Minnesota Lengthens H.S. Games

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.3, March 2006, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1403/bbminnesota.htm

As of the 2005-06 season, the Land of 10,000 Lakes can also be called the Land of 36 Minutes. Minnesota became the first state to replace eight-minute quarters with 18-minute halves in all its high school varsity basketball games, adding four minutes to each contest. Many coaches applauded the move, but the support wasn’t unanimous.

The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) basketball committee proposed adopting the new format in Feb. 2005, and the league’s board of directors approved it, 12-7. The committee noted that the change would create 20 additional minutes of playing time for each team (four minutes x five players), and that basketball is the shortest timed sport in the state—shorter than football (48 minutes), hockey (51 minutes), and soccer (80 minutes).

“Our coaches had been talking about this for several years because they want increased playing time,” says Kevin Merkle, Associate Director of the MSHSL. “Coaches also believe not having the quarter intermissions enhances the flow of the game. And officials like that it takes away some of those tough decisions on last-second shots at the end of quarters.”

Coaches and administrators who opposed the change worried that smaller schools wouldn’t have the roster depth to compete in longer games, and noted that one-sided routs would be even worse with the extra minutes. “Some people also suggested that officials would want more money for the additional game time, so there was a budget issue as well,” Merkle adds.

Despite these concerns, most coaches and athletic directors in Minnesota favored the move. Merkle says surveys conducted by the MSHSL and the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association (boys’ and girls’ divisions) each found approximately 70 percent support for the new rule among their members. The MSHSL also surveyed officials to gauge their feelings on extra pay and received mixed responses, though the decision on officials’ stipends remains with individual schools, leagues, or regions.

Ron Larson, Activities Director and Head Boys’ Coach at St. Francis High School, says the uninterrupted halves have greatly improved game flow, and the biggest difference for coaches is a heightened emphasis on developing bench players. “It’s now imperative that we get more kids ready to play, because when you lengthen the game you have to give more players a rest,” he says. “Some coaches say, ‘I don’t have enough players in the first place, so where will I find that extra kid or two?’ I say it behooves all of us to try to find that extra kid or two, and to develop them so they can step in and help the team.”

The NFHS refused to grant a rules variance for the increased game length, and as a result Minnesota lost its representation in basketball rules-making nationally. Merkle says the NFHS only allows states to experiment with new rules if there is considerable support for making the change nationwide, and the Federation didn’t believe that existed for longer games. However, since implementing the change, the MSHSL board of directors has received several calls from other state associations expressing interest in how it has worked out.