Fighting Is Not The Problem…

Kentucky Stickhorses box lacrosse NALL scuffle
Rabble, rabble, rabble!

The box lacrosse world is reacting to the news that the Canadian Lacrosse Association is kicking the fighting penalties up a notch this year, and I’m here to go a lot deeper into the subject, and what it could mean for this season of play, as well as the future.

Under the new rule, when two players fight, they will both be ejected from the game. If one is clearly the aggressor in a skirmish, they can be ejected as an instigator. In this morning’s Hot Pot I applauded the decision, but upon further reflection (and a great hour and a half conversation with Chris Fox – he’s on Twitter!), I’m positive that I did not explain my position in a thorough enough manner.

Kentucky Stickhorses box lacrosse NALL scuffle
Rabble, rabble, rabble!

It’s a complicated issue, so this is a complicated response. Fighting is not the problem, yet I still think the rule change could be a good thing… Please, allow me to explain myself.

Under the former rules (up until now), games were run by two-man referee crews, and a lot of “action” went unnoticed, and many times, uncalled. When this off ball, or missed, high-sticking, slashing, and egregious cross-checking persisted, or was deemed over the top, a fight could be a good way to get everyone back on even terms, and put the offender in their place. Basically, it allowed the players to keep each other honest.

The system works, and has worked for decades in Canada. It has worked in hockey. So… if I believe that box lacrosse with fighting functions, and functions pretty well, why would I want to see it removed from the game?

Good question. Because the end result could be worth it.

What I really want to see removed from the game is the excessive off ball stuff and dirty play. I don’t really care about the fighting, in and of itself, all that much, but I would like to see fewer guys crosschecked into the ground overzealously, fewer uncalled slashes, and fewer high sticks to the face. I’d also like to see less face mask grabbing and shoving behind the play. And honestly, I haven’t seen much of a push for this move.

By allowing the players to fight in order to solve the “differences” I listed out above, we allow these offenses to continue, and actually serve to see them become an accepted part of the game, at least to a certain extent. If the rules say all that is illegal, shouldn’t penalties be enough to stop it? When you’re losing every game because you’re always in the box, teams will start to change things up. When you can just fight a guy, it can be worth it.

This is where the reduction in fighting starts to conceivably become a good thing, although perhaps only in the long-term. Since the release valve is being seriously limited, further change is bound to come. If the same offenses keep persisting, but fighting is not an option, change has to come. And for the safety of all involved, I hope it comes soon.

Play on the floor is unlikely to change that much this year. I don’t think the reffing will change over night either. I just think you’ll see less fights, and maybe not even a lot less. But I don’t think you’ll see less cheap and dirty play. And this could definitely create some really ugly situations. When two refs who are used to letting it go a bit are mixed with players who used to have to face the repercussions of fighting get mixed? We could see some explosive and dangerous games.

Unfortunately, I think 2013 could bear witness to some pretty ugly incidents before everyone realizes what else needs to happen. So again you ask, HOW IS THIS A GOOD THING?

Well, in order for the decrease in fighting to be a good thing, I believe two additional changes needs to be made, and there was not the sufficient push to make them before. If the reduction of fighting ends with these two changes, it will all be worth it:

1) The first is to add a third official. Games will then have a trail official, and a guy who can monitor backside off-ball play.

2) The second is to address high sticking penalties, and more off ball dirty play. A Slash is a slash. A high stick is a high stick. Boarding is boarding. Call it.

Eliminate that stuff, and the issue of fighting becomes irrelevant. If someone boards someone excessively or baseball chops a guy in the throat? Kick ’em out. Suspend them. Who wants to see that stuff anyway? It’s cheap, and fighting obviously doesn’t solve it for long.

It all boils down to who I believe should be in control of keeping the game honest and fair, and how violations should be dealt with. In my estimation, the referees are better equipped to do this than anyone, at least in an idealistic scenario, as they are much less biased than any single player on the floor. Ideally, refs see what they see, not what they feel, and this gives them the perspective needed to police a contest.

I watch NLL games, or other box lacrosse, and will catch a bunch of penalties that go uncalled. Play often escalates beyond that, and then eventually two guys throw down to settle things. I can admit, as I have above, that this works just fine. But I also have to think that if we stopped most of it before it escalated, a lot of these situations could be avoided, and we could get back to playing more lacrosse, and with a little less cheap stuff.

You may argue that there will still be cheap play, and I agree with you there. I don’t think it can be eliminated from our game (or any game for that matter) entirely, but I also don’t think fighting keeps it more in line than officiating could.

Unfortunately, with the current system of two man referee crews, I think a lot of stuff will remain unnoticed, and therefore it will not be called. Without a third referee to trail the play, and then watch the backside action on possessions, there is just too much floor for two men to truly cover. The further penalization of fighting might reduce how often it happens, but it won’t clean up the cheaper elements of the game all by itself. Hopefully it inspires a hard look at the true problem: cheap, especially off ball, play.

I’m glad that fighting was not summarily banned by the CLA, as that change may have resulted in a very rocky year, and I’m not entirely sure why they are making the change now (although there are rumors), but I do hope that people see that fighting wasn’t the problem, but a symptom of a larger issue, and that this decision helps them make more important decisions in the very near future.

Now that you’ve hard my deeper take on why this could be a good thing, and why I’m all for eliminating fighting from box lacrosse, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m not taking a very popular stance on this one, I know… let me have it.


  1. You basically used by argument for fighting, removed my points on why it’s necessary, and used it for your argument against fighting! But, you’re right on one thing, I still hate it! Hate is to strong… I don’t agree with your logic!

  2. What about the aspect of team strategy of using a fighter, like “The Surgeon”, to purposefully intimidate other teams? Obviously, this is what you’re saying, but from a different angle; if these fighters keep instigating off ball, they should be punished before it gets to a brawl.

    But, as just something to think about: where it is more about strategy then the natural back and forth of cheap shots and dirty plays? Is this valuable enough to a team to not change it, regardless of rules? Does the rule ban for single games or can penalties multiply with repeated offenses? Hmm..

  3.  Two questions come to mind after hearing about the new rules.
    Will this affect the attendance and ticket sales? Let’s face it, some
    fans show up to box lacrosse with the hope a brawl breaking out. The
    new rule somewhat discourages fighting, and therefore discourages
    particular fans from paying to go see games.
    2) Will coaches
    strategies change? When a team faces their rival will their coach get
    more “enforcers” on the bench? After one gets ejected, someone else will
    need to step up if dirty play continues.

    • Sr. and Jr. teams in Canada suffer from lack of attendance for several reasons. But you are correct in assuming that this will hurt attendance figures. I tweeted, facetiously of course, a few week ago that semi-pro hockey in the Southern US would not exist if it wasn’t for fighting. Yet, because of hockey and rabid fans, hockey in the south survives and does… well, with the CHL (Central), SPHL (Southern Professional), and some ECHL (East Coast) teams.

  4. In my phone conversation today, Connor proclaimed that he has “no problem with fighting” and that he “actually d[idn’t] mind and enjoyed watching a good hockey or lacrosse fight.”

    My comment back to him was “It’s ok. It’s ok to admit you like to see and watch a good fight. There is no harm in that. It’s entertaining, and gets the blood going. Watching and enjoying a good lacrosse fight doesn’t hurt the sport and it doesn’t make you any less civilized!”

  5. I think that there should be no fighting in Jrs.  At that age, fighting shouldn’t be a part of the game.  I’m a big fan of “letting the guys play” but dirty and cheap shots should be called more often.  If you think about it, you are never going to completely eliminate dirty play, players will continue to play the game that way so calling the game tighter can only do so much.  I do think that fighting in majors should be allowed.  It is more for the fan experience than “protecting” players.  I heard that nearly 40% of fights in the NLL are staged.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, two-guys agree and know full well of the consequences, let them go.  I’d rather see two guys slug their brains out and help one another up than a cheap shot behind the play.