John Galloway Sliding 2017 NCAA Rules
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2017 NCAA Rules Proposals Reaction

2017 NCAA Rules change proposals are out? Let’s get into it!

Just as we in the field lacrosse world are recovering from a wild end to the MLL season and getting ready for the MLL Championship between Denver and Ohio, the NCAA dropped a big old bomb on us on Monday evening. In what has become an offseason tradition, the NCAA rules committee either proposes or modifies the existing rules, typically based around pace of play.

They have tinkered with shot clocks, face off processes, stringing rules, etc. Some things stick, other do not. What remains constant? A heated reaction from the lacrosse community.

towson vs loyola
Photo Credit: Craig Chase

If you took a look at Twitter on Monday evening around dinner time on the east coast, the lacrosse world resembled Chicken Little running around during Y2K if there was also a zombie apocalypse. The sky was falling as civilization crumbled and there were not enough Twinkies to go around. Most of this was because of a proposed two point shot in NCAA lacrosse, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

First, I want to review who is on this edition of the rules committee, per NCAA.com:

Committee Chair: Robert L. Scalise, Harvard AD, Brown Lacrosse alum, 2x All-American, Harvard Head Coach 1974-1987

Bob Shillinglaw, Delaware Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach

Dino Mattessich, Hofstra Deputy AD, Maryland Captain & National Champion, Maryland Head Coach, UMBC Head Coach

John Svec, Siena Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach

Vince Smith, Colorado Mesa (DII) Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach

Josh MacArthur, Former Babson College AD, Previously Hopkins Associate AD & coaches youth lacrosse

Doug Misarti, Kenyon College (DIII) Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach

Marty Watters, University of the South (DIII) Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach

I bring this up because I feel it is important to be aware of who is on this otherwise faceless committee. It is not just a group of administrators who watch some game film and throw around some crazy ideas to see what kind of reaction they get. Most are current college coaches, meaning they play under the current rules and will have to play under new rules. Most of the administrators also boast some more than solid resumes in the sport as well, which should give most people some reassurance that their lacrosse mind brains are in the right place.

Photo Credit: Craig Chase

What I really find interesting about the job of this committee, is that they are tasked with being as forward thinking as possible in order to innovate the game, enhance player safety, and as they love to state “increase the pace of play”. Often times, this pace of play means coming up with ways to curb specialization and bring back the two way middies (Long Live the Two Way Middies!).

The paradox that they’re in though is that people often use the term “traditionalist” or “fundamentalist” when describing the lacrosse fan who fights things like two point arcs and shot clocks. But many of these rules to increase scoring and pace of play are designed to bring lacrosse back to the way it used to be played where it was fast with high turnover rates and fewer specialization. So in some ways, they’re trying to introduce new ideas to bring back old lacrosse. It’s all very weird.

Anyway, the proposals were broken into two main areas. First up are the proposals going to the NCAA Oversight Panel for inclusion in the 2017 season. The second is the set of experimental rules that teams can run during fall ball and provide feedback on their effectiveness. I’ll list each rule and my take on the intent, what the good parts of it are, and what the potential negatives are.

Proposals for 2017 NCAA Rules Changes:

“During the faceoff procedure, game officials will center the ball 5 inches from the middle of the head of each faceoff player’s stick. The rules proposal aims to make the officiating mechanic clear and consistent for each faceoff and to enhance the fairness of the faceoff play.”

Intent: Make refs’ lives easier.

loyola beats virginia
Photo Credit: Craig Chase

Benefits: By having a set distance from the ball, it should be easier to line up the heads at the faceoff, and create a more even playing field. This standardizes positioning, and makes it easier to judge all the other stuff going on (parallel to the line, hands off the plastic, etc.).

Why It’s Crazy: Sure it creates a different guide, but they still need to line up the heads at the scoop, so the refs are still going to be moving sticks around prior to the faceoff.

My Take: I don’t agree that this makes the mechanics easier for the officials, but that may be due to my lack of officiating experience. What I really think they’re trying to do here is limit quick clamps and increase the amount that players will need to push or sweep the ball out. This may not only not help officials that much, but could make for slightly longer scrums as faceoff players will probably be fighting for a clean clamp more often.

“The committee also recommended a proposal that corrects a loophole in the timeout rules. Under the proposal, calling a timeout will also satisfy the clearing rule. Previously, if a team called timeout, the clearing rule remained in effect and the team in possession had 30 seconds to advance the ball into the attack area. It has become a tactic by the team in possession to waste time, particularly late in a game or half, which the committee felt was not in the spirit of the rules.”

Intent: Make the implications of timeouts clearer

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan
Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan

Benefits: If you call a timeout while clearing, the 30 second clock to clear goes off. This will make it easier for both coaches and officials to know their situation coming out the timeout. It also prevents the stalling situations mentioned.

Why It’s Crazy: I’m sure there’s a scenario out there that makes this a terrible idea, but I can’t think of it right now.

My Take: Sure! Why not? This is the type of stuff I expect from the rules committee. Technical evaluation of gameplay rules to simplify and fully describe what’s going on.

They also noted that:

“The committee spent a considerable amount of time discussing its rules focused on safety, stalling rules and the dive play. The group reviewed several video examples and ultimately believed the current rules are serving the game well and officials generally are enforcing the rules properly. Continued educational materials for officials and coaches are planned for the upcoming season.”

Intent: They acknowledged the areas that they considered, but opted not to change anything.

Benefits: No drastic changes in the game, so things are relatively the same (except for the changes above).

Why It’s Crazy: NO DIVE?!?! STILL?!?!

My Take: I want the dive back in NCAA like the Ninja Turtles want more pizza. Also, there’s no shot clock coming. I’m OK with that.

Army Vs. Navy Lacrosse
Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan

2017 Experimental Rules:

Now here is where people started going crazy. Let me remind you, these are EXPERIMENTAL rules, and nothing is set in stone. Nothing is even set in styrofoam.

“Two-point goals. This experimental rule awards two points if a team scores within 30 seconds of gaining possession. After 30 seconds have elapsed, normal rules will apply. If a team calls a timeout, the offensive team shall not be awarded two points. This experimentation includes a variety of timing options (visible shot clock, etc.).”

Intent: Increase the urgency when a team gains possession to theoretically cause more unsettled situations.

Benefits: This would really change the game quite a bit. What this would allow is reward teams who push the ball down the field and try to score with defenders, defensive middies, and two way middies leading the charge. Especially in close games, teams will take more risks instead of holding for the last shot. The first looks will be to clear and score instead of getting to the sub box. Defensively, it encourages an aggressive coaching style for teams to believe in the 10 man ride or just an higher pressure.

syracuse albany 2016
Photo Credit: Jeff Melnik

If you lose the ball on offense, gaining the ball back will create a new possession, which means a quick score results in two points. Those 10-15% of clears that fail could pay huge dividends for the other team. Also, can you imagine the momentum swings with a hot faceoff guy dominating at the X? Two FOGO goals (FOGOals?) in a row would mean a 4 point swing. This COULD all be exciting.

Why It’s Crazy: This rule is just trolling the “MLL is better” crowd and trolling them hard. The two point arc is seen as a great tool to extend defenses, which will open up space for offenses to operate. This is not that. This has a couple of big negative aspects. The first is it can reward conservative coaches (the ones who are slowing down the game in the first place) who will try to get their main defense on ASAP to stop shooting opportunities in that first thirty seconds of a possession.  With no arc and just time to worry about, defenses will just pack in the crease area and only allow outside shots, which will be tougher for defenders to want to pull the trigger on. It can also turn exciting overtime games of today into regulation games and what I really don’t like is that it can create big time routs like we haven’t seen before.

If you take the amazing D1 Championship from this past year, North Carolina tied it late with a great comeback, then it went into overtime where they came away with the title. What would have happened with this rule in place? Instead of a 13-13 tie at the end of regulation, Maryland two goals within 30 seconds compared to UNC’s one means Maryland comes away with the championship in regulation. What’s worse for UNC? That game tying goal happened 31 seconds into the possession… so close. This also means that teams may take worse shots if they’re close to the thirty just to take them. This may actually decrease overall scoring.

With regards to routs, if a team doesn’t show up to play, they are going to have a bad day. This is a regular occurrence in NCAA ball as teams are NOT evenly matched from top to bottom across the country. Parity is getting stronger, but it’s still not there. Even for great programs, a bad day will be so much worse. Remember the pathetic Syracuse performance against Notre Dame this past year in the Carrier Dome? The Irish were firing on all cylinders while the Orange had opted to walk. The result was a 17-7 smothering of the Orange at home. If this rule was in place it would have been 23-7. A 16 point home defeat by nothing more than a rule change assuming all else is equal (even though in reality it wouldn’t be). That just doesn’t feel right.

Johns Hopkins vs Towson men's lacrosse 44

Also, can you IMAGINE the reactions from coaches when a goal is scored 28-32 seconds into a possession? Absolute fury would reign when it was even close to a 30 second call. And how hard is that for the refs to call? End of quarter/game goals are hard calls to make. Do we really want to add more of those into the game?

My Take: I give the committee points for creativity here, and this is just an experimental rule. I hope some teams try it, collect some data, and give it to the committee to review. If nothing else, it gives them more information to look through in the future, but I really don’t see this ever actually happening. What’s wrong with trying a two point arc instead, though? The MLL has been around for 15 years using one. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to give it a shot?

“Restricted offensive area. The committee would like to have a variety of areas (attack area, extended attack area with an arc in the middle of the field, etc.) utilized as an option to see how it impacts offensive play.  For this rule, once offensive teams have moved the ball into the restricted offensive area, they would not be allowed to move it back out, thus preventing teams from stalling.”

Intent: See how changes in the area that an offense can operate will affect their pace of play and stalling.

Benefits: If you shrink the area for an offense to operate, you’re going to really reward the teams that can operate in more of a box lacrosse style of offense. High picks, utilizing tight spaces, moving the ball instead of dodging into space and drawing a slide, etc. This could really change the way lacrosse gets played and put a TON of pressure on the offense to perform or lose the ball. It also would eliminate the whole “I’m going to walk back to midfield and start my dodge from up there so I get 15 yards of momentum before I start my dodge” play that is oh so popular. Also, If a team doesn’t trust their offense, they may also try to get their points in transition instead, before a 6v6 defense can get set up.

really like lacrosse_unc_syracuse teams must lose
Photo Credit: Ryan Conwell

Why It’s Crazy: While this puts pressure on the defense, it highly rewards a conservative defensive approach. Yes, an aggressive scheme can be put in place that tries to trap players, like in basketball, and force them out of the offensive area, but that would be a huge liability as it requires a double or triple team at the limit of the defensive area. It also severely limits or even eliminates alley and downhill dodging which is kind of a hallmark of field lacrosse vs. box.

My Take: Honestly, I would love to see this play out. Depending on how this offensive area gets drawn up and how teams use it, things could be really interesting.

“Ten-yard substitution area. The committee would like to study the impact of a smaller substitution box (10 yards), particularly looking at whether more offensive transition opportunities are created with a smaller box.”

Intent: Make subbing more difficult so players on the field feel forced to make plays in transition instead of subbing off for offensive specialists.

Benefits: They changed this rule to a larger box a few years ago to increase place of play. Teams still regularly sub through the midfield and draw out possession quite a bit. If we go back to this style of substitution happening more, you will likely have more opportunities for all three players in transition to be on offense and push unsettled situations more.

Why It’s Crazy: They just got rid of this a few years ago! Teams still run subs through the midfield in settled situations and this also makes it harder for teams to do sub box clears where they throw the ball further down the field to a guy coming on, where he then gets into a foot race vs. the other team.

My Take: I really don’t like this one. I’m not sure what advantages are really going to be realized through this. Did a longer box really change how the game is played? No. Would switching back to a shorter box do more? I doubt it.

“Communication devices for on-field officials. Many sports (e.g., field hockey, soccer, football, etc.) are using headsets for officials to communicate during play. The committee believes this could be beneficial in men’s lacrosse. It would like to collect information on the cost, availability and quality of such devices.”

Intent: Enhance communication performance through more technology on the field.

Benefits: It’s 2016. You can make communication devices that are durable, weather resistant, lightweight, and reliable. Why are refs still running 40 yards across the field to have a conference about clock management in the middle of a game, or argue over who saw what? Technology is good and can create a better flow to the game.

Why It’s Crazy: Not all technology is reliable and things are bound to go wrong, creating thousands of dollars worth of electronics that could go unused.

My Take: Do it! I’m not sure it needs to be mandatory across all levels, but I would like to see individual conferences offer this to their officials. Conferences who see the benefits and have the cash could make the investment for their games to run smoother. The NCAA should then do this for all their postseason play.

So there you have it. Hopefully this calmed you down/riled you up some more! These potential rule changes and experiments sure are interesting! With any luck, this gave you some different perspectives to consider, and I know for sure that I did not include everything. Feel free to hit me up in the comments below with other pros/cons or find me on Twitter (@RyConw and @LaxAllStars) where we can have a series of short exchanges in which we can’t properly explain what we’re thinking, but get kind of close.