Top 5 Old School NCAA Lacrosse Rules

Perth+90+faceoff USA australia lacrosse lax Fred Opie
International lax in 1990.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the way lacrosse is played today, how it will be played tomorrow, and how it was played back in the day.  There have been a lot of rule changes over the years and today we’re giving you our Top 5 Old School Rules!

You won’t find these rules in the book nowadays, but they used to the code that laxers lived and died by.  To the old rules!

1) The Dive

The dive was easily one of the most exciting action sequences in all of lacrosse.  The Air Gait was a dive shot and for a long time, that was viewed as THE signature move for our sport.  It was kind of like the dunk in basketball in that it changed the game just a little, and it made offense that much more exciting.  Michael Watson really perfected the Dive Shot while at Virginia, and continued to display these aerobatic scoring moves in the MLL for the LA Riptide and Boston Cannons.

Michael Watson - the dive shot lacrosse
Watson diving for the Cannons.

Eventually the rule was changed to disallow a dive where a player landed in the crease for the sake of goalie protection.  You could still dive through the crease as long as didn’t land in it, but the rule change effectively killed the dive shot.  It still exists in the pro leagues, and in most box lacrosse versions of the game.

2) 6 Longsticks Allowed On The Field

Teams used to be able to load the field up with poles, and this REALLY discouraged teams from dodging.  Back then lacrosse was more of a passing game, but as the game evolved and stick technology made huge leaps and bounds, and dodging came to be more en vogue offensively, too many longsticks just slowed the game down too much.

Eventually, the number of longsticks allowed on the field was reduced to 4, and the birth of the specialized LSM and SSDM positions was complete.  This rule change has led to midfielders dodging more and attackmen dodging less.  During Summer tourneys and Masters games, 6 poles is often still allowed.  And for people who have never seen it before, it definitely changes the game.

3) No Clearing Clock

In International lacrosse you don’t have to clear the ball under any set time.  Teams can sometimes be seen passing the ball back and forth in their defensive end for minutes on end in FIL games.  And the exact same thing used to happen in NCAA lacrosse as well.  Teams would take forever to clear the ball, and wait for good one on one match ups to make the clear happen.  This conservative approach to clearing slowed the game down a lot, and took takeaway defensemen largely out of the equation.

Perth+90+faceoff USA australia lacrosse lax Fred Opie
International lax in 1990.

Photo courtesy the AMAZING Roots Of The Game Blog, by Dr. Fred Opie.

4) The Armadillo

The Armadillo existed for one game.  It had been legal for years, but no one had done it.   Washington & Lee was the team to see the hole in the rule, and they used it during one game to nearly pull off one of the biggest upsets ever.  Basically, Team A scores a goal, regains possession and then (winning 1-0) forms a circle of players who lock arms AROUND the ball carrier, and then holds onto the rock for the rest of the quarter.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Thankfully, the lacrosse powers that be changed the rule immediately, and the Armadillo died almost as soon as it was born.

5) 12 Men On A Longer Field

WAY back in the day, when lacrosse was first re-organized by white people, 12 men were allowed on the field, and the field was a bit longer than it is today.  This rule is really significant because it shows the overall change from a game of hundreds of players on a huge field, to a game that is organized like most other team field sports.  Knocking two more players off the field at a time, and shrinking the field made lacrosse more mainstream, and more understandable for the general population.

It was a sign of continued change to come, and represented the assimilation of lacrosse into Western culture, which, regardless of placement on my list, probably makes it the most important change of all.


  1. Follow up on the Armadillo:

    The armadillo play had them send out a player w/ a SUPER deep pocket on a sawed off goalie stick.  Since there is no rule about pocket depth on a goalie stick they could use this stick to keep the ball in the bottom of the stick and even harder to dislodge. Their actual goalie still had to have a stick so he had an normal short stick, but he wasn’t going to face any shots anyway so no big deal.

  2. have been involved in the game for a long long time and haven’t come across a goalie that suffered a serious injury on a dive by an offensive player.  Not saying they don’t exist, but there definitely was never an epidemic that required a rule change. 

  3. For the dive, wasn’t there a time when the rule was you could dive into the crease as long as you would land outside the crease if you were to keep going?  So the Air Gait was fine because you would land in front of the goal if you could keep going, or diving across the front of the goal so you would land on the other side.  It was only illegal if you would land in the goal.  

  4. I remember facing off in the mid to late 80’s and the sticks were touching with the ball put in between the pockets.  You could let the opposing mid clamp on your stick and then pull stright up and snag the ball out of the air.  I also remember if you went down first lefty then the other guy would have to face off lefty as well.