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