Three rules changes appear to be on the horizon for boys' and girls' basketball.
The most significant could be the implementation of a shot clock, according to Kurt Gibson, associate executive director of the Illinois High School Association.
The IHSA will be contacted by the National Federation of High Schools in late April or early May, Gibson said, informing it about what changes have been approved by the rules committee for the 2018-19 season.
"If I was a betting guy, I would expect the shot clock to come out of that committee, to be approved for '18-'19," said Gibson, who indicated the rule might not begin in Illinois until 2019-20 to allow time for schools to purchase and install the shot clocks and train people how to use them.
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"It might make a little more sense to wait for '19-'20," he said. "We would be rushing ourselves to make it happen for next (season)."
The shot clock likely would be 35 seconds — five seconds longer than in college.
Gibson said the shot clock narrowly missed being approved by the NFHS last year. In anticipation of it being approved this year, he said he emailed surveys to 443 coaches, seeking their opinions about the possible change. The vote was 222-221 against the measure.
Gibson said coaches were marginally in favor of the shot clock coming to varsity games only and not junior-varsity contests.
Belleville West boys coach Joe Muniz favors the introduction of the shot clock, although he believes it will create a wider disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Talented teams might not hold the ball for 35 seconds, while less-skilled teams will be forced to shoot more frequently as the shot clock winds down.
"It will be good for basketball. It will be good for the speed of the game," Muniz said. "You won't have a whole lot of 40-38 games, which can kind of be boring. But at the same time, that may be a team's only chance of winning a game against a very talented team. I've been on both sides of the spectrum. I've had a team that was playing Edwardsville or a state-ranked O'Fallon team — when we weren't very good — and our only chance of beating them was to limit the number of possessions in a game.
"It's going to be harder for lesser teams to upset the better teams. It's going to benefit the team with the most talent. Not always is that the case, but it's going to offer more possessions. In our league (Southwestern Conference), you won't see games in the low-40s."
Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, Washington, New York, California, North Dakota and South Dakota are other states that use the shot clock. Support for the shot clock is on the uptick in other states.
"In general, I would say we're not real big shot-clock proponents here in our office," Gibson said. "But we can see just from talking to people and meeting with our colleagues, there's a lot of momentum for it around the country."
Okawville boys coach Jon Kraus is in favor of the shot clock, but points out the "variables" involved. Some newer schools with modern gymnasiums already have a shot clock that is wired and ready to roll. Okawville's gym "could start it tomorrow if we had to," Kraus said.
Older, smaller schools would have to purchase and install the shot clocks, with costs between $2,000 and $5,000 for each one — certainly no small expense, even if it is just once.
"It's another cost, another expense to a school," Kraus said, referring to some districts having to purchase the shot clock and all schools having to pay a person to oversee it during games.
The shot clock itself should benefit the game, Kraus said.
"We have so many kids that are playing AAU ball and so many kids that are specializing in the sport," Kraus said. "You might as well get them all playing at that level, because no matter where you go to college — if you're going to play in college, there's going to be a shot clock. You might as well get used to it. Some kids will find it a lot more fun, a lot more entertaining.
"You'll have to develop more of a skill set for kids because they're going to have to play under 10 seconds every possession, possibly. You might see that four times in a game at the end of the quarter currently."
Belleville East girls coach Amanda Kemezys would welcome the shot clock.
"I like it because it makes the game go faster," Kemezys said. "It makes decision-making more important in the half court. Girls — any players — will have to figure out what they want to do with the ball a little bit quicker. We don't run into this a ton, but I like that it takes away stall tactics."
Kemezys said the girls' game "sometimes can be a little bit slower," something a shot clock would remedy.
"Anything we can do to get more possessions and more shots and make it a little more exciting will be fun," she said. "It also will be interesting to see how people create different defensive schemes with it, knowing that teams will have to force shots. It changes what you do on defense, too. The shot clock is an extra defender for you because it forces teams to have to put a shot up."
Kraus said the shot clock won't entirely wipe out low-scoring games.
"Some people automatically think when you've got a shot clock, you're going to see more scoring," he said. "That's not necessarily the case. You're going to see some teams that aren't going to be able to score with 10 seconds to go (on the clock). You're going to see some low-scoring games as well.
"But it will change things. You're going to see teams that aren't real skilled not be able to hang around in games like they can now."
Kraus said the shot clock must be used at all levels, not just for varsity games.
"When you've got a small school like us, we have a lot of kids that play JV and varsity," he said. "If you're going to do it, you might as well do it at every level — even the freshman-sophomore level. Put them out there, let them do it and get used to it right away."
Gibson agrees that even though the IHSA has generally been opposed to the shot clock, it could make the game more entertaining for fans. There's also the idea of making the high-school game more closely resemble mirror the college level.
"We've got to increase the freedom of movement for players," Gibson said. "People like that kind of action, the casual fan. It makes it more interesting.
"It would definitely move coaches to become more offensive-minded. Not that they're not teaching offensive skills, but they would have to rethink the kinds of skills they're teaching guys and girls so that when it gets down to the end of a shot-clock period, they've got some quick-hitting sets or they've trained their players to make one-on-one moves that can result in good, open looks."
"As a coach, it's going to challenge you and make it a little more exciting and different," Muniz said. "You're going to have to worry about the shot clock. Let's say you're down to five or six seconds. What plays are you going to run in those situations?"
Muniz foresees occasional issues with the administration of the shot clock. A paid individual will be challenged when it's not clear whether a shot has hit the rim. There is no recourse without the use of replay that is available at the college level.
"We will not have that ability to do that, which probably is better because there's less arguing," Muniz said. "You're just going to have to take the official's call on that. The shot clock will be the toughest thing that's run at a scorer's table. It's tougher than the (game) clock, it's tougher than the score, it's tougher than (tracking) the fouls. Are you going to get people who want to do that?"
Kraus can see that being an issue.
"You're still going to need somebody that's pretty knowledgeable about a shot clock and how to use it, when it resets and all that stuff," Kraus said. "There will be a time period of learning it for the people sitting at the table and having to keep the shot clock. There will be drawbacks at the beginning, until everybody figures out what's going on."
Gibson said the IHSA will almost certainly adopt a measure using the restricted area under the basket in 2018-19. The purpose of it is to prevent secondary defenders from sliding into the lane and draw an offensive foul when an opponent is driving toward the basket.
"There's a little more support for that in the state," Gibson said. "I think that's coming. If we can get the word out to folks early enough, they'll be able to get that line painted on their floor."
Muniz said the restricted area will make it "hard on the official."
"But I tell you, watch the college game and see how many times they get it right. It's amazing," Muniz said. "Our officials in Southern Illinois are some of the best in the state. They work at their craft like you wouldn't believe, and a lot of them do college (games) anyway. So they're used to that arc being there."
Kraus, like Muniz, said officials will be under the most pressure.
"You have to watch the play, but you also have to watch the feet," Kraus said. "You can't go to the monitor. For high-school officials, it's going to be a tough call. The block-charge call is already the hardest call there is. Now you make (officials) put their eyes on (the restricted area) to make sure (players') feet are outside of that."
Limited free throws
One other rules change next season could reduce the number of free throws attempted in a game.
Teams currently begin a one-and-one opportunity at the free-throw line after their opponent is called for its seventh foul in each half. Gibson said there is discussion about changing that number to six fouls, but "resetting the foul count after each quarter."
The exception would be for a game that goes into overtime, when the foul count from the fourth quarter would continue.
"This (rule) could come as soon as the coming season," Gibson said. "Teams could begin shooting the bonus in the first quarter on the sixth foul, but then at the end of the quarter, the foul counts would go back to zero. The idea is to allow for more play.
"When you have one of those games where somebody is fouling a lot early, it can seem like you're spending the last two minutes of the first quarter and the whole second quarter traipsing down to the free-throw line, back and forth, every possession. ... We internally like this idea as well. It will encourage more play. ... It would give everybody a fresh start, and I don't think that's a bad idea."
Neither does Kraus.
"I really like that rule," he said. "I think it will keep the pace of the game up so we don't have these games where both teams are in the bonus in the first quarter and it's a free-throw contest. You can take a little bit of that away. I think it would be a good rule."
Muniz doesn't see a problem with existing foul rules.
"The way the system is now, there's penalty for fouling early and often," he said. "If you're in the first quarter and you're already in the bonus, you're shooting free throws the rest of the half. That's an opportunity for you to get points because of the other team's inability to guard.
"I think it's good the way it is. ... But anything they think will help the pace of play and make (the game) more fan-friendly and attractive, I'm in favor of. Whatever the rules are, we'll play by them."
Pace of play is a major topic of conversation in all sports — not just basketball — these days as they try to adjust to the dwindling attention spans of many people.
"I hope we're not creating an animal here," Kemezys said. "I wish there was a fine line."