FIL Rules Vs NCAA: Get On The Same Page


Editor’s Note: Kacy Small saw both the NCAA rules and FIL rules firsthand this year. After reflecting on his experience, he’s sure one of them is doing it right, while the other has some potential areas for improvement. Can you guess which version of lacrosse Kacy prefers before reading the article? And what do you think of his argument?

Photo Credit: Craig Chase

This past spring The Hill School started playing by NCAA rules in the Inter-Ac Conference in PA. As Assistant Head Coach I was worried at first about how our players and coaching staff would adjust to these new rules. Personally, I was still on the fence as to whether or not I was in support of them.

As the season progressed, I realized that the new NCAA rules positively affected, and only enhanced, the sport by making the game smoother, quicker and faster. The season ended and I was totally on board with the direction the NCAA had headed. America loves speed and excitement and I believe the NCAA had that in mind. At the end of the day, the new rules worked, at least in my opinion.

Two months after the spring season ended, I traveled to China to play in the 2013 ASPAC tournament for the Thailand National Lacrosse Team, which I have been a member/captain for almost two years. Thailand finished the tournament in third place behind the Australian U23 team and the Japan U21 team. Our accomplishments at the 2013 ASPACs were a huge step for Thailand, but I couldn’t help but notice, on a game-by-game basis, how much slower the international lacrosse game was, and not because of the skill level of the players, but more so because of the rules the FIL (Federation of International Lacrosse) currently uses.

On my flight back to the US, I couldn’t help but start to compare and contrast the NCAA rules against the Federation rules. I personally believe that NCAA Lacrosse is the best lacrosse on the planet and it’s played in the US, the same country where lacrosse is labeled “the fastest growing sport”…this isn’t just a coincidence. Kids in our country are fortunate to see more NCAA games on TV every year and the NCAA must have TV on their mind when they make these rule changes every year, in addition to others aspects of the game.

So how do NCAA and FIL rules differ so much?

Here are some of the rules that differ from the NCAA and the FIL, and I believe these rule differences are slowing down the FIL, and the growth of the game internationally.

Firstly, the game time format is a huge difference. The NCAA plays four 15-minute quarters while the FIL plays four 20-minute quarters. Some might think that more playing time equals more fun and that may be true for a viewer, but as a player I can tell you that four 20-minute quarters in the International game is brutal. It is almost a full quarter more for the International athletes who are not nearly as conditioned as an NCAA athlete. This consistently created a slower pace of play as the game got into the 4th quarter. Teams also had a tendency to slow their possessions down in general, to help the athletes conserve energy.

The second rule detrimental to the game is the quick restarts. The NCAA has been making it a priority to incorporate “Quick Restarts” and it helps the game move faster and helps keep viewers attention. The FIL has no such practice of quick restarts. They are still allowing players to slowly pick up the ball, move players 5 yards away, look around, stand and then finally blow the whistle. I think a spectator at an FIL game would think they were at a baseball game at times, so instead of quick restarts, maybe the FIL should incorporate a 4th quarter stretch for fans to stand up and circulate some blood in their bodies.

The third issue that I believe needs to be investigated at the FIL level would be substitutions. The NCAA substitution box is 20 yards wide while the FIL substitution box is only 10 yards wide. The longer sub box in the NCAA allows players to get on and off faster adding to the game speed. FIL also makes you round the cones on at the back of the box to sub as opposed to using the sideline, this is a wasted 5 yards during subbing.

The fourth potential change I noted had to do with the NCAA allowing teams to do mass subs during dead ball situations, like EMO, while the FIL will still make you sub on the fly to get your extra man group on. An international team that is not extremely disciplined will lose up to 10 seconds of their EMO time subbing through the box. The chances of scoring on a 30 second man up are low enough. 20 seconds is truly a challenge.

The fifth issue and, in my opinion, the most important issue is advancement. NCAA gives you 30 seconds to get the ball in the offensive end, whereas, FIL does not have any counts. This slows the game down tremendously. There is no urgency at the International level to advance the ball. Teams will slow the game down to get a rest.

Imagine if NFL teams could sit in the huddle as long as they wanted too or an NBA player could inbounds the ball and then dribble in the back court for a minute before crossing half court.

To piggy back on the advancement rules let’s look at “stall warnings.” NCAA gives the referees the option to speed up the game and the offense by issuing a stall warning when no one is attacking the cage. The offense then gets a 30 second shot clock put on by the refs and this year I bet we see an experimental on-field, visible shot clock. At the International level there is no such “stall warning’’. The offense can take all the time they want, except at the end of the game when the leading team must “get it in, and keep it in”…sound familiar? Yes, the old school Federation rules that the NCAA did away with when IMPROVING the game for players and viewers!

The purpose of the NCAA Rules Committee is to improve the game and that has indeed been happening. Lacrosse is at an all time high in our country. The FIL’s purpose is to GROW THE GAME internationally, but yet, when it comes to improving the rules, I don’t see the same efforts. The International game is SLOW and this is supposed to be the “fastest game on two feet”.

I look at the NCAA like I look at Apple and Steve Jobs. Apple, aka the NCAA, has pushed the boundaries and thought outside the box with the end result in mind, whereas the FIL model, aka Microsoft, is fading away slowly but surely.

What will it take for the FIL to look at the NCAA and start making moves?


  1. Being from Europe and always playing under FIL-rules, i would definitely like to see the switch happen and play under NCAA-rules. More conformity in the general rules of the game can only benefit the development of the game! #GTG :)

  2. Place a sub box on each end of the team bench.

    I noticed during women’s world cup that a lot of the FIL rules were being ignored anyway. Mainly uniform rules (seriously? only player numbers allowed are 1-40? What is the point of that?), but if you ignore any part of the rulebook you leave open the possibility of ignoring other parts.

  3. You neglect that whilst the quarters may be 20 minutes long in FIL rules, the clock is not stopped during dead ball situations. This usually means that both FIL games and NCAA games end up being the same length as each other on average. The reason it feels longed is just because of the other things you mentioned.

  4. Increasing the amount of equipment you need to play (shot clocks for example) doesn’t promote growth of the game where it’s not already prevalent or cannot share that equipment with other sports. Hardly any sports (in the UK at least) play with shot clocks so they would have to be an investment for each club to make. Many clubs do not have a permanent home and so have to share pitches that aren’t marked up for lacrosse with other sports; football (soccer), rugby, hockey, cricket…so can’t afford portable kit and/or aren’t allowed by the grounds staff to make permanent alterations to the grounds. This just adds to the amount of time that the dedicated at each club(usually 1 person) need to prepare the field. Alot of teams have to sacrifice a player to have a ref for a game, usually one of the more experienced ones who’s actually qualified. Growth outside of the US is expensive, especially in Europe, In England (and I imagine most of the FIL) the governing body is cautious about introducing rules that cause/force clubs/players to spend more money, they have none either as they practically operate on a shoestring budget. There has been pressure from players in this country to have shot clocks but it’s not happened…yet. As a defender I’d like to see it, or for more refs to actually call stall warnings just to make my job on D easier! I’d suspect it will take a few more years of NCAA success with the rule for the FIL to implement it though and as long again for each governing body to do the same. I do not speak for the ELA on this (covering my ass) but have been that 1 ‘dedicated’ person who arrives 2 hours before face to set and sometimes mark the pitch up (for home games) or has to spend 4 hours driving the team bus to the game(away fixtures), play for 80 mins then drive the team 4 hours back and the ‘experienced’ (and sometimes injured) player called on to ref. Growing a sport is not easy and while I’d welcome changes to make the game more fun/faster/fairer to play and watch (not that lax outside N America gets televised often) please stop making it more difficult for those of us in my position to gtg. We will get there and adopt the rules that seem to work well for the NCAA butit’ll take time.

  5. Very interesting article. I would like to make 2 corrections. First, NCAA 60 min vs FIL 80 min – in NCAA the time stops everytime you have a foul or the ball goes out in FIL the time is always running. Second, the Substitution Box is no longer 10 yards it’s around 15 yards it changed to 13 meters when FIL changed yards to meters on the Lacrosse Rule Book and unified Women Lacrosse Field with Men Lacrosse Field, by doing it, the Lacrosse field that used to be 110 yards by 60 yards, became 110 meters by 60 meters, making the field even bigger and obviously, more space to stall and run away from opponets… If we think about this change it takes us to another problem, Lacrosse frequently uses Soccer fields and a common measurement for a Soccer Field at least in Portugal is 105 meters long, 5 meters short of FIL new 110 meters Rule. Where does this help Lacrosse??? It doesn’t…

  6. Just some counter arguments:
    Issue1: It?s 20 minute running clock vs 15 minute stop clock quarters. In total game time there is almost no difference. The game usually slows down in Q4 because of the scoring difference or because FIL events are usually multiple games in a short amount of time (say five in a week).
    Issue2: The referees want to do quick restarts, and there is nothing in the rules to prevent this. However, FIL players are usually less familiar with protocol than NCAA players. If everyone is ready to go, why would the referee not restart?
    Issue3: The FIL has adopted new field dimensions, which will be brought into practice over the next three years. This will also bring a larger subbox to the international game.
    Issue4: Again, this has to do with the level of play in most countries participating in FIL events. If FIL rules would allow this, most probably it would lead to chaos and technical fouls for too many man on the field et cetera.
    Issue5: FIL referees do have a method of letting teams advance the ball; the stall warning. So they cannot take forever to clear the ball. As most countries using the FIL rules do not even have enough officially trained referees, outfitting them with timers and extra rules will only complicate things. What you have to take into account is that the FIL rules are also used in countries where lacrosse is just starting. Imagine a place where not everybody is in full gear yet, the guy with one year of experience is the (playing) coach and the referees are people who have just read the rulebook. Keeping it simple it the way to go.
    Issue 6: This (?no stall warning? and ?leading team must get it in and keep it in?) is not accurate. There is a stall warning in the FIL rules, it forces teams to keep play beyond the restraining line. No shot clock, but still a way to promote a more offensive style of play. I do agree that the FIL stall warning it not very good, but it took the NCAA a while to think of a fitting solution, and they just introduced the shot clock last year. Give it some time.

  7. I’d just like to share a few thoughts regarding your points and some of the issues raised in the comments before me. As a European player who likes to watch NCAA games I think I can compare the two somewhat.
    First, the timing difference. As pointed before me, FIL games are played with four 20 minute quarters. Including timeouts, halftime, possible injuries and the stop clock in the last three minutes of the game, this adds up to about two hours total for a game. This is very similar to an NCAA rules game, which is of course played with four 15 minute stop clock quarters. Teams’ tendencies to conserve athletes’ energy is also due to the fact that a roster is limited to 23 players for the men’s game. Here in the Netherlands, the sport is nowhere near as established as the East Coast of the USA or even parts of England, there simply aren’t many people playing the game, so full 23 man rosters are rare. Our team here is lucky to have about 15-16 guys at a game, because people simply also have other commitments and lacrosse isn’t always the number one priority. Also, not every athlete is as athletic or skilled as the next guy on the team. Compare our situation with an NCAA team, where teams have 50+ players on their rosters, players may have practice and gym sessions multiple times a week, under supervision of experienced coaches. It’s not hard to see that these guys will be more athletic and skilled due to this.
    Secondly, quick restarts, I can somewhat see your point here. When I ref games, I try to incorporate quick restarts as often as possible, where I can. Sometimes, however, this simply isn’t possible, such as near the sub box, where there may be a lot of players running around. Again, the discrepancy in skill level comes into play, not everybody knows what he can and cannot do and player safety becomes the top priority, rather than game speed. Also, “slowly picking up the ball” is sometimes due to the lack of material, as pointed out in other comments. Not all clubs have the luxury of placing many backup balls near the end line of the field, so players may have to jump over a fence and fetch a ball out of the bushes. That is simply the nature of the game here in Europe.
    I’ll be honest, I can’t see the significant effect of increasing the substitution box’s size. The NCAA did it last year and I can’t pinpoint that single change’s effect on the overall increase in game speed (which I must admit, has increased).
    If players recognize the flag down situation, there is plenty of time to substitute the right personnel on during a dead ball situation. The time it takes for the refs to relay the call to the bench and for the player to actually sit down (that’s when the time starts) is more than enough to get your guys on the field, but this is more lacrosse IQ than FIL rules if you ask me.
    Finally, advancement. Yes, it’s true that you can take your time when advancing the ball from defense to offense. The reality of the game is that it’s safer to have the ball in the offensive half than passing between poles and the goalie in your own half, so teams will definitely want to get the ball upfield, they’ll do it safely, though. This is also related to the difference in athletic and lacrosse specific abilities, players will go for the safe route. I agree with you that, once the offense has settled in, the stall warning does little. The FIL offensive box is larger (just the restraining line) and there is no shot clock. But let’s be fair, the NCAA just recently implemented this. Can you expect the FIL, its members and associated clubs, with limited resources, to follow this quickly?

    I think it’s great that you’re growing the game, by playing with the Thai national team, from experience I know that players with experience in North America really help local players. That being said, I don’t think your FIL experience is enough to fully compare its rules with those of the NCAA. Have you played in Europe for instance, where the game is growing rapidly as well. Rather than simply stating the problems you see, try to come with solutions. Spend some time abroad at one or more clubs as a coach for example and really grow the game.