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Ask a Ref: The Defenseless Player

0 - Published February 28, 2014 by in General

Everyone got introduced to “Targeting A Defenseless Receiver Above The Shoulder” in college football this past season. That rule change made waves in the college football community and there was no shortage of controversy because the penalty for targeting was severe: a 15-yard penalty and the ejection of the player leveling the hit.

The rules for lacrosse are changing for the 2014 season regarding defenseless players. Hitting a defenseless player, and I’ll get to the definition in a bit, carries a more severe penalty. As I’ve been explaining to coaches since this rule change was announced:

What was a legal hit last year might not be a legal hit this year.

I also remind coaches that this rule has existed for a while as the “Buddy Pass” rule:

2013 NFHS 5.9.3 Situation B: A1 is receiving a pass and is in a vulnerable position, “Buddy Pass.” B1 body checks A1. Ruling: Unnecessary roughness if the check was avoidable.

In past years officials could call a 1, 2 or 3 minute unnecessary roughness (UR) penalty against the player putting a hit on a player who could not protect themselves. Generally a flag would fly on a “Buddy Pass” hit if the officials thought that the player didn’t need to hit with such force or hit at all in order to properly defend. It’s a huge judgment call that varies with the officiating crew, because that is the nature of how the rule is written. It’s called unnecessary roughness because the official judged the hit to be unnecessary.

This brings us to new terminology and definitions in the 2014 NFHS Boys Lacrosse rulebook. Specifically the language related to illegal body checking (IBC). A new article was added explaining the defenseless player and it was added to the IBC rule because any body check that isn’t a legal body check is, by definition, an illegal body check.

NFHS Rule 5.3.5: A body check that targets a player in a defenseless position. This includes but is not limited to: (i) body checking a player from his “blind side”; (ii) body checking a player who has his head down in an attempt to play a loose ball; and (iii) body checking a player whose head is turned away to receive a pass, even if that player turns toward the contact immediately before the body check.
PENALTY: Penalty for violation of Article 5 is a two- or three-minute non-releasable foul, at the official’s discretion. An excessively violent violent of this rule may result in an ejection.

Then Situation B in the UR rule was updated to match the addition to the IBC rule:

NFHS Rule 5.9.3 Situation B: A1 is receiving a pass and is in a vulnerable position, “Buddy Pass.” B1 body checks A1. Ruling: Unnecessary roughness if the check was avoidable. However, if in the official’s judgment, B1 was targeting a defenseless player, the penalty shall be a two-to-three minute non-releasable. (See Rule 5-3-5)

*Note – Unnecessary Roughness penalties in youth lacrosse are always non-releasable (page 103 in the NFHS Boys Lacrosse Rulebook)

In a previous article of mine, “Checks To The Head Or Neck,” I explained that the penalty starts at a minimum of 2 or 3 minutes non-releasable. Hitting a defenseless player regardless of whether or not the player is hit in the head or neck carries the same penalty. This is what I meant earlier when I said a what was a legal hit last year might not be a legal hit this year. For example, Red 10 has his head down in an attempt to pick up a loose ball. Blue 22 violently body checks Red 10 from the side and the official judges that Red 10 never saw the hit coming (blind side hit) and throws the flag. Blue 22 will sit in the penalty box for at least 2-minutes non-releasable. The rules committee has not taken good man/ball plays out of the game, but they have made it clear that body checking a player in a defenseless position should be called and will carry the same penalty as a hit to the head or neck.

Let’s watch some videos to further drive this new penalty home. These videos are not intended to embarass or degrade the officials working the game, but rather to be used as educational tools to improve the game of boys lacrosse.

Buddy pass hit, or hitting a player who just caught a pass and turned immediately before the body check

Penalty administration: Either a two- or three-minute non-releasable unnecessary roughness penalty, or a two- or three-minute non-releasable illegal body check penalty.

Blind side hit where player turns right before contact

Penalty administration: Either a two- or three-minute non-releasable illegal body check penalty. Fair warning, this one is going to be tough for officials at every level to call. The rule effectively requires the official to determine from their vantage point whether or not the player getting hit saw the hit. Because of this there is going to be variability in how this is called across the country and across age groups. Although the hit in the video above should always be called at the youth level as a takeout check.

Body checking a player who has his head down for a loose ball

Penalty administration: Probably a three-minute non-releasable illegal body check penalty at the youth and high school level, possible ejection foul as well. This is a blind side hit while the player had his head down to play a loose ball. He is hit while looking down and the hit starts and finishes at his head/neck.

Clear blind side hit

Penalty Administration: Minimum 2-minute non-releasable illegal body check penalty. I use this video in adult and youth officials training classes to show a clear blind side hit. The player with the ball was looking across the field to make a pass and gets body checked. Even under last year’s rule I’d probably call a 2-minute unnecessary roughness penalty. This year officials who flag this as a blind side hit will go at least 2-minutes non-releasable.

These changes have been in the works for years as more research comes out on the damaging effects of concussions and that these types of hits unnecessary in lacrosse. As I said in my last post it takes very little skill to blow up a player who has no clue you are coming.

As Jim Carboneau, 2002 New England Lacrosse Hall of Fame, World Game Referee, and current Chair of the US Lacrosse Men’s Officials Training Group, said at this year’s convention:

You can’t referee in the present if you’re stuck in the past.” He meant the rules were changing and all officials must adapt. I’ll add to his quote: “You can’t play or coach in the present if you’re stuck in the past.”

Everyone should update their mental rulebooks, this year is going to be a bit different.

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