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College Lacrosse Shot Clock Debate Renewed

Duke vs Denver Is This Week Four Lacrosse Poll Serious

The Rules Committee for NCAA Lacrosse is meeting this week and that means the college lacrosse shot clock debate is relevant fodder for editorializing and conversation wherever lacrosse is played or consumed. While I’m not a huge believer in the shot clock myself, I can certainly see why it is an attractive option to many in the lacrosse world, so let’s take a look at all the different influences on the shot clock debate.

Who Wants A College Lacrosse Shot Clock?

There are plenty of vocal proponents of a shot clock, and Inside Lacrosse seems to be the loudest of them all. From writers like Quint Kessenich to their Editor John Jiloty, to articles on how many coaches in the NCAA want a shot clock, IL is all over it. Another big part of the push has come from many of the MLL announcers (Quint included) and proponents, international announcers, and others in lacrosse media.

As IL has reported, there also seems to be a strong desire for a shot clock from the college coaches. Not every coach is on board, but many support some sort of consistent device to keep the game moving. I also think a number of current players would like to see a shot clock, and this can be true for a number of different reasons. Offensive players like that shackles of over-coaching could be thrown off, defenders like the idea that offenses can no longer extend and hold the ball. D-mids are probably excited that they could see a couple more offensive runs!

Duke vs Johns Hopkins mens lacrosse 2014 NCAA quarter final

And just like the players, I think a lot of fans actually want to see a shot clock. The stall warning was long broken, and the timer on solution did not satisfy as a solution. It was inconsistently applied (the stall always has been) and far too subjective for the modern lacrosse enthusiast to get behind. I think the idea of a shot clock stall had potential, but an effective middle of the road solution would have required additional seasons/time to iron out, and according to public opinion, this was something that needed to be fixed now.

Basically, a LOT of people are in favor of the shot clock in college lacrosse, and I’m very well aware that I sit on the outside as an opponent of the idea for the college game.

Possible Shot Clock Configurations

If a shot clock does come in to play in college lacrosse, what will it look like? Will it start after a save/turnover? Or when you cross the midfield line? Will all of the other clearing clocks, etc, disappear from the game? Will the shot clock be 60 seconds? 75? 90? 120? I have no idea. Multiple iterations have been experimented with, and we could continue to see additional trials.

If I had to guess what path the Rules Committee might take if they adopt a shot clock, I think they would go for simplicity. The stall was always painfully relative, and potentially confusing, so hopefully they want to get away from that. The simplest way to create a shot clock is to say that any team has ____ seconds to get a shot on cage (save, goal, pipe) once they gain possession of the ball off of a save or turnover. With this move, how many seconds are given becomes incredibly important.

Another option is a cleaning clock, and then a shot clock that starts when team passes midfield. Either way, it would be a simplification of the current structure.

A “Quick” Shot Clock

 

60 seconds is what the MLL uses, and you see some of those teams run two-way middies from time to time, but more often than not, you still see a majority of offensive and defensive specialists. FoGos still exist, and so do LSMs. The game has not intrinsically changed all that much, and even with small rosters, we still see plenty of specialization. I can’t see the NCAA adopting anything faster than what the MLL uses.

Digesting Major League Lacrosse college lacrosse shot clock

With all of the above being said, allow me to remind you that these teams also only practice once a week together. College teams practice 6 days a week and produce a better, more organized on-field product. Will college teams be able to organize and get players on and off with a 60 second shot clock? You bet. They might be a little rushed early on, as MLL offenses look from time to time, but 60 seconds is more than enough time, and my guess is these guys will be masters of control in no time. Anything longer than that, and the game won’t change much at all, except truly slow possessions will create shots a bit faster.

A “Slow” Shot Clock

So maybe that is the answer to the college lacrosse shot clock… a longer run of time. Let’s take things to the extreme, and use a 120 second shot clock as a starting point. If a team had 2 minutes to get a shot after a save or turnover, some of the games from last year would play out the exact same way they did in reality. Those fast paced games could still occur naturally. But those really slow games, where neither team looked to push the ball, and could hold on to it for 5 minutes at a time, those games would be impacted, and forced into a slightly higher pace of play. By lengthening the shot clock to an extreme, it forbids teams from really slowing it down, but it does not do all that much to truly speed up the game overall. Would a 90 second clock allow for this as well? At this point, it’s still hard to say.

A big drawback here is that teams could simply adapt to use whatever the maximum time allowed happened to be. If it’s 60, teams use the full 60. If it’s 120, or 90 seconds, the same thing happens. There is a constant risk of slowness from dictating play with a clock when you’re dealing with conservative approaches to the game.

Canada vs United States 2014 World Lacrosse Championship Gold Medal Game

A “Super Fast” Shot Clock

Let’s take a look at the other extreme, and go with a 30 second shot clock!

After a save or turnover, Team A has only 30 seconds to get a shot on goal. Clears would be manic, outlet passes would become incredibly important, and very few substitutes could come on as specialists. At first, it seems like transition all the time, but I don’t think college coaches would let that happen. With a 30 second clock, lacrosse would tend to value defense more, and I could see coaches packing in 5 defenders to make the other team rush shots. Loads of 14 yard shots after alley dodges doesn’t sound that great to me. I don’t think we’ll see a 30 second shot clock even discussed, but looking at the danger that extreme approaches can present is just good troubleshooting.

If you throw a bunch of random players out onto a field with a 30 second shot clock, you could get a fun, up and down, game. But if you have teams that practice together a lot, that 30 second clock becomes awfully short. In my opinion, this would shift the balance of power to the defense far too much. I’m curious if a 60 second clock could do the same?

NLL Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo coyotemagicactionshots.com college lacrosse shot clock

Why I’m Still Not A “Shot Clock Guy”

Maybe I’m biased because I like international lacrosse, where there are no clearing clocks or shot clocks, and where the stall warning is barely enforceable. I like that if a team on defense wants the ball back, they have to go get it. I love the risk and reward of a takeaway defender, and believe that these players give the game a different edge than basketball or soccer. With a shot clock, we will never see another Dave Pietramala. Think about it… what coach is going to have a takeaway guy throw junk when they can just wait 20 seconds and the other team will take a rushed shot? Just find 4 amazing athletes who can play body position, a solid goalie, and then wait to play the percentages. To me, that’s not exciting lacrosse, and personally, I think the game would suffer for that fact alone.

I also enjoyed watching Canada beat the US this Summer in Denver. It’s not because I wanted to see Team USA lose, but it’s because the underdogs beat the best team I’d ever seen by playing smart, patient, team lacrosse. With a 60 second, or even 120 second, shot clock, that game doesn’t happen the way it did. If you’re a USA fan through and through, then that’s great for you, but if you appreciate lacrosse on a deeper level than just who wins, that game was an absolute gem. I’ll forever be thrilled that I saw it in person, and am not excited to see games like this removed from the college game.

canada_lacrosse_matthews college lacrosse shot clock

Want some more “shot clock hate”? Evidently, I’ve got plenty!

Teams like Tufts (for at least the last 7 years) and Loyola (in 2010 at least) play fast NOW, and they see success doing so. Teams like Denver slow it down and try to score efficient goals, and then pack it in on D, and they are seeing a lot of success as well. Duke mixes in a bit of everything, and Notre Dame has changed their style of play to be more aggressive. None of this happened because of rule changes. It all happened because teams want to win.

Right now, college coaches are apparently clamoring for a shot clock, but how does that make any sense? The only ones forcing them to play slow right now are… themselves. Want to play fast? Play fast! Everyone doesn’t have to do the same thing, do they? Will a team slow it down against you once in a while? Probably. Honestly, deal with it! Score more goals, win face offs, push the ball anyway. Have faith in your system, but don’t mandate total change just so the “playing field is level”, or whatever it is in which you’re couching all this shot clock stuff.

Best Case Scenario

The shot clock comes into play, and teams run and gun in response. Transition is up, goals are up, and parity is up. Athleticism and speed are more coveted than ever, and the goals just don’t stop coming. SportsCenter highlights abound, new fans flock to the game, and college lacrosse becomes the Spring equivalent of football. Some people out there actually think this could happen, because they say so.

Notre Dame vs Albany Lacrosse 2014 NCAA Quarterfinal Credit: Joe Williams college lacrosse shot clock

Worst Case Scenario

I don’t know that the below will definitely happen, but it’s been running around in my head for the last month as a serious potential outcome…

Let’s look at the University of Denver. The team plays smart offensive lacrosse. Under a 60 second shot clock, they’ll be just fine on that front. I believe they can consistently score 9-11 goals per game under a shot clock restraint. I also believe that their defense can limit opposing teams to under 9 goals on average right now, and with a shot clock, I think this number drops even lower. Denver drops into the hole immediately, and plays almost no transition defense. If there is a shot clock, I can’t see them breaking this rule, instead I see them strengthening it. Good D1 teams can play defense for 60 seconds more often than not. So my question is, how do you score on Denver, or any other team like that? Duke could do the exact same thing. So could Notre Dame. They are going to get “theirs”. How will anyone else match them?

Denver vs Drexel Mens Lacrosse May 18, 2014 NCAA quarterfinal Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan college lacrosse shot clock

We score at least 8, you score less than 6, because you can never break down our D in one minute or less consistently, and we don’t allow transition, at all. Is that the exciting lacrosse you really want? Is that the parity you want to see? Or are these top teams only going to get stronger and more deliberate? A 60 second shot clock does nothing to guarantee more run and gun or that speed and athleticism are valued higher. It gives teams just enough time to slow it down, and for coaches to retain a lot of the control they already have.

Bill Tierney is a lacrosse genius, and his staff is too. Kevin Corrigan and Gerry Byrne probably can’t believe their luck right now. John Danowski at Duke must be laughing to himself. A shot clock? You guys want a shot clock? Um, ok, but the joke is on you. Welcome to the land of consistency and control truly being king! Welcome to deliberate, slow-down lacrosse, mandated by a shot clock.

If you have a 60 second shot clock, teams would conceivably be forced to shoot the ball 30 times per game (60 minute game, 60 60-second shot clocks, 60 shots, 2 teams, 30 per team). Add in additional clearing clocks and that number could be even lower.Is that more than they shoot the ball now? Last year, Denver average 35.6 shots per game. Their opponents averaged 32.9. They didn’t play “fast” lacrosse. How does the shot clock change anything? Duke put up 41.5 shots per game and gave up 35.4. Doesn’t 30 and 30 seem like a step back?

Duke Loyola Lacrosse

Final Thoughts & Questions

I agree that the stall warning was broken before the recent changes. I also agree the new stall warning was extremely flawed. But I am not convinced that a constant shot clock is the answer. There is a pandora’s box of issues that the shot clock could bring up, and I’m not a believer that our game was so broken.

Will we see a 2-point line next? Will refs now have to actually call cross checks from d-middies to allow offense a real chance? Will the zone defense become commonplace? Will the Rules Committee then feel pressure to make zone defenses illegal? Will that make reffing easier? Will there be visible shot clocks? How much will these clocks cost? Could that money be better spent within the game?

Will high schools and youth leagues adopt this rule change? Will we ever see another true takeaway defender? Will passing lose even more value when compared to the ability to dodge a short stick and shoot on the run for most teams? Will physical defense become outlawed? Will our sport turn into basketball or soccer eventually where physical defense is outlawed and players flop to draw calls? Is this really what we want?

Will the top programs only distance themselves from the rest of the pack with this change? Will the college lacrosse shot clock actually make the game any better? At this point, I still have a lot of very serious doubts.

Duke vs Notre Dame 2014 NCAA Men's Lacrosse Finals

I believe in the current on-field product that lacrosse offers. I can admit that there have been some recent college games which were snoozers, but the same can be said for college basketball or football. You can’t mandate excitement in sports… sometimes, teams are going to grind it out. That is not something we can change. So instead of pushing for some magical panacea, and call it a shot clock, perhaps we should look at ourselves, and see how we coach, play, and value the game. Maybe coaches can figure this out on their own… or maybe they already have!

The College Lacrosse Shot Clock gives coaches MORE control over the game. It makes opponents more predictable, and while some will experiment with crazy rides and different approaches, MOST will go the opposite route, and become even more conservative. That will lead to slow down lacrosse. It could happen. And if it does, don’t say you weren’t warned. I’m hopeful that a shot clock can do good for the game, but I’m far from sold on the idea. Good luck to us all.

About the author

Connor Wilson

Connor is the Publisher of LacrosseAllStars.com. He lives in Brooklyn with his better half, continues to play and coach both box and field lacrosse in NYC as much as possible, and covers the great game that is lacrosse full-time. He spends his spare time stringing sticks and watching Futurama.

9 Comments

  • Connor-

    Ok… So call me crazy, because everybody who has heard me say this does..but I wanted to get it out there so others might hear it and think about it just a little. Like you I am not a fan of the shot clock, I’m a little bit too much of a traditionalist and don’t think you need to mess with the game to “make it more like whatever sport”… But I can see that people are frustrated with some coaches idea of how the game is played. Offences slow down…the defense stands and waits for them to do something..fans get restless and start yelling crazy stuff…i was personally embarrassed by a lot of what was coming out of the mouths of some of the USA fans during the FIL championship…so there’s a lot of emotion caught up in this. The thing is..I played in the 80’s..and I don’t remember anybody ever yelling about a “stall”..so I started thinking about why that was..It wasn’t just more ball movement and off ball movement..it wasn’t any strategy or defensive package or something like that….it was the heads…yup, I said it…it was the heads…with the wide heads we played with, there was no way you were running through multiple defensemen and keeping the ball..you couldn’t just run behind the cage and stand there beacuse the pole would follow you and beat the hell out of you..because he had a reasonable chance of getting the ball from you. You had to run..you had to move the ball..there was no place to hide. The heads kids play with now we could only make if we wired and baked them untill they were super narrow….and illegal..and hope you didn’t get caught..no, ours were wide with shalow pockets and sidewalls that didn’t get anywhere near 2″..even when the Laser Hi-Wall showed up, it was still wide enough the the poles had a chance. The hold in todays heads…very narrow and deep.. is just too great. If you want confirmation of this, just look at the way the younger kids who are just starting catch the ball. I’ve done youth clinics since the early 90’s..then we had to teach you to “catch” the ball..soft hands…kids now just simply snap or snach at the ball..it’s not a skill thing..I don’t think they’re worse or anything..it’s just that the heads allow this beacuse of the maximum hold they have. I’ve seen third graders who could barely cradle run through multiple checks..not from any skill..but from the fact that the ball simply woldn’t fall out. I played post-collegiate in the USCLA..that was some good ball..some of those teams had the best in the world at that time playing for them…and nobody ran through checks like they do today..they couldn’t…we had strong individuals..but not individual players..we had to play team offense..move yourself and move the ball..because standing still was an easy way to get killed.. Go back and watch the finals from back then…’85 and ’86..or just skip right to ’89 for maybe the best lacrosse game ever…no slow downs..defense still able to press out…and very fast exciting play…

    shallow those pockets..widen those heads…and all this talk of “shot clock” will go away…

    or maybe I’n just crazy..

  • Interesting article- way to cover extremes on both side of the issue.

    The shot clock will not eliminate take away defenders- look at Lee Zink, playing with a shot clock and still consistently stripping the ball. Just because a zone defense is in place, does not mean one on one match ups will not be exploited on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

    Will transition defense disappear? Possibly, but it still exists in the MLL. Most of the subbing is done in a settled situation. Trapping offensive midfielders on defense because of a quick transition would be a strategy that would be crazy not to exploit.

    The 30 shots a team- while it is a good theory, you’re completely removing transition from the picture, as well as fast paced teams that don’t need a shot clock. I think you need to view it as a positive thing that theoretically no team will be below 30 shots. Teams above 30 will stay above 30.

    Will the Rules Committee then feel pressure to make zone defenses illegal?
    -Is that even possible…?

    Will physical defense become outlawed?
    -Does this even need to be addressed?

    The shot clock has been successful in the MLL and has not entirely change the game. I believe it will be successful in the NCAA shortly, I’m just hoping for 90 seconds.

  • shallow those pockets..widen those heads…and all this talk of “shot clock” will go away…

    or maybe I’n just crazy..

    I think this is an easy fix to the game’s “problems”. Wish it were a bigger topic of discussion! I’d love to see Universal heads at the very least, and further head restrictions as we move forward. Tech has done a lot for the game, but has also changed it, as you suggest. Excellent points!

    Will probably never happen b/c of pressure from manufacturers, but I like where your head is at!

  • Interesting article- way to cover extremes on both side of the issue.

    The shot clock will not eliminate take away defenders- look at Lee Zink, playing with a shot clock and still consistently stripping the ball. Just because a zone defense is in place, does not mean one on one match ups will not be exploited on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

    True, but my point is that takeaway guys are less valuable in the shot clock game. I think we will continue to see less of them, especially if the shot clock hits college lacrosse. The reward is no longer there if the risk doesn’t pay off consistently. Other than Zink, are there a lot more takeaway guys? And when did Zink play in college? I think he’s a dying breed.

    Will transition defense disappear? Possibly, but it still exists in the MLL. Most of the subbing is done in a settled situation. Trapping offensive midfielders on defense because of a quick transition would be a strategy that would be crazy not to exploit.

    In my humble opinion, you’ll see less tranny D. Denver is still my main example. They don’t transition D, even if their O mids are on the field. With a 60 second shot clock, there is little statistical benefit in playing out so far. Pack it in early, make them beat you six on six. Not playing the numbers is crazy to me, and to teams that practice so much more!

    The 30 shots a team- while it is a good theory, you’re completely removing transition from the picture, as well as fast paced teams that don’t need a shot clock. I think you need to view it as a positive thing that theoretically no team will be below 30 shots. Teams above 30 will stay above 30.

    I don’t know about all this… I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Efficient teams will be happy with lower shot total games. If the rules allow for even fewer shots, those teams should be happy with that.

    Will the Rules Committee then feel pressure to make zone defenses illegal?
    -Is that even possible…?

    It happened in basketball, and that is where a lot of the reasoning is coming from. Why not?

    Will physical defense become outlawed?
    -Does this even need to be addressed?

    I think so!

    The shot clock has been successful in the MLL and has not entirely change the game. I believe it will be successful in the NCAA shortly, I’m just hoping for 90 seconds.

    I still think that one day vs 5 days of practice per week will show the big differences between the two. Larger rosters, more prep, etc will let college teams figure out all the nuances much more, and expose the shortcomings of the shot clock. Also, no 2-point line changes it all as well.

    Can’t wait to see how it goes!

  • The shot clock is a band-aid. Fix the problem. The ball is difficult to dislodge due to the advance in mesh technology and tight pinch on most sticks.

    The game was different years ago, not because coaches got wiser, but because stick technology hadn’t progressed to the point that dislodging the ball was unrealistic. Defenses feel no need to press out on attackers.

    Get rid of the “pinch” and/or the offset in the heads. Consider even going to the extreme of requiring traditional pockets like the girls game.

    -Bring back ‘take-away’ defenders and the true art of the 1v1.
    -Allow the best stick handlers to truly showcase their skill.
    -See more pressure defense schemes and less packed-in zones.

  • The final at the Worlds was one of the best strategic lacrosse games ever. Canada used a number of techniques to defeat the “run and gun” game played by the USA in full compliance with the rules of lacrosse. If you can’t master the subtlies of the game within the rules, change your style not the rules. Simple.
    I agree with comments relating to head technology and the effect that is having on the game, whether it is a good thing or not can’t say but some of the bags on sticks used in the worlds I would be happy to use when travelling. Perhaps, a larger minimum throat and playings sticks checked prior to commencing a game by the refs might be an idea. Interesting discussion but for me I like the game as it played under FIL rules, the tactical scope is then only limited by your imagination.

  • A few talking heads say the shot clock is the solution, but what exactly is the problem? Apparently the field lacrosse game is too slow for some observers, but consider the evidence — and take care not to roll out a solution without a problem.

    Without a shot clock in youth, HS or college levels, lacrosse is already the fastest growing sport in the U.S. On sidelines around the country, parents of fresh young lacrosse players rave about our sport — seemingly unaware that lacrosse is broken from slow play. Consider that football touchdowns, baseball runs, and soccer goals all usually take much longer than a lacrosse goal, and you can see why newcomers find the game thrilling. How much faster does the game need to expand?

    If the aim of a shot clock is to increase scoring, we already have experimental data that shows little effect. This season through 8/2/2014, Major League Lacrosse games averaged 26 combined points [note: this includes 2-point shots, which would decrease the goal total compared to DI.] Compare to 21 combined goals in each game of the 2014 NCAA DI playoffs. Exclude play-in and often uneven first round matchups, and from the 2nd round through the championships there were 24 combined goals per game. At the highest levels, goal totals really aren’t much different with and without a shot clock.

    In fact, the one area where growth of lacrosse has been uneven is the pro level — with a shot clock. The MLL has expanded and contracted over the years, with teams searching for supportive markets, all while college teams like DU are selling out at home. No problem. Will the shot clock really draw new fans to the college game? If it ain’t broke…

    Steven in Colorado

  • Posted this on the original IL article:
    As a whole, I just don’t enjoy the pro game. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but i feel like the shot clock devalues goals, and encourages individual play over team play. I understand that a portion of that is attributed to the practice time limitations of the pro game, but i think the shot clock feeds into it as well.

    I don’t want to see college lacrosse turn into the NBA for the sake of “having more scoring” or “creating more excitement”.

    It’s going to turn into a pure athletic contest vs. one that combines athleticism and a very specific mix of skill and knowledge (lacrosse IQ). he who has the best pure athletes, not he who has the best lacrosse players, will win more games.

    there’s intricacies in play development, baiting, shading, misdirection, strategy, etc, that i feel like are going to be lost if a shot clock is implemented, especially one that’s too short.

    There’s an organic quality to attacking and defending based on personnel, clock left, score, momentum swing, time on offense / defense, etc. and i don’t want to mechanize that, or at least mechanize it incorrectly.

    for the record i only watched Canada play Iroquois, Australia play Israel, and Australia play Iroquois… can’t even remember if i watched a US game… maybe watched the pool play vs. Canada… i could care less which team won the final and how…

  • And people need to quit whining about the sticks. You think Lyle Thompson, rabil, pennell, etc could do 1/3rd of the things they do with wide non-offset heads? It’s a better game than what was played in the 70s or the 80s, way better. Anyone who thinks otherwise is living in a fantasy world based on pure nostalgia. Simple as that.

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