By Paul Lecker
High school basketball teams in Wisconsin are adjusting on the fly to a new rule this season that has split varsity games into two 18-minute halves rather than the four eight-minute quarters that had been used for decades.
The change was made, in part, to match up closer to NCAA rules — two 20-minute halves — and those of surrounding states. Minnesota, for one, has used 18-minute halves for some time.
Since the WIAA’s announcement of the rule change last summer, however, the NCAA changed the women’s game to four 10-minute quarters while keeping the men’s games at 20-minute halves, leaving the need for the change — at least on the female side of it — precarious.
The WIAA announced that 68 percent of the coaches who responded to a survey were in favor of the change, which is locked in for just this year. As the season moves on, coaches will again be asked their opinion on the timing rules, and the rule will be re-examined in the offseason.
Marshfield girls basketball coach Heidi Michaelis, in her 15th season as head coach of the Tigers, said the adjustment is more on the coaches than the players.
“You’re used to playing with it (the halves) during the summer, so there’s not that big of a difference,” Michaelis said. “Where I see it is you don’t get that quarter break. You have to monitor your kids better, how winded they are and tired they are. You can go long stretches if there is no stoppage. It’s a matter of figuring out the subbing. Kids aren’t going to play the full 18 minutes, whereas they could play two full quarters with the quarter break.”
The belief of many observers is that halves will force teams to utilize more of their depth, accounting for the additional four minutes of playing time, and cause coaches to adjust to two fewer timeouts with the elimination of the quarter breaks. It is also intended to enhance game flow, eliminating the stalling that would go on during the final minute of the first three quarters when one team would try to keep possession for the last shot.
Spencer boys coach Randy Reckner said he thinks coaches will have to make a number of adjustments.
“A coach’s approach to subbing will change,” Reckner said. “You used to be able to give players a rest and the end of a quarter, but now you have to find different times to do it. A lot of in-game strategies will change.
“Teams that are deep on their bench, I feel this is a great change. This will create games with higher scores as we are already seeing with multiple teams over 100 points. Real small schools with low numbers out will probably suffer. If you’re not deep, I can see fatigue being a factor later in the year and a lot of awkward scores being posted. Personally, I would have liked it to stay at quarters.”
Stratford girls coach Tammie Christopherson sees another problem.
Schools with few players have to split up playing time of athletes to field both a varsity and JV squad. Players were previously allowed to play five quarters in one day, which could be split between JV and varsity. Now the rule states players can play in three halves.
“I think it hurts teams with smaller numbers,” Christopherson said. “At Stratford we have players that split JV and varsity. With the quarter rule, coaches have more flexibility when it comes to playing time for younger players. You can go three quarters on JV and one on varsity. Halves eliminate this flexibility. You don’t want to use a kid for two minutes because of foul trouble, thus taking away their opportunity to play a full half on JV.”
One thing most coaches can agree on is that its effect on the game is still up in the air.
“Adding four minutes to the game, eliminating two breaks, and adding no additional time outs is also a challenge,” Christopherson said. “The impact on the overall game is yet to be determined.”
Paul Lecker is publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com, a contributor to Hub City Times Sports. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.