Propose a shot clock to most college basketball fans and they act as if you've suggested putting long skirts on the cheerleaders. They seem to fear that any kind of clock—24-, 30-, 45-or 60-second—might botch up their cherished game.
But the arguments for a shot clock are more persuasive than ever, because, despite this year's tense North Carolina-Georgetown NCAA final, college basketball is becoming a study in tedium. Scoring has been declining since 1973, and this season it fell to the lowest per-game average in 30 years (111.5 for both teams).
The very nature of basketball as a team sport has been subverted, as five-man efforts to make field goals have been replaced by one-man efforts to make foul shots. In the past decade, the number of field-goal attempts per game has decreased 20%, while the number of free-throw attempts has increased 9%.
Many observers blame these trends on overly conservative coaches who are relying on zone defenses and cautious offenses. But whatever the cause, game after game has been played either with both teams exhibiting extreme patience or with the team ahead playing keep-away and parading to the foul line. Spectators have suffered through such actionless occasions as Missouri beating Kansas 41-35 and 42-41; Virginia beating North Carolina State 39-36 and 45-40; Notre Dame making 213 passes before shooting in one possession against Kentucky; and North Carolina making 15 foul shots and no field goals in the last 12 minutes of its game at Clemson.
But one league has sensibly gone against this flow. The six schools in the Sun Belt Conference—South Alabama, Alabama-Birmingham, Jacksonville, Virginia Commonwealth, North Carolina-Charlotte and South Florida—have been using a 45-second shot clock for four seasons, to the acclaim of coaches, players and fans. The Sun Belt's positive experience, combined with the other compelling reasons that can be mustered in favor of the shot clock, proves that the 45-second clock is a timer whose time has come.
Here are the most common objections to the clock, and why each can safely be overruled:
1. College basketball is at peak popularity, and we shouldn't tamper with success.
?Even dedicated fans can't enjoy a game played in slow motion. And indeed, the Sun Belt, after having its 1978 tournament end in a 22-20 game, adopted the clock specifically to keep its teams from alienating fans with stallball. Says South Alabama Coach Cliff Ellis, "When a family spends $40 on tickets, food and beverages, a 22-20 game won't make them happy. We're in the entertainment business, and that's not entertainment."
Also, slowdowns are as unpopular with players as with fans. While players don't mind dribbling, passing and taking foul shots, they occasionally like to try for a field goal as well. "A stalling game is a game between coaches," says Bob Wenzel, the Jacksonville coach. "But the clock gives the game back to the players."
2. A clock will make the patterned college game too much like the high-scoring, run-and-gun pro version.