Monday, March 17, 2008

Imagine a high school game that has a rhythm, pace and flow. The game and it's score ebb back and forth, the competition washing over parents and fans, entrancing us with a natural, narrative drama.

Imagine it because currently, in high school basketball, it doesn't exist. The game stops and starts too frequently. Fouls pile up, violations clog the pace and games have all the rhythm of a fourth-grade rock band. It's harsh, I know, but true. I referee this stuff and if you think it frustrates you as a fan or coach watching us call foul after foul, and stopping the game to enforce violations, trust me when I say this: It drives us officials mad, too. We struggle with what to pass on and what to enforce. By the time the teams, coaches and officials have an understanding of what kind of game we'll see, the horn blows. It's the second quarter, our 15th stoppage of play in eight minutes. That's a whistle every 35 seconds.

It's time for high school basketball to take a serious look at going to a two-halves format, replacing the current but outdated four-quarter, 32-minute game. The prep game has outgrown this configuration. At most games, by the time a flow and rhythm develop, it's just seconds from the first quarter horn. I enjoyed the opportunity to watch and listen to Fox Sports Net - Detroit's broadcast of the Michigan High School Athletic Association's boys' basketball finals this past Saturday. The idea of replacing quarters with halves continually jumped out at me and, as speaking a fan, former player and current official of the prep game, the time has come to move forward on this idea. I liken halves to the way FSN's Greg Kelser eats potato chips in the Palace press room: One at a time with an easy, continuous flow. Sorry Greg, I know I promised I'd never let your secret slip, but it's an analogy that works.

First, the pace of the game has changed. Players are stronger, more athletic and have year-round training options to prepare for high school basketball. Player don't trade in football pads in droves for the gym shoes because most player specialize. Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) clubs offer athletes preparation on a year-round basis. Weight training, coaching options, specialty camps and high school summer programs have cultivated a player and style to the game that can no longer be accommodated by the four short quarters. Truthfully, we don't need to hide within four quarters -- let's let these horses run!

It's time to switch to, at a minimum, a 16-minute half. In metro Detroit officials want, and justly deserve, a raise. It's merited, but I also think we should give coaches and administrators a good bang for the buck -- let's go to an 18-minute half. Wouldn't an extra four minutes mean a coach needs to use a deeper bench? It would mean a kid currently buried who on the bench might have a chance to play. It would mean less griping about fouls on star players from coaches. There's no excuses in an 18-minute half. If you can't stay out of foul trouble, you'll be on the bench.

Most importantly, it would mean high schools games could have an actual flow to them. Wouldn't that be nice? It's frustrating to see the amount of physical contact in the game today, constant whistles for fouls and violations that change plays. If you watch the game in any capacity, have you ever looked at the scoreboard to realize after the first eight minutes, the fouls are 6 to 3 and there's been another six violations for over-and-back, traveling, five seconds/closely guarded and a pair of out-of-bounds calls in one quarter? And we wonder why the scores in some games don't break 80 or 90 points? That's 15 stoppages followed by another 120-second break. It's an agonizing pace, one that could be avoided with a half that doesn't stop a good run for a quarter.

I'm not calling for a radical overhaul. The prep game doesn't shot clocks, television replay, half-circles for charges and a mind-numbing amount of technological advancements towards major college basketball. We need a return to basketball that includes what we all want to see: Running, jumping, passing, shooting and scoring. What we have now is an endless cacophony of whistles because high school basketball has too many self-induced stoppages.


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