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Minnesota basketball coaches ready to seed 4A tournaments, add shot clocks

By Jim Paulsen, Star Tribune, 05/30/19, 6:03PM CDT


Both ideas are expected to be considered at the June 3 meeting of the Minnesota State High School League

A 2014 state tournament game between Hopkins and Shakopee went to four overtimes, sparking calls for a shot clock. Much of the time Hopkins held the ball, with its coaches electing to shoot with just a few seconds left in each.

Two high-profile proposals regarding basketball will be among the most controversial topics the Minnesota State High School League will consider at its board of directors meeting Monday.

One plan would reseed section finals in Class 4A for boys and girls. The other would add shot-clocks to limit the lengths of possessions in both genders of competition. Both have strong support within the respective basketball coaching associations but generate concerns among members of the various state regions, whose recommendations carry sway with the league.

Class 4A reseeding

After years of trying to seed the 64 teams in Class 4A, only to be shot down by the league, the current proposal would leave the first two rounds of section play as they are, then reconfigure the final 16 teams into a modified Sweet 16 format. A committee would seed teams one through eight, then pair them with the remaining unseeded teams. The winning teams would then advance to the state tournament.

“The goal is to try to get the best eight teams into the state tournament,” said Waconia girls’ coach Carl Pierson, who helped design the plan. “We’re trying to avoid what happened this year, where Section 6 had Hopkins and Wayzata, the two clear-cut Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the state. The state championship game was, in essence, played in a high school gym in early March, not on the biggest stage and not televised. That was not in the best interests of the MSHSL.”

Tom Critchley, executive secretary for the boys’ basketball coaches association, said the proposal addresses concerns raised by region administrators that previous proposals eschewed regional representation, which the league strongly believes in. Class 4A, he said, is the only class affected by this proposal because 55 of the current 62 teams in the state’s largest class are in the metro area.

“The matchups will be done with some geographical representation,” Critchley said. “But Class 4A is almost all metro, so you can create matchups across a number of different sections. It’s no hardship for those teams to travel. And the few outstate teams in 4A already compete in sections with metro teams, so it’s no change for them.”

Critchley said revisions to the plan have been met favorably by a majority of region committees, including those from outside the metro area without a large school within their boundaries.

“We’ve gotten a lot more positive response in terms of approval,” he said. “And something like 80 percent of coaches are in favor of this. I thing it has a chance.”

35-second shot clock

The shot-clock proposal has equally strong support from the coaches associations but the prospect of paying to install and run them is of concern to money-conscious activities directors and school districts.

Currently eight states, including North and South Dakota, use a shot clock. A 2018 survey of boys’ basketball coaches in all four classes indicated that 70 percent favored using a shot clock. Reasons cited were that it encourages continuous play, promotes structure and efficiency, reduces rough and aggressive play because it cuts down on the needs to press and foul in the latter stages of games, and increases fan interest.

“It’s a whole different game and we think it’s a better game with a shot clock,” Critchley said. “We feel it’s going to create a cleaner and safer game.”

The major sticking point is cost. Critchley said an average cost for installing shot clocks is roughly $2,500, plus additional cost of hiring someone to run them during games.

Mike Beck, executive secretary of the Minnesota Interscholastic Activities Administrators Association (MNIAAA), which represents activities directors, says many school districts aren’t willing to spend the money.

“Costs are a big deal to school districts. Too many schools are feeling the pinch,” Beck said. “St. Paul, for example, has to cut millions from its budget. Minneapolis has to cut millions. It’s a priorities thing.”

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