This past week, World Lacrosse approved the rules for the new 6v6 lacrosse format that will be used for international play, specifically as a pitch for the 2028 Olympic Games. There are a lot of changes made to the game for this one, including a smaller field, smaller rosters, no longsticks, and a massive decrease in faceoffs.
A new version of lacrosse exists now. Who will be the first to win it remains a mystery.
With a lot of changes coming as a part of this new format, I figured we’d dig in on some of the new changes and try to figure out where international lacrosse goes from here.
Breaking Down the World Lacrosse’s New 6v6 Lacrosse Format
#1: This Won’t Be the Lacrosse You’re Used To
That much should be obvious by the rule changes. The last time lacrosse was featured in the Olympics was way back in 1908. The next time it might get its shot, a full 120 years later, the game will look a lot different than it did back then.
A major change that seems to have been a focus here was to bring each format of lacrosse (men’s field, women’s field, box) into one hodgepodge game that the Olympics can call “lacrosse.” As such, you see rules from each game sort of jumbled together here to create this new format. Like in the indoor game, the on-field team size has been shrunk down to six (five runners and a goalie), with long sticks eliminated. The field has also been shrunk down to something more closely resembling an indoor field.
However, don’t expect this to be box outdoors. The second major change in bringing the various formats together for this 6v6 lacrosse concept has been to take contact down to resembling the women’s game, a massive change compared to the box roots of this rulebook. With “collisions” now outlawed, we’ll have to wait and see exactly how much contact will be allowed, but this drastically changes the way that the men’s side can defend. Assuming that current men’s sticks are allowed, a game featuring no long poles and little contact could bring about some ridiculously high scoring outcomes, given that defenses will be extremely limited in how they can win back the ball.
The final major change is that play will restart from the goalies after a goal, meaning there will only be four faceoffs each game. How a faceoff without contact works remains to be seen (could we see a women’s-style draw?), but it greatly reduces the impact that a faceoff specialist can have, meaning the likes of Trevor Baptiste will probably not be experiencing the Olympics.
#2: Who Benefits From These Changes?
The answer feels like “everybody but the USA and Canada.” Part of this 6v6 lacrosse format is targeted at bringing a greater level of parity to world lacrosse. As of now, you’d be hard pressed to find a team outside of the top four that can legitimately hang with North America’s blue bloods. While I personally don’t see how this should affect its Olympics chances (does nobody remember the Dream Team?), it’s definitely something that this ruleset takes aim at.
By limiting the rosters down so heavily, and by shrinking the number of players on the field, a nation only has to develop 6-12 elite players to compete rather than trying to keep up against 10-22. It’s a benefit to nations either newer to playing or that simply have a smaller population size. This sort of change could mean teams like Israel or England have a greater chance at making a real impact in the Blue Division considering they’re strong programs with past depth issues.
The biggest winner? Well, it feels extremely weird to say this, since my assumption is that they don’t love the rules being changed here, but I feel like it’s gotta be the Iroquois. This is assuming that they’re allowed to play, and that’s somehow still up for debate. But think about it: the Iroquois have a smaller population (by millions) than either the USA or Canada. Now, under these rules, they get to take their top 12 players, use all of the box stick skills without any of the box contact, and the faceoff no longer matters all that much. Imagining a lineup of, for example, Warren Hill in cage, with an offensive five of Lyle and Miles Thompson, Randy and Austin Staats, and Tehoka Nanticoke. If they get scored on, they can instantly push it in transition. Nobody is going to hit them passing or shooting? I have no idea how that group doesn’t average at least 20.
#3: Who Suffers From These Changes?
Not to be that guy for too long, but if I may have a minute to do so: everyone suffers. This isn’t lacrosse. I’m all for Olympic lacrosse, but changing the game entirely for everyone doesn’t seem like the way to get there. Is anybody legitimately happy with these changes? Did we need a men’s-women’s-box hybrid format, outside of maybe coed rec leagues?
Okay, negativity over. Who suffers from these changes? Well, first and foremost, field defensemen. If you look at the USA’s defense from the 2018 World Games, you’re probably looking at a bunch of guys who won’t be playing in this format. Tucker Durkin, Michael Ehrhardt, Joe Fletcher, and Jesse Bernhardt are all field-only guys. The odds that any of them make a 12-man roster of all shorties seems dubious. Given the format, one would assume that any defenders on the roster will either be SSDMs by trade or field poles who play short-stick defense in box.
Speaking of people whose jobs just got far less important, I think we can safely say goodbye to our FOGO friends in this format. With faceoffs only occurring at the beginning of quarters, I doubt anybody is bringing a FOS just so they have a better chance at four extra possessions, especially considering the miniscule roster sizes. If teams were still allowed 22 guys, I could see someone bringing one just for a potential OT situation, but I doubt anybody is spending 1/12th of their roster on a specialist this time.
The final loser? Goalies. This is basically like putting a field goalie and his 6×6 into a box game, then telling his defenders they have to play non-contact. Goalies are going to get absolutely shelled in this format. Also, as Washed Up Lax Bros pointed out, goalies can’t even legally score in this new format. Hard to find anything they’re going to like about this 6v6 lacrosse setup.
#4: The Access Problem Persists
We talked earlier about how this benefits countries without established lacrosse, in that it shrinks the number of elite players a nation must develop to compete with the big boys on the international level. Where I feel like these changes really take a hit, though, is that it doesn’t solve one of lacrosse’s most fundamental issues for accessibility: this sport is expensive as hell.
Nothing about this current 6v6 lacrosse idea, unless a further change comes in and cuts down on the required gear on the men’s side, actually makes the game all that more accessible. We’re still talking about hundreds of dollars in gear just to get going. As a coach in a non-hotbed area, I’ve made this point to my parent board a hundred times over: the biggest barrier to getting new lacrosse players isn’t anything to do with the rules of the game, its image, etc. The biggest barrier is the cost for new players to try things out.
If, say, the new format no longer required helmets, at least one could argue that the cost barrier is massively reduced. A new lacrosse helmet runs around $250, a steep price to pay for a new player wanting to try a sport. Think about soccer, for comparison. What do you really need to try out soccer? Basically, a pair of cleats and some shin guards. Sure, a new lacrosse player can buy a used helmet to save cost, but even buying used, we’re talking about a helmet, gloves, arm pads, shoulder pads, stick, cleats, and mouthguard to legally play the men’s game. That’s a lot of gear, and potentially a lot of money, to drop on seeing if someone likes a sport. Under these rules, the game may change, but the cost doesn’t.
Also, accessibility doesn’t change for new fans, either. If anything, I’d argue this makes it worse. A brand-new viewer who watches Olympic lacrosse and loves it is going to be disappointed to learn that nobody actually plays the game they just watched. They’re going to have to learn an entirely different ruleset just to properly understand any other form of lacrosse they then want to watch. If they want to actually play, they’re going to find that the format of lacrosse they liked isn’t played and that no version of the game routinely played in the world requires some major change from what they witnessed. Seems like a big loss for trying to bring in new players or viewers.
#5: Why Invent a New Version of Lacrosse?
If the goal here was just to limit the number of players on the roster to give smaller/newer national teams a fairer shake, why not just make Olympic lacrosse box lacrosse? The rules already exist. People already understand what box lacrosse is and how it’s played. With hockey already being an Olympic sport that remains pretty popular, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to say box lacrosse could be similar.
Box lacrosse doesn’t cure the cost problem (it actually adds a few pieces of gear) but neither does the new 6v6 lacrosse format, so that’s not exactly a concern. If the bigger worry was unifying the men’s and women’s game, why not just go with one or the other, rather than making a strange hybrid of both, and throwing in some box rules for flavor? We easily could’ve just finally started allowing men and women to legitimately play each other’s version of the game. There’s no fundamental reason why the two major versions of field lacrosse should be limited to one gender. I’ve played with plenty of female laxers who would much rather play under the men’s ruleset. I also know plenty of male players who would prefer to play the women’s game.
Nothing about gender inherently chooses a preferred version of lacrosse. If we take away the men’s/women’s tags, what we’re left with is basically just a differing opinion of what’s good about lacrosse. The “men’s” game is one where physicality and brawn are more rewarded. The game allows for more violence, and so it’s about playing in the chaos, learning how to best absorb contact and create it in order to open up plays. The “women’s” game is one where finesse is the law of the land. With the contact mostly removed, it becomes more about skill with the stick and the ability to do a difficult thing (catch/pass/shoot with an incredibly shallow pocket) in traffic and under pressure.
Either version would, in my mind, make for a better Olympic lacrosse than what we’ve gotten with this 6v6 lacrosse concept. Ditto for box lacrosse, which I still think would’ve been the best overall option. Nobody would have to fully invent a new game, and we wouldn’t be requiring every single player to suddenly learn a version of lacrosse they’ve never played. Pick the men’s game, we’d have half of lacrosse ready to go and half learning. Pick the women’s game, ditto. Pick box, and we’d have both, to some extent, as there is no “women’s” box, so all female indoor players already play under the same rules.
To summarize: we have three great, pre-existing versions of lacrosse. All of them reward certain aspects of the larger game. All of them come with their own centuries-long history. Rather than pick any of them to represent the sport at the Olympics, World Lacrosse invented a fourth one by taking (seemingly at random) various aspects of each. The result is a version of lacrosse that could be fun, but seems wildly unnecessary. Whether I’m proven wrong and this format turns out to be great remains to be seen. Maybe this will end up being an “old man yells at cloud” scenario. For now, though, color me unimpressed with these changes. Just play lacrosse, guys, and maybe try to find a few ways to lower the cost of playing while we’re at it.