BILLINGS — Brian Michelotti, executive director of the Montana High School Association, called it “a massive undertaking.”
He’s not overstating it.
With the season effectively beginning this weekend, high school basketball teams are set to usher in a new era with the addition of 35-second shot clocks across the state.
After years of speculation, the MHSA approved a proposal to add shot clocks for the 2022-23 girls and boys basketball season back in January, essentially modernizing the high school game in Montana. This season will mark the first time the clocks will be used.
After more than a century, a new day has dawned.
“From an expense standpoint, from the supply chain standpoint, from finding clock operators to being able to install the shot clocks as well, it's a major change,” Michelotti, in his first year as the head of the MHSA, told MTN Sports.
“My hat's off to the schools out there because this was passed on Jan. 16, and here we sit at the end of November and we're going to have darn near all of our schools with shot clocks in place. That's a pretty massive undertaking.”
Michelotti said the MHSA sent a survey to each of its 182 member schools in the fall to gauge where they are in terms of clock implementation and operation. He said 130 schools have responded so far, and of those all but three are ready to go.
In September, the MHSA announced that it will allow some exceptions for the 2022-23 season due to manufacturing and supply-chain issues that are still prevalent because of the pandemic, but that all gyms statewide must be equipped with the technology by 2023-24.
All postseason games this season will be played with shot clocks, Michelotti said.
“We anticipate very few schools not having a shot clock” this season, he said.
(Of note from a procedural standpoint, Michelotti said shot clocks will always reset at 35 seconds; there will be no partial resets on offensive rebounds or fouls, “but after this year we may review and adjust,” he said.)
In April 2021, the National Federation of State High School Associations adopted a proposal to allow individual states to decide whether they would implement shot clocks instead of issuing a national mandate. At the time, Montana was one of 42 states that had not adopted the rule.
The proposal in the Treasure State was initiated by Great Falls CMR. It estimated that the cost of shot clocks would fall between $5,000 and $10,000 per school. Nevertheless, the motion passed in January by a wide margin.
With all that’s gone into it since then — the cost, the implementation, the training of operators and the guidance issued to Montana’s 800-some officials and referees — Michelotti does expect there to be some natural bumps in the road this season but doesn’t foresee major problems.
“We'll have a few hiccups,” Michelotti said. “When you implement something this major across all levels — varsity, JV, sophomore, freshman — you will potentially have some challenges. But we've tried to simplify it as much as possible.
“Our schools and our officials have done a great job of communicating a lot of these things. We've had some PowerPoints sent out on the different mechanics from the officials’ standpoint, and we've had some schools bring in shot clock operators from surrounding communities so they all can be on the same page. It's a big change, but we expect that it'll go very well.”
What remains to be seen is how shot clocks will change the pace and flow of the high school game in Montana — and how coaches and players will adapt.
The biggest difference will probably be most obvious in the fourth quarter of close games. In the past, a team holding a modest lead with, say, 2:30 remaining on the game clock could hold the ball, wait to be fouled and try to preserve victory from the free throw line. That’s not likely to be as prevalent anymore.
Michelotti agrees, but he also sees another impact.
“I’ve thought a fair amount about it,” he said. “I think the biggest change that this is going to do, it's going to reward teams that play good defense. Everybody has done their studies and has seen how possessions might change based on a 35-second shot clock. We feel that defensive teams will benefit from it.
“Better defensive teams will benefit, and the end of quarters and halves will see some significant changes.”
With the season starting this weekend, its time to officially usher in a new era of high school basketball in Montana.
The MHSA is eager to see it get off the ground.
“As we watch games this particular weekend … it’s either going to be great next Monday or it’s going to be ‘holy cow,’” Michelotti said with a laugh. “But yeah, it's a welcomed opportunity. It's a positive move for the sport, and we're excited to see it implemented and go forward.”