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Hot Pot: Face Off Rule Changes Uproar… Again

0 - Published August 20, 2014 by in College, NCAA

The last time the NCAA tried to install some college lacrosse face off rule changes, the face off community reacted with a focused passion, and some of the rules (no motorcycle grip for example) were not adopted. Now, the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Rules Committee has provided an updated set of recommended changes, and the face off community has once again mobilized to combat the proposed changes.

loyola BU lacrosse face off rule changes

Proposed Face Off Rule Changes

1) Players would no longer be allowed to pick up and/or carry a lacrosse ball in the back of their stick.

2) The “down, set, whistle” procedure would change to the two players coming “down” to their stance, the ref placing the ball in between them, saying “set”, and then stepping away to blow the whistle and begin play.

As for Rule #1, it should be easy to see why this rule would rankle to face off faithful. If you can’t carry the ball in the back of the stick, quick pinch moves start to lose their value. Depending on how this rule is called, it could kill the pinch and pop, especially for players who delay their pop just a little bit. Seemingly, it aims to get face offs back to the day where players were shooting the ball out to wing players, or just picking it up off the ground immediately.

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan

In reality, I question whether this will happen. For many years, before the pinch and pop became as popular as it is now, the best counter move out there was the jam. By “jamming” your opponents hands, they were unable to jump the ball, or get a good sweep move going. This often resulted in big tie ups at the midfield, six player scrums, and drawn out battles for the ball.

In response, face off specialists started using the pinch and pop move more and more. Jam moves didn’t stop it, and the pinch and pop valued skill, speed, and technique over pure power. It allowed face off players to get the ball out quickly, and provided a number of solid opportunities for fast break action. Some players started to carry the ball in the back of their stick for longer distances as the trend continued, but the overall move was one of increased athleticism and a huge increase in skill and technique.

When it comes to Rule #2, the complaints I have heard so far are not as grounded in history, because we have never really seen them in play. But this proposed rule change, at least for me, also raises a different question; why are we changing something that didn’t seem to be an issue at all?

What was wrong with putting the ball down, and getting into the “down, set, go” system? How was that broken? What will the change promote or fix about the face off that was broken? How would this procedure really differ from what we have now? How does this make the game safer or cleaner?

For one, it gives more control to the refs. Since the players are already “down”, the ref should be able to put the ball in between their sticks so that no one has an advantage. But this also means that certain players will be forced into using different moves, depending on where the ball is sitting for them, and for their opponent. If there is one strong parallel in sports, it has to be the jump ball in basketball, where the players stake out their position and then the ball is put in play, but it is also more similar now to a drop ball in soccer or a hockey face off than it was before.

Game Photos: Virginia vs. Stony Brook by Tommy Gilligan

The only possible reasoning I can come up with for Rule #2 is that by forcing players to go down earlier, the refs can look for cheating (leaning in, elbows, etc) earlier on in the process, THEN put the ball down, and tell guys to freeze. It could allow for refs to properly align players before the draw, and it could give players a shorter period of time between set and the whistle while potentially lengthening the period between down and set. The rule could do those things (or not), but quite frankly, I don’t really see the need for it.

At the end of the day, the newly proposed rules (especially the one about carrying the ball in the back of the stick) seem to push the FoGo out of the limelight a bit more. They seem to create more ground ball chances, and more chaotic play in the midfield… but looks and seeming can be deceiving.

The fact is, there is an entire small industry built up around face offs. Old Warrior Blades sell for big money, FoGo camps not only exist but are highly attended by youth through college players, and FoGos are recognized as All Americans and all-MLL Players, often just for their one craft and skill set. It’s a huge part of the game, plays a giant role in deciding winners and losers, and it’s not going away.

Face off specialists WILL find new ways to dominate at the X, and do what they want with the ball. I can already see kids jumping the ball and then pinching it out with the front of their sticks. Possessions are so important, rosters are so big, and skill and technique is always improving. So why do we think that a couple of relatively changes will have any intrinsic impact on that portion of the game?

Notre Dame vs Albany Lacrosse 2014 NCAA Quarterfinal Credit: Joe Williams

I ask the above question not only to the Rules Committee but to face off guys everywhere. At a certain point, can’t we allow players and instructors to teach the game consistently, without constant tweaks and changes? Can we not also admit that small changes may not destroy the craft that exists today, but simply change it?

Look at draws in the NLL for example, or international box lacrosse. Both of those draw styles are VERY different from what we allow in college field lacrosse, but both work. If we were to try them in the college game, I am sure we would hear complaints from many, but would that be fair? Did the college rules committee look at box lacrosse draws for an example on how a different set up could work? If so, why didn’t they use any of those potential changes?

I don’t understand why the Rules Committee continues to mess with face offs so much. I also don’t understand why many in the face off community are so opposed to almost any changes that are proposed. It seems like everyone agrees that safety is the highest priority for new rules, even if it is not always done perfectly. I’d like to see the FoGos open up their minds a little bit, and I’d like to see the Rules Committee conduct much better research on the issue. Until that happens, uproar will continue, and nothing will likely be solved.

At the very least we can get used to that.

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