Nick Elam invented an alternate ending for basketball games, and it has been fully embraced by The Basketball Tournament (TBT), which concluded its sixth iteration earlier this month.
Appropriately named Elam Ending, it calls for the game clock to be turned off at the first dead ball with fewer than four minutes to play. Eight points are added to the leading team’s score to set a target for both teams to reach to win, then it’s game on.
I asked Elam why the clock turns off so late in his format. Why not replace the entire fourth quarter with the Elam Ending and add a larger number to create the target score? Here was his response via email:
“This takes me back to 2007, when I thought of a few variations of the format (which at that time, I called the ‘timeless format’), including a variation where the clock would only be shut off for the final few minutes of the game, a variation where the clock would be shut off for the entire fourth quarter, and a variation where the clock would be shut off for the entire second half (which, believe it or not, was my preferred variation at the time!). I also considered variations where a constant number would be added, but back in 2007 I actually favored a variation where the added number would depend on the scoring rate from that particular game.
Regarding why I think it’s best to hold onto the game clock until later in the game: The short answer (from a dollars-and-cents standpoint) is that keeping the clock around longer makes the overall length of the game more predictable (and therefore, more TV-friendly).
The short answer (from nuts-and-bolts standpoint) is that clock-manipulating strategies (like stalling) aren’t seen until the final minutes of the game. In fact, the really serious flaws (like deliberate fouling, and rushed/sloppy possessions by trailing team) usually aren’t seen until about the final 1:00 of the game, but you can’t wait too long to shut off the clock or you’ll just run into the same problems (for example, an Under-1:00, Plus-3 model wouldn’t work, because trailing teams would still feel like their backs are up against the wall enough that they will resort to unappealing strategies), so you have to build in enough of an untimed cushion.
The short answer (from a coolness standpoint) might be the most important of all, and I didn’t truly understand it until being in Wintrust Arena last night. By using the Plus-8, you can feel the finish line when the clock shuts off. When they shut off the clock last night, everyone got on their feet and there was a whole new energy in the arena. I don’t think that would happen if the clock were shut off for the entire quarter or entire second half.”