How Long is the High School Basketball Season?

Just as most sports, basketball is an exciting game that comes at all levels. Also like many sports, most players have a dream of making it to the professional league. How one gets to the professional league is not always the same, but the passion for the game starts early. One of the first stages of basketball in the country is high school basketball and it can be a very important stage for athletes to be seen as prospects for both the collegiate and professional levels of the game.

A Quick History of High School Basketball

There is not necessarily a solid record of the beginnings of high school basketball, but from what historians have determined, in 1893 on February 24th the first high school basketball game was played in Chicago, Illinois. This game was not two high school teams against each other, but it did involve one official high school team; Morgan Park Academy. MPA played against a team from the West Side YMCA and they won the game 11 – 8.

The growing popularity of basketball within the YMCA community is what led it to begin trickling into high schools as an official sport. In 1905, basketball was finally recognized as an official and permanent winter sport at all levels. Virtually all high schools in the United States have a basketball team in varsity competitions. Basketball is a popular sport in both rural and urban areas.

How Long is the High School Basketball Season?

Like many sports at the high school level, many factors regarding the basketball season are determined by the state in which the high school resides. The range for how many games most high schools will play in a basketball season is 25-35 and depends on tournament play as well.

Due to the players’ ages and physical capabilities, high school basketball is not as long and taxing as higher levels, collegiate and professional. This is not to say high school basketball is not stressful, but that its schedule is not as demanding as higher levels. The season schedule is more regimented at this level.

It can differ from region to region, but usually winter sports startup after the Thanksgiving break in high school. Note that practices may start sooner than that by a few weeks. How the high school basketball league is scheduled is determined by the state in which it resides. Some states focus their schedule around the football season while others schedule the season around spring sports and the academic year requirements.

As mentioned before, the length of the season can vary by state with approximately 25-35 games, but all states try to aim the post-season tournaments to end at the startup of spring sports. The school year calendar for obvious reasons affects the scheduled season of every sport and for basketball, most structure the season with about nine to ten school weeks for the development of the season. Many high school athletes play more than one sport and are able to do so because of this scheduling. Typically they will play a winter sport and a spring sport.

The Run Time for High School Basketball Games

The NFHS ( The National Federation of High School Associations) provides the rules and regulations at the high school level. Usually, high school basketball games occur 2-3 times per week. A game will have four quarters lasting 8 minutes each and a 10-minute halftime. This is a total of 42 minutes with 32 minutes of playing.

If the game is sent to overtime an additional 4 minutes is added. When you put in the additional time for time-outs, a game can run you to about an hour or an hour thirty. High school games have the “mercy rule” This rule is put into place when a team is ahead by 30 points at any time during play. When this rule is put in the clock will run continuously unless there is an injured player or a timeout.

High School Basketball Championships

One major difference between the high school, collegiate, and professional basketball leagues is the way championships are conducted and scheduled. For high school, there is no tournament at all for a national high school championship. As we know, national championships are an extended part of the post-season, so if the high school league had it, their season would be longer. Instead of national championships at the high school level, there are only state championships.

National Interscholastic Basketball Tournament

There was an attempt at a national high school championship tournament from 1917 to 1930. The basketball tournament was held at the University of Chicago and organized by Amos Alonzo Stagg, an American coach. Stagg sent invitations to high school state championship teams to come to play in Chicago for the National Interscholastic Basketball Tournament. It started off with teams mainly from the Midwest but in 1929 it grew with an attendance of 29 state champions.

The last tournament for the NIBT was in 1930 when they faced opposition from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and the National Federation of State High School Associations. The opposition was due to the concern that the tournament was meant only to recruit professional players from the prep ranks and also due to the exclusion of minority and private/parochial schools at the NIBT.

Other Attempts at a National High School Basketball Tournament

There were a few other attempts at national high school basketball tournaments other than the NIBT. Here’s a quick list of all tournaments.

  • The National Catholic Interscholastic Basketball Tournament running from 1924 to 1941 at Loyola University.
  • The National Catholic Invitational Basketball Tournament played at Catholic University, George Mason, and Georgetown from 1954 to 1978.
  • The National Interscholastic Basketball Tournament for Black High Schools at the Hampton Institute from 1929 to 1942.
  • The National Invitational Interscholastic Basketball Tournament held at the Tuskegee Institute, Tennessee State College, and Alabama State College from 1941 to 1967.

High School Basketball State Championships

With no national basketball championship title to fight for, high school basketball teams aim for the state championships. The state championships are used to identify the best high school teams in each state. There are many different state championship leagues with their own set of rules and regulations.

State championship tournaments are divided by divisions. Where the state championship tournaments fall in regards to the schedule is dependent on the state, as some states will have different formats for the high school league. Generally, there will be district tournaments that can run of to the middle of February.

Once the district title is determined, it is followed by a regional tournament that will go into the last week of February. Those teams given the title of regional champions will then go on to the state championship tournaments at either the end of March or April.

Why is High School Basketball Played in the Winter?

Going back to the high school basketball season as a whole, you may be wondering why is it officially considered a winter sport rather than a summer sport.

The reason basketball season runs through the winter season is all due to its origins. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, created the sport as a way for students at Springfield College to have a game to play during the cold winters in Springfield Massachusetts.

Basketball is largely played indoors by all leagues, making it a perfect winter sport. With football, tennis, track, etc. these sports are usually played outdoors making them more summer and spring sports.

Since basketball can be played in the winter it makes it easier to schedule around other sports and the academic year. There are summer basketball leagues at all levels, but for high school and college athletes it is not their school’s teams, but instead recreational or club teams. There is no official summer league for high school basketball teams as a whole.

Final Words

The high school basketball season is played in the winter and ends in the spring depending on a team’s play in the district, regional, and state tournaments. This can equal up to about 5 months, generally speaking.

The high school basketball season is formatted by the state in which the high school resides, although there are basic rules for all of the nation’s teams provided by The National Federation of High School Associations. The basketball season is not as demanding at the high school level due to rules involving minors and their physical capabilities.

The high school basketball season is largely used to scope out prospects for the collegiate level and even professional eligibility. There are new variables to look out for that might change the way high school basketball as a whole is conducted, including the season. One of these variables is Overtime Elite, a new league employing players as young as 16, guaranteeing them an annual $100k. How ew leagues involving high school athletes will change the course of high school seasons can not be fully determined yet, but it will for sure be a factor.

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