By Justin Skiba
The high school basketball season is in full swing in Wisconsin. If you have attended games this season, you would be sure to notice a few changes that have taken place for the 2015-16 season. Most notable is the WIAA’s decision to adjust the format of games from quarters to halves, as well as the addition of a third official for varsity contests.
After a 7-4 vote in favor of the change by the WIAA Board of Control last June, both boys and girls high school basketball teams now play two halves in each contest as opposed to four quarters previous to this season. The change will be done as a one-year trial and will be revisited following the season to determine if it will be a mainstay in Wisconsin high school basketball. The majority of college basketball leagues currently play under the halves format.
Varsity basketball games now consist of two 18-minute halves, which extends the actual game time to 36 minutes, an increase of four minutes to previous years’ games. Prior to this season, WIAA varsity basketball contests consisted of four eight-minute quarters, totaling 32 minutes of game time. Junior varsity and freshman games now play two, 16-minute halves.
The WIAA surveyed head basketball coaches in Wisconsin and found that 68.4 percent of the 696 coaches who responded to the survey were in favor of making the change to use halves. During the 2009-10 season, the WIAA allowed teams who were in agreement the option to play non-conference, regular season games with two, 16-minute halves. The WIAA noted that the feedback they received was generally positive.
Sevastopol Pioneers boys basketball head coach Andy Symons offered his insight on the change. Although he is not bothered by the move, he does notice differences.
“There are essentially two stoppages a game taken away at the end of first and third quarters,” Symons said. “With this change, it’s forcing teams to utilize depth on their benches more.”
This can present challenges for teams who, like the Pioneers, do not have a significant amount of reserve players.
“For a small program like us, it makes it difficult at times if we get into foul trouble or have an injury. Kids need to be in better shape now playing 30-plus minutes a game,” Symons said. “I give a lot of credit to these players for the amount of time and hard work they put on the floor.”
As a result of these changes, the five-quarter rule, which granted pre-approved teams with low numbers to allow players to play a total of five quarters between two games, has now been changed to the three-halves rule. Additionally, the “mercy rule,” which creates a running, non-stop clock after the point differential reaches 40, will now take place at the nine-minute mark in the second half. Previously, the rule took effect after the third quarter.
“The one big thing I have seen around the state with the change to halves is that scoring has definitely increased with more minutes of play. Teams are now consistently putting up 70-80 points a game,” Symons said.
Another change made for this basketball season is the addition of a third official in regular season varsity contests. Previously, only two officials were required for regular season play. However, the WIAA had already mandated a three-person officiating crew for postseason games in past seasons. The change allows for officials to see more of the court and be in better position to make calls as well as monitor player safety.
“There is definitely a difference in the amount of fouls called compared to previous years,” Symons said. “With a new emphasis of the ‘hand check’ rule, you see teams getting in the bonus and double bonus with the amount of fouls called. The game is definitely getting called even tighter with the amount of eyes on the floor.”