I got up the courage in my sixth-grade self to go up to the scorers table and ask if I could watch them work as the game went on. And thank goodness for them, they were totally cool with it. I just sat there and saw them work the game - and I learned a lot of the ins and outs of how their job correlated to the way in which the rules were enforced by the referees. 

Eventually, I started officiating the game and also worked on the crew at the scorers table. It was a great experience for me to see first-hand how the rules of the game were enforced by people on both sides of sidelines.

Fast forward to 2009.

I had moved to the United States and was living in Rexburg attending university. One of my classes was a basketball officiating class - right up my alley and a super easy credit for me. The professor was Clyde Nelson, a current assistant coach on the Madison boys basketball team and former Rigby girls and Sugar-Salem boys head coach along with Ricks College head men's basketball coach. 

One of our assignment's was to attend a local high school basketball game and see how the officials worked together - what we thought they did well, what we thought they could improve on, etc. So, with that assignment in mind, I went to Madison High School to watch a basketball game. 

Madison played Skyline that night. It was a close contest throughout, which seems to be typical of Madison vs. Skyline matchups. While I was there, I was impressed with what I saw from the two officials on the court. I thought they kept a tense game under control well and also called a good game.

What surprised me, however, were the rules of the game. Among them, eight minute quarters and no shot clock. This was quite a shock to me, having come from Alberta where we played modified NCAA rules with a 30-second shot clock. The pace of play in the game was very slow on both sides. And the final score? 50-45 in favor of Madison.

Now, to those of you who grew up with these rules, this may sound pretty normal to you. It wasn't to me. It was a shock to the system. When I played high school basketball, 50-45 was a number you saw early in the second half or sometimes at halftime. So to see a score that low as a final score was certainly a new experience.

Since that time, I've officiated high school basketball, helped coach high school basketball in Canada (which had since changed to the FIBA International rules), and also covered it here on While the demands of my full-time job at Riverbend Communications and duties at no longer afford me time to be able to officiate, I still love to watch the game and how its rules are enforced - even if I believe that some rules need to be changed to the evolving game.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (more commonly known as the NFHS) is the governing body of high school athletics in the United States. They also publish the rules for basketball at the high school level. Most states conform to those rules. However, some states have decided to use modified rules to their own liking. The NFHS does allow member states to use whichever rules they please, but those who choose their own set of modified rules are then not eligible to have a chance to serve on the national rules committee.

Idaho is one of the states that chooses to conform to the NFHS rules. Since they do that, the state has the opportunity to be included on national rules committees, albeit only for a term of four years in a 24 year cycle. In fact, Twin Falls' Nancy Jones represents Idaho on the national rules committee currently.

There are many different rules systems in place throughout basketball in the world, all of which have their pros and cons. Every area that uses a different set of rules uses that particular set because they believe it fits them the best. Having worked with three different sets of rules now in various phases of my life (current NFHS high school rules, NCAA, and FIBA), I’ve been able to see both sides of the conversation about which rules are the ‘best’ or are the most popular. I tend to look at it as a ‘good, better, best’ situation: is there a way in which we can take something from being ‘good’ and elevate it to being ‘better’ or ‘best’? Or are the baseline standards and what we currently have ‘good enough’? 

This doesn’t mean that I’m labeling the high school rules as “bad” or anything like that – they are just another version of rules being used to govern the game. There are a lot of good things about the rules as they are currently constructed too. But, we all have our preferences. 

Fans, administrators, coaches, officials, players, and more all have their thoughts on certain rules and how they wish they did or didn’t apply in the high school game. I’m now going to take the opportunity to do the same – my ‘wish list’ of rules I would change (in no particular order)

1. Switch to two 20-minute halves.

Eight minute quarters has always seemed to me to be too short of a time frame. It feels like once you get going and into a groove, you hit the end of the quarter. With the quarters system, there are also more stoppages in play. It’s like having two extra timeouts per game (end of the first and third quarters, respectively), plus the five timeouts allotted per team. That’s a lot of stoppages in play. 

What else does it stop? Flow of the game. In recent years, points of emphasis given to game officials prior to each season have emphasized ‘freedom of movement’ among players in an effort to clean up some foul situations and improve the flow of the game. I feel that a switch to two 20-minute halves would do that as well by eliminating what amounts to a couple of timeouts and allow the kids to continue to play with a flow. While the flow of a particular game is different from game-to-game based on matchups, I feel that there is a greater chance of getting a good flow in the game by using halves instead of quarters.

But why 20 minutes you ask? Well, when the Wisconsin Interscholastic Activities Association switched to 18-minute halves in 2015, most coaches felt the change would be positive for a couple of reasons.

“From my perspective, I like the fact that it adds four minutes to our game and that it should allow for better flow with a couple less game stoppages,” said SPASH coach Scott Anderson to Central Wisconsin Sports. “The extra minutes will also increase the need for deeper benches and more kids playing, which is a good thing.”

More kids participating in more active roles throughout the game. It then becomes easier to find minutes for players that might not have had the opportunity during a 32-minute game. Better opportunities for player development with more minutes available.

Wisconsin also did not require sub-varsity levels to play 18-minute halves. They chose to have all sub-varsity levels play 16-minute halves instead – meaning the length of the game hadn’t changed, but it eliminated a couple of end of quarter breaks. 

While I personally would prefer all high school basketball teams (C-team, junior varsity, and varsity) to play 20-minute halves for sake of continuity, I can see and understand why Wisconsin chose to cut the game down by four minutes at the sub-varsity levels.

I would keep the foul scenarios the same as well. The fouls would reset at the end of each half with single bonus occurring at seven team fouls and double bonus at 10 team fouls. 

Another thing that has to be considered is time spent out of the classroom for kids. This could be a downside potentially or it may not even affect anything. A longer game could mean more time spent away from school, which would mean teams would potentially have to leave earlier in order to reach the game location. 

That then begs the question of what time do these games then be scheduled for? When I played in high school with 20 minute halves, our games were normally scheduled an hour and 45 minutes apart. In this instance, you could potentially have the C-team start at 4:15, junior varsity at 6:00, and varsity at 7:45 or any combination that was approximately an hour and 45 minutes apart. Would it affect time spent in school? Maybe… or maybe not. That would be determined by each individual school district and what time they decide to play the games.

2. Cut down on the number of timeouts from five to four per game.

This one goes along with the ‘flow of the game’ statement I made above. It’s also one that’s a bit trickier because of the scenario I proposed above, but hear me out.

Sometimes I feel like the game is overcoached. Too often, it seems like the only way adjustments can be made is if a timeout is called. While timeouts are certainly not a bad thing, having too many at one’s disposal can be – it can ruin the flow of the game and even take away learning opportunities from players, despite its intentions to do the opposite. One of the beautiful things about the game of basketball is the necessity of the players to be able to think, process, and decide on the fly. That ability translates over into daily life – the ability to make quick decisions after processing the information (or what we see) before us. 

A key component for growth in players is the ability to take instructions from their coach on the fly (without having a timeout called), process the information received, and then adjust their play accordingly. This is not to say that timeouts should not be used – sometimes you just have to bring everyone into the boardroom and set things straight – but not everything requires a staff meeting at the bench. 

Having one less timeout would obviously mean one less stoppage per game. But since it would be one less timeout per team, that would mean it would be two less stoppages per game. In a potential 40-minute game, that may not seem like a lot of opportunities to stop the game and reset, which is why potentially this may not fly if the game was lengthened. But it’s an idea to improve flow of the game and increase practice preparation to an even higher level. 

3. During the last minute of play in the second half, the game clock will stop after every made basket.

How often have you been to a game that is a relatively close game down the stretch, only to see one team call four timeouts during the last minute of play in order to stop the clock? It happens quite often. Coaches save their timeouts for the fourth quarter knowing that they might potentially have to use them to stop the clock late in the game.

If you look at that scenario, the opportunity for flow is minimal at best. Sometimes, it feels like the last minute of the game takes longer than the first 31 minutes of it. All joking aside, if the clock were to stop after every made basket during the last minute of play, coaches would no longer have to save their timeouts for the fourth quarter for these situations – instead, they might feel more at ease burning one of those timeouts during a tough spot earlier in the game as necessary. If they use some of those timeouts earlier, that smooths out the overall flow of the game as opposed to cramming a bunch of stoppages into the last few minutes.

For the game clock operator, it’s pretty simple: stop the clock once the ball goes through the net and start it again on the ensuing inbounds pass. For an official, it’s something else to have to worry about on the floor but nothing that can’t be adjusted to. 

4. Implement a 30 second shot clock.

There. I said it. 

It’s a topic that comes up seemingly every year somewhere. It’s been brought up here in Idaho a few times as well. 

Michael Lycklama of the Idaho Statesman has done surveys with coaches on this before, once when he was at the Post Register in Idaho Falls and once at the Statesman. There were supporters and detractors from the shot clock in both surveys, but the voices of change are growing louder, with more supporters in favor of adding a shot clock in the latest survey (done in 2015) compared to the first survey (done in 2013). It should be noted that in both surveys, a majority of coaches overall said they would be in favor of it. 

A number of coaches gave very honest answers to Lycklama about why they would want a shot clock. I’m not going to re-hash those here (for sake of this already lengthy article) but instead you can read what they said by clicking HERE and HERE (you’ll want to read those).

While you’re contemplating what was written there, I’ll add my thoughts:

The statement “if you want the ball back, then play better defense” is something I’ve heard quite a bit from those who are against the idea of a shot clock in high school basketball. It’s their own opinion from their own personal experiences and I wholeheartedly respect that. However, what if we changed that statement to something like this:

“If you want to score, then play better offense.”

That’s the opposite side of the same coin, is it not? Why should the defense be penalized for the offense’s inability to execute? Or the defense playing so well that the offense can’t move the ball or get a good shot in a decent amount of time?

I’ve seen on multiple occasions where a team tries to work through their offense, it stalls, they pull the ball back out to midcourt, then try the same process again, only to stall again and pull the ball back out. This went on for anywhere from one to three minutes of game time before the offense finally figured something out and was able to either get a shot off or make a basket.

This wasn’t the case of “jack up a shot, get an offensive rebound, then rinse and repeat” either. It was just passing the ball around, then kicking it back out, in an effort to simply try and get a shot. With the rules as they are currently constructed, it’s a completely legal way to play the game and it is part of the strategy within the rules. 

But should the defense have to keep playing defense if the offense can’t get their act together in a certain amount of time? My high school coach, Al Matthews, once told our team, “If you guys can’t execute the offense and get a good shot within 30 seconds (referring to the shot clock), you don’t deserve to have the ball anymore.” We were not a run-and-gun team like the Phoenix Suns of the mid-2000’s either. In fact, we were the slowest pace of play team in our league the year that he said that, averaging around 75 points per game (might I add we were the top defensive team in the league that year too – we made teams slog it out against us every night, all while working with a shot clock. It was awesome.). 

We’ve all heard stories of teams standing around and holding the ball and trying to milk the clock for extreme lengths of time before. One of the more prolific games where that happened was the Boise-Borah state championship game in 2001 (which Lycklama referred to in his article). 

I’ve heard it said multiple times “Well, that’s just one or two incidents where that happened on that extreme of a level.” But the reality of it is that many teams choose to hold the ball at the end of quarters to get the last shot. Some of the time, it involves everyone standing around for 30-45 seconds, then starting the play, followed by either turning the ball over or getting a shot off. We wouldn’t be hearing about these incidents or talking about how one team “loves to milk the clock” if we had a shot clock in the first place. 

Having a shot clock also requires players to be able to think on the fly. They need to understand the situation and circumstances surrounding them and to be aware of what’s going on. Having a shot clock not only improves flow of the game, but it also helps players to improve their court awareness, both offensively and defensively. 

For coaches, it adds another element to the game. It means that players are now under the gun to execute within a certain timeframe. It means coaches will have to help their players in practice to execute said offense in that time, or use an offense that can get your team multiple looks within the 30-second allotment. 

“But some of the time the kids are shooting the ball well before 30 seconds is up!”


If they are good shots, great! That’s probably what you want. But often, that is not the case. The flow of the game is too erratic when it goes Team A’s possession being 15 seconds long to Team B’s possession being one minute long, then back to Team A hanging onto the ball for 37 seconds, so on and so forth. It puts a time cap on each possession (unless you get an offensive rebound) and keeps the game moving. There’s no denying it. Why else would the college ranks, the NBA, worldwide professional leagues, and high school associations outside of the United States use it?

“If we had a shot clock, it would hurt teams that have less scoring prowess.”

I get that. I really do. And as Herm Edwards says, “You play to WIN the game!” But that’s just it – is stalling and holding the ball “playing the game”? I’ll let you determine that.

However, as one coach told me about things they were hearing from other opponents about how it wasn’t fair that this team was so much better than everyone else in their conference: “It’s not my fault that our team spent countless hours in the gym, shooting over 10,000 shots each during the summer, and working on their game on their own time. If you want to improve, you have to work for it. And my kids have worked their tails off to get better so that they can be better and play on a higher level.”

Right now, there are nine states in the USA that have opted to use the shot clock, with Wisconsin being the latest state to add it. The movement towards it and evolution of the game is happening. Some say that the shot clock erodes fundamentals. I would argue the opposite. I would say that it enhances the need for strong fundamental basketball. You can play fundamentally sound basketball without playing at a snail’s pace. You can also win with less talent while playing with a shot clock (which is contrary to popular belief from advocates against it): take care of the basketball, execute on offense, play great defense. With or without a shot clock, coaches want their teams to do those three things anyways. It also just eliminates the stall tactics which are common under the current rules. 

A question to those who are against the shot clock: why are other states moving towards the shot clock? Or, put another way, why are states that currently use the shot clock sticking with it and not abandoning it? Are other states just more progressive and willing to adapt? Or does it have to do with something they don't agree with in the rules (a flaw, if you will) and this is the solution for it?

The biggest obstacle might be the financial side of it, however. The costs associated with implementing a shot clock hit schools up front with the purchase and installation of the clocks, followed by paying someone to run the clock each game. 

According to Lycklama’s article (and my own research affirms what he wrote about), to purchase a set of two shot clocks costs in the range of $2,000 to $2,500. Add in the cost of installation (which would probably be performed by the school district’s maintenance department) and the potential small added cost of where the clocks are located. Ideally, having the shot clock mounted somewhere on top of the backboard is desired, but having higher up on the wall to the left of right side of the basketball hoop isn’t a bad location either (see the photo below – this is a photo of my high school gym that I took off of one of their webcasts. You can see the location of the shot clock high up on the wall and to the right of the basketball hoop).

(My high school, W.R. Myers, had a small gym - but it was LOUD.)

For schools that don’t have their own gymnasium and rent out a location to play, portable floor shot clocks are an option. They can be purchased brand new for upwards of $1,500 for the top model, but can also be found used online for cheaper.

How would a purchase of this nature be handled? And who would pay for it? While some school districts would balk at a purchase of that nature, here’s an idea that could work: get a sponsor for them.

It could be a local sponsor who buy shot clocks for one or two schools, a regional sponsor that covers a general area, or a statewide sponsor that takes care of them for all of Idaho. The trade? Put the sponsor’s logo or name on top of or underneath the shot clock (depending on where the clock is mounted). Almost every gymnasium has sponsor signage in some way, shape, or form on the walls or in the stands (I’ve seen it on doors leading into the gymnasium and on the exterior walls of the gym inside the school). What’s one more to add in there for an enhancement to the game? And some of you may be thinking, “Well, who would step up and sponsor this?” I can think of a LOT of companies and individuals that might be interested in sponsoring this addition at the local, regional, and statewide level. 

I do understand that a lot of businesses get hit up each year by different organizations with the school system looking for support. That can certainly be taxing and I’m sympathetic to it. But, surely there is a company that would love to have some permanent advertising signage in gymnasiums around the state in exchange for buying that school a set of shot clocks. 

Figuring out how to pay the person who runs the shot clock is something that would have to be sorted out by individual school districts. The training of that person would not be hard – the clock resets when the ball touches the rim and stays reset until a team gains possession. It also resets on a change of possession, a foul, or a violation. Those are the most common shot clock situations. If I were in charge, I would have the shot clock reset to 20 seconds when the ball is inbounded in the front court after a foul or any other violation by the defense. If there are more than 20 seconds on the clock when the foul occurs, the clock wouldn’t reset to 20 seconds.

Another potential issue is if the school plays their sub-varsity level games in two different gyms. This is commonplace in the 4A and 5A ranks, where both the C-team and JV squad will play at the same time in different gyms. That could result in the need to purchase two sets of shot clocks and find yet another person to run them. Of course, a rule could be implemented that only the JV team plays with a shot clock in order to fix that issue.

5. Lengthen the three-point line to 20’9”.

With the evolution of the three-point line into basketball over the years, the game has become higher scoring and more exciting. The three-point line has also helped spread the floor for offenses – if you have a couple of three-point shooting threats, it makes the defense’s job that much harder to guard those guys and any post players down low. 

Lengthening the three-point line by a foot would continue to help space the floor, especially with the evolution of the three-point shot into today’s offenses. Pushing that three-point arc out just a bit farther allows the offense to naturally spread just a bit more, which in turn opens spacing inside the arc and – you guessed it – allows for more freedom of movement and potential increased flow of the game. 

The NCAA made the change to the 20’9” arc about 10 years ago as they saw the game evolving with players and teams utilizing the three-point shot more than ever. This is no different in high school. 

However, the costs associated with changing the lines could be problematic. It does cost a good amount of money to keep the gym floors up-to-date and in good condition. Repainting lines just adds to that cost. It wouldn’t be the easiest of things to do on a state-wide or nationwide level. 

6. Use three-man mechanics on the court.

Okay, I know… I said I would list five basketball rules I would change. I realize this is No. 6 on the list, BUT this is about the people who enforce the rules on the court. 

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with that term, it simply means “use three officials on the court”. Currently, Idaho is the only state in the union that uses two referees to officiate the game at the high school level. However, that may actually be changing within the year as the Idaho High School Activities Association’s Board of Directors will be discussing and voting on the matter as a first reading at their meeting on December 5th. If it passes, the matter could become official in January when the final reading is given by the Board at their first meeting of 2018.

Why use 3-man officiating crews? For a few reasons – and it’s not to call more fouls, despite what some fans may think.

The 3-man officiating crew gives smaller coverage area assignments to each official, or in essence “less to have to focus on”. The smaller coverage area allows for the officials to move and get into position easier, see more of the off-ball contact and off-ball plays that happen, and help to clean up the game. When they do that, the flow of the game improves (picked up on the theme, yet?).

We have many wonderful officials in our state who do an excellent job of applying and enforcing the rules of the game in the current 2-man crews that they work in. But even the best of the best will tell you that they can’t see everything in 2-man crews. Having a third official can bolster and improve the game. There are some fouls or plays that players on teams try to get away with that are sometimes missed with 2-man crews. In a 3-man crew, that chances of that happening is much less.

The problem, unfortunately, that we are currently facing is that we don’t have enough officials. This isn’t just a problem in basketball – it’s a problem in other sports and other states too. While using 3-man crews means that there is potentially one less person to use at a different site, it does put less of a strain on the officials’ bodies and allows them to work games for a longer period of time in their life. In the long run, 3-man crews will absolutely benefit all involved so long as we can have enough bodies in place to fill those crews.

In District I, as Greg Lee wrote, most basketball officials want to continue to do 3-man crews despite the Inland Empire League choosing to move back to 2-man crews, citing how the game changes for them in terms of physicality when they go to the state tournament based on the number of officials on the court. However, most District I basketball officials said they won’t work IEL games if they opt to use 2-man crews, which puts the IEL schools in a precarious position. 

But, if this proposal passes, it will be of great benefit to all schools in Idaho that participate in high school basketball and the officials in the short and long term.

BONUS! (Not necessarily rule-related, but still...)

State Tournament Seeding: As I covered in my previous article about what the 2017 state football tournament would look like if it were seeded using the Robison RPI, why not use that (or a system like unto it) to seed the state basketball tournament? If the member schools decide that they would like to see changes with how those tournaments are handled, they would now have data to work with to present to the IHSAA. Changing to a system such as this also does not cost anything.

Instant Replay for Officials: Man, wouldn’t that be awesome? The problem lies in schools having the technology available to do this, someone to man the equipment, and for it to be used properly. This costs more money certainly and would be a luxury compared to other things that money could be spent on.

Standardized Rims: Believe it or not, in 2017 not every school has the same style of basketball rims. While legal, there are some rims in schools that came out of a previous era and look like it too. It would be very nice if every school could have the same style of rims on their hoops. Rims can be expensive though - anywhere from $200 to $500 a piece. Wishful thinking, maybe. (You’re probably going to go look at different rims at opposing schools now to see if you can find the different ones now, aren’t ya?)

So what do you think? Am I crazy? Am I on track? What rules would YOU change?

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