Stalling: A Strategy or Travesty?

How should your crew handle a situation where both teams are not providing sufficient action throughout the game?

In a high school contest, team A wins the opening tip-off and advances the ball into their front court where A-1 dribbles the ball to the division line and scans the zone defense being employed by Team B.

A-1 glances toward the bench, then passes the ball to A-2 who is also now standing by the division line.

A-2 holds the ball and makes no visible effort to begin running a play as his/her teammates are spread out in the front court.

As the seconds of uncontested play roll into a minute of idle action, it is apparent Team A is planning to ‘shorten the game’ by executing a stall tactic.

Team B’s spectators begin to voice their disapproval of the plan of non-action, while the officials ¬†hold their respective position in anticipation of activity that is not coming.

Team B’s coach motions for his/her team to come out of their zone and apply pressure to the ball.

Any thought of Team A’s strategy of holding the ball in order to get Team B out of their zone defense and into more favorable individual match-ups, is quickly dismissed as Team A makes no effort to score and begins to play “keep away” from Team B.

Team B deflects an errant pass out of bounds and before Team A can inbound the ball, the coach of Team B requests a timeout and begins to deliver to the officials a frustrated monologue about Team A making a “travesty of the game,” and that “you have the authority to order them to play or forfeit the game. Open the rule book and see for yourself!”

The Referee acknowledges the coach’s complaint and instructs the coach to rejoin his/her team.

The officials huddle at mid-court and discuss the situation for the remainder of the timeout.

If you’re working the game, what are you going to do if Team A resumes their stalling tactic?

The short, and complete, answer to the question of “what are you refs going to do?” if a team decides to employ a stall at the start of a game is NOTHING.

That is to say, ‘nothing’ to force a team to initiate offensive action. The officials are to referee the activity that is presented to them.

The coach of Team B was in the “right church, but the wrong pew” when he/she stated the rule book gave officials the authority to “instruct a team to play;” can “forfeit a game if a team refuses to play;” and should not allow a team “to make a travesty of the game.”

All of these statements are true as outlined in Rule 5.4, but they do not apply to a team choosing to employ a strategy of attempting to shorten the game by sitting on the ball.

“Refusing to play,” is to be interpreted as a team not returning to the floor when instructed as a form of protest to a specific issue or ruling by the officials, and not a team opting to freeze the game’s action.

“Making a travesty of the game” is an unsportsmanlike act (i.e a disqualified player refusing to leave the floor; a team repeatedly reaching through the plane and slapping the ball; the non-shooting team repeatedly violating on a free throw attempt, etc…), and does not apply to a team deciding to slow the game down.

And a final word of caution if you find yourself in a game where a team appears to be committed to stalling the entire game:

This is not a night off with pay.

In fact it is quite the opposite.

Because every contested play in a game where each possession is extremely valuable, your decision to blow or not blow your whistle will be magnified and scrutinized more closely.

As officials, our job is to mange the game that is put in front of us and not get involved in determining coaching strategies.

NFHS Rule Reference 5.4.1
NCAA – Not Applicable based on Shot Clock Requirements

About Tim Malloy

Tim is the co-founder of "60 Seconds on Officiating" and has over 40 years of basketball referee experience with IAABO Camden New Jersey Board 34. Tim lives in West Deptford, NJ . More Posts

21 Comments on Stalling: A Strategy or Travesty?

  1. Tim
    I grew up in NJ when Pete C made this a clear winnable strategy until the NCAA upset that Princeton almost won a first round game against a super high seed changed the rules

    Bob Schmitt

  2. The head coach of Team B might be dating himself by stating a rule that existed more than 30 years ago. However, the rules that are in place today suffice teams to create action if they both choose to do so.

    Gary G.

  3. Easy solution, go with the shot clock. In NYS before the shot clock, these games happened all the time.

    I believe there was a “lack of action” rule to discourage stalling. That got officials into some trouble.

    Greg L.

  4. Shot clock stops this nonsense

  5. stanbreuchaud@yahoo.com' Stan Breuchaud // January 11, 2014 at 11:51 am // Reply

    High school basketball does not need a shot clock. Most smaller schools need to “shorten the game” against a stronger opponent. Also the shot clock cost is definitely prohibitive for most school districts.

  6. Gentlemen: Stalling has been part of the game forever and is a defensive tactic for the underdog usually to have a chance to upset a team. It ca keep a game competitive for a stretch of time in hopes of them fouling to get the ball or let their guard down defensively. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.

  7. A shot clock seems the obvious, but defensive pressure, 5-second closely guarded counts and traps would seem to be defensive strategies to cause the stalling team to do something.

  8. Personal example from my childhood. Rival high schools. My team didn’t have a chance of winning but the other team was going to score 100 points and see how bad they could beat us. Half time score was 8 to 6.. Us leading. Final score was 24 -16.. we lost. but we had a victory of sort and a moment that I will not forget nor will the crowd that was at the game. To me that was what the game is about .. making memories,good sportsmanship and how to deal with things in life. This was a lesson in life.. more than just winning a game

  9. nardo116@neo.rr.com' Don Nardecchia // January 11, 2014 at 11:37 pm // Reply

    A number of years ago, in the 2 man era, I officiated a tournament game where a team set up to hold the ball for about 5 minutes to finish the half. As the lead official I had no on ball coverage, but watched the post players and occasionally warned them not to do anything stupid. A newspaper photographer that I knew was sitting off the baseline and at about 3 minutes into the stall asked me a question, in jest, that I have remembered ever since. “Hey Nardo, which foot is his pivot foot”. So, if you are on ball during a stall make sure you know which foot is the pivot and maintain the focus needed to rule if a violation occurs.

  10. As an official with 43 years under my belt this is part of the game. We are to do our job in any situation and fairly administer the rules. Stalling is one tactic that coaches can employ. I have no problem with this tactic.

  11. According to NFHS rules, holding the ball for an entire quarter, half, or game is not against the rules. Players on a team that stalls the ball every possession might find comfort in telling others they only lost by 2 or 8 points to the best team around or eventual State Champion, but very often how they are viewed by the paying customers and how they feel in their hearts creates no moral victory or good feeling for anyone – they still lost, the fans didn’t get to see a basketball contest, and the players on the stalling team also have to shoulder the burden of the fact that they didn’t even try to play the game as it was intended to be played. The winner of a basketball game is the team who scores the most points. The purpose of each team is to throw the ball into its own basket and to prevent the other team from scoring. Apparently the interpretation of making a travesty of the game doesn’t specifically include standing on the court and holding the ball with little or no action for 32 minutes, but any basketball minded person who witnesses such a contest would certainly disagree. Not in the rules but a pretty much universal belief is that basketball should include at least some fun for those involved. A final score in a varsity High School basketball game of 2 to 0 or 6 to 2 is not fun for the players, coaches, officials, or fans.

    • It isn’t fun to loose by 40 or 50 either. If the team on defense is so much better they should go play defense. If they choose not to they are allowing the other team to stall. Also, as far as paying customers, watching your child loose by 40 or 50 is much worse than watching them be competitive. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it is wrong or bad.

  12. If the stall becomes a common occurrence I’m sure the NFHS will address it through a review and possible rule change. Until that happens we need to officiate the game under the current rules.

  13. Just this past month in a tournament, we had an overtime game end 19-18. One team down held the ball for nearly 5 minutes only to force overtime with a last second shot. The other team (in overtime) held the ball for the last 3:30 only to be fouled with seconds remaining – made a FT to win by one. It still happens.

  14. The shot clock would certainly solve this situation, but an alternative would to bring back the Lack of Action rule which existed years ago- the team behind had to initiate the action;
    if on defense- had to come out and force a 5 second closely guarded count. If the team was on offense, had to move the ball from the front court to the fore court (which no longer exists by rule.

  15. In 57 years of working the hard wood I have been involved in many stall games. When we had the lack of action rules dividing the front court into a mid and fore court area it was possible to still stall simply by moving players out quickly to stop the count and then have them retreat or have the dribbler advance the ball and then pass it back out. The major problem with the rule came as a result of officials not understanding it properly so they didn’t applying it. Few coaches understood it either so NFHS backed off. It is interesting to note that there continues to be a lack of understanding surrounding a number of rules but they don’t cause as much consternation as that rule did. Example, there are still officials out there, and coaches, who will direct players to fall back behind the division line when a player is shooting free throws that will be followed by a dead ball. I recently observed a high school coach (mid 30’s) who made every effort to go unnoticed while trying to confer with his players during a technical foul shot at the basket on his end of the court. He actually crouched and waddled up the sideline out of his box to get closer to them as they stood behind the division line. When I offered to direct his players over to him he commented that he didn’t want to get a T because they weren’t behind the line. Even after the game when I shared NFHS 8-1-3 & 8-1-5 with him he had his doubts. As a group we officials have been working at the charge/block scenarios since the late 50’s and early 60’s. You would think that by now, with the wording being so clear, that we would get it right but we continue to make “the coach’s call”
    I, like so many others, have experienced the stall game and know that I need to be on my toes, as it often leads to frustration with the players and then bad decisions. To return to a lack of action rule would require a commitment and an understanding that it will take a lot of time before it is properly applied. Shot clocks reduce the opportunities to stall, but there is a cost factor and training that comes with them. Many areas lack the resources to move in that direction – it also means another good head at the Table and a number of jurisdictions already have difficulty with getting 2 able people there

  16. Don’t be too hard on the stallers. Sometimes they’re doing it to pull a team out of it’s packed-in 2-1-2 zone and make them play basketball. Don’t be disgusted by the lack of basketball on the offense, be offended that the defense refuses to come out. And stay on your toes as the kids, coaches and especially parents, get more and more frustrated and emotional.

  17. I’m not opposed to bring back the lack of action rule…. No cost to the school district.

  18. Make it a mandated rule to have a shot clock and problem solved. I had a varsity girls game and the visiting team, knowing they were out matched, stalled the ball for 4:39.. Didn’t work out for them. Lost by 30+.

  19. does it matter who is winning the game?

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