The Havre fans who made the 4 1/2-hour drive to Missoula to watch their Blue Ponies play in the Class A boys' state tournament in early March were growing increasingly incensed as their team fell behind Billings Central by double digits.
Judging by the taunts supplied by the hearty bunch, it wasn't so much the point spread that was driving their madness as much it was the foul disparity between the two teams. Driven by the deficit, the Ponies were forced to foul the Rams if they wanted the ball back. Without a shot clock, the Rams could have held the ball until the game's final seconds ticked off if they chose to.
That situation may soon change.
According to a memo sent from Mark Beckman, the executive director of the Montana High School Association, to the association's member schools, a survey will be issued sometime in the next week to gauge schools' willingness to implement a shot clock into boys' and girls' basketball.
The survey provides a yes or no with reasons for and against a shot clock, Beckman said. The rationale in favor includes the belief that it will make games more competitive and entertaining and advance the high school game more toward the college game. The arguments against adding a shot clock are: costs, the difficulty in finding volunteers to operate the clock, the data indicating shot clocks have little impact on scoring, eliminating the strategy of coaches with less talent, and that it goes against the National Federation of State High School Association's rules.
The results of the survey will be discussed and voted upon at the MHSA executive board's next meeting in September. If schools vote in an overwhelming majority in favor of a shot clock the board would likely pass the motion. If the results are close, the board would likely vote against it.
In that case, the board would then allow a school to submit a motion to be voted on during the board's annual meeting in January. In any case, a motion to pass a rule requiring shot clocks would not come into effect until the following academic year.
In the days prior to receiving the survey, several athletic directors within the Missoula County Public Schools District issued mixed statements. Shawn Holmes at Seeley-Swan and Jennifer Courtney at Big Sky said after speaking with their basketball coaches that they were likely to vote in favor.
Sentinel athletic director Dane Oliver abstained from revealing his stance, saying he hadn't yet discussed it with his coaches. A message left for interim Hellgate athletic director Jeff Hays was not returned.
"Oh, absolutely," Holmes said when asked if he would vote in favor. "No. 1, I think it's going to help kids going to colleges play ball. Talking to college coaches that's one of the biggest things for kids in the state of Montana to get in their heads."
Added Courtney, "I've had brief conversations and they would both -- boys' and girls' -- would be in favor of having a shot clock as an option."
It has yet to be determined if the shot clock would be 30 or 35 seconds or if it would be instituted at the varsity level only. Beckman said those details wouldn't be decided until after the results of the survey are received.
A major concern of the MHSA is that if schools do vote to adopt a shot clock, joining eight other states, Montana would lose its spot in the rotation of other Section 8 states on the NFHS Rules Committee. Montana is in section 8 with Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.
Despite that possibility, Montana would still be recognized and governed by the federation, but it would lose its say on future rule changes.
"It becomes the choice of whether the schools believe that this may be an area the federation is missing and a shot clock is what's best for their student-athletes," Beckman said.
Though many have claimed that a shot clock would increase scoring by shortening possessions, there is no definitive evidence that average scores would rise. In an analysis of more than 137,000 boys' basketball games through Jan. 25, maxpreps.com, a website devoted to collecting high school scores and stats, found that scoring averages in states without timed possessions are nearly three points more than in states with a shot clock.
In fact, the top nine states in terms of scoring average are states without a clock. North Dakota, which employs a 35-second clock and a longer game, checks in at No. 10. It's also a state where Oliver was able to take in a game earlier this year.
"It created more game flow and there was less starting and stopping," Oliver said. "It was interesting. It was kind of neat to see."
Another concern that has been raised is the cost of the clocks and the ability to find, train and pay people to run the shot clock. All three Missoula area schools said paying for clocks and additional staff would not be an issue if the rule is eventually adopted.