Face masks on Illinois high school basketball players now are commonplace.
As long as the Illinois Department of Public Health has a say, the pieces of personal protective equipment are here to stay. The IDPH implemented a mask mandate for all coaches, players or fans of indoor sports. It reinforced that directive on Nov. 10 after some school districts — local and statewide — failed to comply with the order.
We're now into the second season of mask use, and coaches are taking advantage of at least one aspect of the new rules: Strategic use of the so-called "mask timeouts."
What are mask timeouts?
Because of the use of masks, games are paused at — or just past — the four-minute mark of every quarter. It’s a 90-second, official timeout and not charged to either team. They are designed to have teams social distance and take a break from wearing their masks during that time.
Coaches we interviewed said those four extra timeouts (teams already are allowed three 60-second timeouts and two 30-second timeouts) are altering some of the strategic elements to the game.
Learning curve of mask timeouts
Peoria High girls coach Meechie Edwards says he’s relied on his assistant coaches to keep track of the timeouts and when that halfway point of the quarter is approaching. This has allowed Edwards to make better use of his breathers for his Class 3A fifth-ranked team.
“I was horrible at it at the beginning,” he admits. “Sometimes … I’d take one right before that mask timeout is about to occur.”
Edwards says now, if he does need a timeout around the four-minute mark, he’ll use a 30-second timeout, which triples in time and acts as the mask timeout. It has become helpful to Edwards two-fold.
“(Our opponent’s) run is stopped and the momentum of the game,” he said. “Sometimes it’s very beneficial for us — (we) need to go have a seat, get a little bit of water.”
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Rochester girls basketball coach J.R Boudouris said some of his games earlier in the season excluded mask timeouts, if that was mutually agreed upon by each team and the officials. The IHSA, however, issued a mandate in December that required officials to uphold mask timeouts. Every Rochester game since then has had mask timeouts.
Boudouris, who also acts as the Rochester athletics director, says mask timeouts also assist the refs in getting a blow.
"I'm kind of indifferent in terms of the mask timeouts," Boudouris said. "Part of me wants to keep the game moving. But at the same time, there have been a couple of opportunities during games under that four-minute mark to kind of regroup and talk to my team, and more importantly, to give the officials a break, too."
Much like Edwards, Peoria Christian boys coach Jason Persinger says he’ll call a 30-second timeout in line with the mask timeout to get that extended time.
“That’s the only time," he said, "I’ve really seen it really be a competitive advantage this year."
'Definitely a strategic element'
Rockton Hononegah boys coach Mike Miller was an assistant coach at Vanderbilt in the late 1990s. He likens the mask timeout to that of the television timeout used in the college and professional ranks.
“I know there is going to be a stoppage of play,” Miller said, “so maybe you take a kid out right before a mask timeout, so now he is out of the game for 30 seconds instead of three minutes. Maybe I need to take a timeout right now, but if I go one more possession, I won’t need to waste a timeout because I know the masked timeout is coming.
"There is definitely a strategic element to it.”
Depth can also factor in the importance of the mask timeouts. Roy Sackmaster, the boys coach at Rockford East, says teams that aren’t very deep have a huge advantage.
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“There have been times I have sent a kid to the table to sub,” Sackmaster said, “and then a mask timeout comes up, and I don’t have to rest someone as much or as long because they are getting that minute and a half break. It can also save you timeouts. You know it’s coming up, so if I can get to the next deadball, it’s going to save me a timeout for the end of the game, which you tend to micromanage more.
“Having an extra timeout in your pocket at the end of a game can really be beneficial.”
Lincoln girls coach Taylor Rohrer, whose 3A seventh-ranked team was coming off a 16-day layoff due to COVID-19 protocols, says she doesn’t call a lot of timeouts in the first place. With her team being shut down since winning the Manual Holiday Tournament on Dec. 29, Rohrer was all for those extra breaks following a 65-54 win over Mattoon on Jan. 14.
“Coming off COVID,” she said, “like almost everybody but like three kids on my team ended up being sick ... so having those timeouts was a really nice thing to be able to save our legs a little bit and regain our strength.
“If I need to use a timeout, I'll use it. If we get these extra timeouts, we're going to use them to our advantage. Absolutely.”
Adam Duvall is a Journal Star sports reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamDuvall. Matt Trowbridge, Bill Welt and Ryan Mahan contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Journal Star: IHSA basketball: How COVID-19 mask timeouts are being used as strategy