There is so much talk about speeding up the game of lacrosse, and making sure that the sport remains the fastest game on two feet. Proposed solutions have included adding a shot clock, changing sideline horn rules, changing the stall warning, and I’ve even come up with some interesting rule change propositions myself! Then there’s some people who think the game is just fine the way it is.
Today we’re going to take a look at another option, and in this case it’s simply enforcing a rule that already exists: Crosschecking.
Some longsticks crosscheck quite a bit, but the biggest offenders are usually short stick defensive middies. I’ve noticed it before, and I continue to notice it this year while watching lacrosse on ESPNU or in person. Of course, the fact that they do it so much makes a lot of sense to me.
First, we’ll talk about WHY it’s done so much, and then I’ll explain the actual legal alternative when playing defense with a short stick.
The Reason for So Much Crosschecking
The first reason that defensive midfielders crosscheck so much is that they are often the guys that are being isolated and dodged on. They have to play as physically as possible, trying to intimidate their opponent at all times. The cross check fits into this mentality perfectly.
As a middie playing defense, you can be more physical by moving your hands apart because this gives you a wider impact area to use. This means you can be less accurate, and focus more on power. The guys dodging on you are going hard, and you’ve want to do everything you can not to get burned.
The second reason that defensive middies crosscheck is much more simple. It’s because the refs let the players get away with it, and not just off the dodge, but ALL OVER THE FIELD. If a ref won’t call a crosscheck when a guy isn’t even dodging, but just carrying the ball, why would that same ref call it on a dodge?
The crosscheck has become popular amongst college lacrosse players because it works and because it is rarely called.
What Players Did Before the Crosscheck
As the sticks have become more advanced, I have wonder, has the art of the short stick poke check been lost? Admittedly, it is a less effective tool than the crosscheck, but unlike the crosscheck, it is actually legal. It is the type of play that we need to get back to promoting in the game. It would speed things up, create more transition play, and allow for more dodge and dump, quick-passing lacrosse.
The poke check was disruptive, but it also took real skill and timing to throw correctly. The poke check took time to master, while the crosscheck can be done by anyone who likes to bench press.
Why Crosschecking is Lame
Right now, the approach is to make the offensive dodging player or ball carrier pick a side. Once they go to the side you want them to, you crosscheck them in the side or back. It is not hard enough to knock the offensive player over usually, but it does throw them off their trajectory and slow them down. It prevents the blow by dodge, AND the roll back, and most offensive players need a step or two (or more) to recover. Like I said, it’s an incredibly effective tool. Is it good for the game?
Two crosschecks, right in front of a ref, not called. Devastating penalties? No. Disruptive game slowers? Yes.
The crosscheck disrupts the flow of the offense, and slows down the game every single time it is used. Add on to the fact that, according to the rules, you can not move your hands apart and hit someone with your stick, and it should be called every time for good reason. It’s bad for the game AND illegal.
Furthermore, it allows coaches to have their teams play even more conservatively on defense, and with college lacrosse begin such a “coaches’ game” right now, taking away some of this power might be a really good thing.
The Return of the Poke Check
The poke check approach will have some people here up in arms. You’ll say offensive players are too good, or too fast, or that the ball just doesn’t come out like it used to, but to that I say “so what?” The poke check can still help players out here, even if the chance for a takeaways is diminished in the modern game.
When a player dodges on you, and you use the poke check technique, you can really take one of two approaches:
1) play the guy straight up and time his move. When he tries to make the move, you poke check him in the chest as hard as you can, trying to dislodge the ball on a split dodge, or slow him down with your stick.
2) play the guy on an angle and drive him down the side, throwing a poke check to the chest if the offensive tries to cut back. On the roll dodge, you have to drop step and recover with a push. Not a crosscheck.
What if Zebras Called Every Crosscheck?
We would see more scoring. Offensive middies could get free much easier, and teams would be forced to slide hard. This would result in required ball movement, a premium placed on skill and a lot of action. The pack it in defense (at least when it came to the shorties) would have to change, and defenses would have to press AND help more to keep easy shots off dodges from developing.
And defensively more transition would be generated. You RARELY see a turnover result from a crosscheck. All it does is throw the offensive player off of their current route. They keep the ball, move it on, and set up again. It doesn’t result in good opportunities, and it’s boring to watch. It’s also not that fun to play. When you beat your guy but get crosschecked at the last moment, and it isn’t called, it feels like you got cheated, right? The crosscheck is skill-less defense.
With a poke check, you might actually put the ball on ground. It won’t happen all the time, but it will definitely happen more than with your average crosscheck. If you don’t throw a good poke, the offensive player might get a clean look at goal, and to me that’s a lot better than watching a team cycle the ball around again.
For this rule to have a HUGE impact, the only thing that would have to change is the crosscheck actually being called. It’s already illegal, and I don’t think it’s helping the game.
So, what do you think? Should the Crosscheck stay or go? Is it a necessary evil or are we making life too easy for defensive players right now?