Shot Clock in High School Basketball - Yes or No?

By Dr. James Gels, From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

A controversial subject... should there be a shot clock in high school basketball? I'll try to present the background and pros and cons without inserting my own opinion.

Shot Clock Rule Definition

So what is the shot clock rule? It's a rule used to increase the pace of play. The shot clock is a defined number of seconds (24 for NBA, 30 for college) that the offense may possess the ball, once it is in their control or caught on an inbounds pass. The clock is reset when the ball touches the rim or goes into the basket, and when possession of the ball switches to the other team, such as on a rebound, steal, or violation. A shot that leaves the shooter's hand prior to the clock buzzer counts if made.

basketball shot clock

Why have a shot clock?

The main reason is to prevent teams from stalling, holding the ball for long periods of time to slow the pace of play and reduce the number of possessions. There are many examples of teams stalling the entire game, even in the first half, and even in state championship games.

Also, very common is for two teams to play hard and fast the entire game, but the winning team stalling out the last 4 or 5 minutes, resulting in fouling to stop the clock and many late game free throws. As coaching legend Al McGuire once said about these situations: "the clock is your enemy" - meaning nobody shoots except for uncontested layups. This type of basketball is not popular with many fans, resulting in fans yelling "play the game!" or "shoot the ball" or actual booing.

So why do some coaches use stalling? - because they can... it's within the rules and may help their team win.

The shot clock first came into the NBA in 1954, the 24-second clock. Former Celtic great Bob Cousy once commented that the game before the shot clock was good hard play for three quarters and then stalling the remainder of the game, with fouling and free-throws at the end. Fans didn't like it and attendance fell. Putting in the shot clock improved fan enjoyment, interest and attendance.

Women's college basketball put in the shot clock in the 1970-71 season, as did men's college basketball (1985-86 a 45 second clock, changed to 35 seconds in 1993-94, and 30 seconds in 2015).

NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations) Rulings

The NFHS has always ruled against the shot clock... but the vote for approval is getting closer. If your state high school association votes in favor of the shot clock, it will be in violation of the NFHS rules. As a consequence, your state's association will not be permitted to serve on the national rules committee.

Regardless, eight states have approved using the shot clock - Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, Rhode Island, North and South Dakota, Washington and California.

Arguments Opposing the Shot Clock


Initial costs are somewhere between $2000 and $5000 for a shot clock to be mounted near the scoreboard or above the backboards, or as part of the main scoreboard itself. This can be a significant cost for athletic programs on a tight budget, especially small rural schools... but the small schools in the Dakotas have done it.

Shot Clock Operator

And then there is the shot clock operator. Will this be another paid position, a volunteer, or an additional official? And what about junior varsity and freshmen games... more strain on resources to have clock operators for all these games.

There can be disagreements with how the shot clock operator has reset the clock. Some training will be required.

It's not College or Pro Basketball

Some believe that high school basketball is unique from college and pro basketball. They believe that since only a very small percentage of high school players go on to play in college, the pressure to make it more like the college game is not valid. They feel the added expense is not necessary.


Some believe that whether fans like it or not is not relevant to the discussion... it's for the players.

Coaching Strategy

Coaches that like to control tempo and slow the game down state that using a shot clock takes away from coaching strategy. Slowing the game down helps teams with less talent pull off the upset win... so fewer upsets with a shot clock. Having a shot clock hurts the underdog, and scores could be more lop-sided (need for a "mercy" rule?).

They also claim that with a shot clock, there will be more teams sitting back inside and playing zone defenses. To counter stalling, the losing team should abandon their zone defense and apply pressure man-to-man to force turnovers to turn the tide.


Some coaches believe that when forced to play fast there will be an erosion of player fundamentals, more turnovers and rushed, bad shots.

Arguments for Using the Shot Clock


The shot clock will prevent stalling and the entire game, as well as the end of the game, will be more exciting.


Fans will enjoy it more and attendance will increase, which will help negate the costs.


There are additional costs, especially at first, but increased fan attendance and clock sponsors will help. And if small schools in North and South Dakota can do it, why can't everyone?

Player Development

Players that learn to play uptempo will become better overall players and will be more ready for the college game.

It's for the Players

Many coaches point out that the majority of the players themselves would prefer to play uptempo with a shot clock.

Regarding More Zone Defenses

Yes, there will probably be more teams playing zone defense. But teams that can play good defense for 35 seconds will be rewarded.


One study indicated that the argument is also somewhat generational. Many older coaches are opposed to the shot clock rule, as they have coached that way for years. Most younger coaches have grown up and played the game with the shot clock rule and thus many are in favor of it. So if this is true, it might just be a matter of time that the rule will be instituted, once the younger coaches are in the majority.

How Long to Make the Shot Clock

30 seconds, 35 seconds, 45 seconds? The states that currently use the shot clock are at 30 or 35 seconds. Some think that a 45 second clock would be good enough to stop prolonged stalling.

Alternatives to the Shot Clock?

Since the main reason for having a shot clock is to prevent stalling, is there anything else that could be done instead? Some have advocated using the shot clock rule just in the last four minutes of the game... but the initial costs of having a shot clock and an operator are still there.

Should we somehow empower officials to prevent stalling??? If an official sees a team back the ball out to half-court and just hold it there for a period of time, could the official circle his arm around signaling that the offense must begin to play, and failure to do so would result in a turnover? We already have a 5-second closely-guarded rule, but it's seldom called. Could we enforce and perhaps modify that rule?

The shot clock rule is a controversy. I hope I got you thinking about how you stand on it!

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