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Lafayatte at Army West Point D1 NCAA Lacrosse 2017 Photo: John Marjoribanks / SIxThreeOne Photography college lacrosse

College Lacrosse is Bonkers! Did the Club Scene Fix It? Is it Fixed?

It seems like college lacrosse got better over the past two years! Was it the rules? Maybe club lacrosse? Is it perfect?

The college lacrosse scene is bonkers right now. I’ve had as many as five screens going on a Saturday afternoon and if I had more roommates to borrow iPads from, I would have that many more screens going. We’re seeing tighter battles across the board and unfamiliar names dotting the Top 20.

Binghamton is knocking at the door with an 8-1 record. Didn’t see that coming. Syracuse might have taken the throne with their regicidal win over Notre Dame last week. Rutgers, Albany, UNC and Hopkins are as good or bad as the breakfast they eat that morning, and who the frig knows what’s up with Maryland, per usual.

It’s awesome. The uncertainty of who’s going to take down who, the comebacks, the barnburners, and the plethora of overtimes we’ve been treated to this season. I love it.

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Amazing, By Criteria

It is my position and opinion that men’s NCAA lacrosse is one of the best products in sport right now. If we boil it right down, the only things I really care about are 20-30+ goal games and how tight those games are. Sure, there are some 8-7 thrillers, and those are going to happen. I’m saying that if I turn on five games on Saturday, three are going to be amazing by my criteria.

Does that mean we’ve got a perfect product? Have we done it? In the past decade the rule book has been overhauled a half dozen times, and thus we’ve seen teams play to that rule book as many times.

The sticks are different (kinda), the way we have to string these sticks is different (kinda), and how officials govern the pace of play is totally new and different.

Power to the Players

So what changed? Why were there few/no changes to the rules after an amazing 2016 season? Why are we having an equally as amazing 2017 season?

Is it in the rules? I’ll argue that the NCAA set of rules is the best set of rules that can encompass a league the size of the NCAA (Div I,II, III), but I’ll also argue that it isn’t the rulebook that have produced a stellar past couple of seasons.

I think the governing body helped, but the real ones to thank are the players.

Denver Takes D1 Title WestTake the National Championship a couple of years back. Denver won, 10-5, over Maryland. It wasn’t fun to watch. Super slow possessions, with at least ten substitutions per team before the rock could be passed around six times. I was there, and I hated it.

What we have now is a return of the power to the player. Natural scorers like Connor Fields, Ben Reeves, and Kyle Marr are getting the green light to do essentially whatever they want. We have guys like Sergio Salcido, Joel Tinney, and Ryder Garnsey who couldn’t be more diverse players, but they’re getting to do what they want within the confines of loosely structured offenses.

Why is this important? Because I think that if you’ve got a team like a 2015 Denver and a 2015 Maryland who just want to sit back and play that slow game, I think you’re going to see the teams who are willing to live and die in transition flourish. Maybe not every time, we’ve certainly seen Albany’s whirling dervish offense implode with turnovers. We’ve all shown up to college presentations and just winged it. Sometimes you win, sometimes you crash and burn.

Those Damn Kids

Syracuse Orange UAlbany Great Danes Lacrosse NCAA 2016 Photo: Jeff Melnik

Then there’s the mysterious case of the magical freshmen class of 2017. Why are such young players having such a huge impact? Well, I don’t have a great answer. The closest semblance to an answer is two-fold. I’m going to begrudgingly thank the two worst things on the planet; Instagram and the evil creature that is club lacrosse.

Showcase events are unbelievably popular now, and while I think they’re totally unnecessary 99% of the time, they HAVE bred a new tier of scoring machines. These kids aren’t being taught to play to the rules of the game, they’re being programmed to score as many goals as possible in the allotted time. They aren’t going to get that free ride to Hopkins for playing keep away for five minutes at a time are they?

The other factor is Instagram/the internet as a whole. We can mindlessly scroll and watch awesome clips of lacrosse games from players of all ages from all over the world for as long as we want. In a sheer numbers game, are you going to see more highlights from a 10-5 snore fest or are you going to be inundated with a clip from an 18-17 OVERTIME game between Hopkins and Virginia? Virginia lost and they scored more goals than both teams combined in the 2015 National Championship. We all want to be on the highlight reel. It’s the highlight reel! How do you get on the highlight reel? You gotta score a ton of goals!

How Did We Let This Happen?

Haven’t we always wanted to score more goals to get recruited? Haven’t we always wanted to score more goals even if it was to just get our name in the paper? Yes, and yes, of course. The game hasn’t changed, but things aren’t like they were even ten years ago. When we played in tournaments, we played to win the game with your teammates you grew up with. If we were up two goals with two minutes left, we’re going to take the air out of the ball and play for the win. It’s a tournament and we want to advance.

Now we have these festival style tournaments, and a kid might barely know the names of the two guys he’s running on a midfield line with. There’s no glory in playing for the win if there’s no advancement, and if you’re at a college showcase, you’re there to show YOUR SKILLS off to a college coach.

So we’ve got a new breed of scoring killers that are only going to get better at what they do. We’ve also got a stall call to threaten to use at our officials’ discretion. We’re pushing for more goals. From a very basic standpoint, we want you to do what you’re going to do as an offense. You’re going to score, or you’re not going to score. In the case that you’re NOT going to score, I’d prefer you to hurry up and get off the pot. Let’s get the ball to the other team already, so we can watch them try to score.

Figuring Out The Goals

So have we created the perfect atmospheric condition for this game to breathe in? Is there a better set of rules out there in one of the infinite parallel universes? Maybe. Maybe not. Quite the solid stance I take here, isn’t it?

For argument’s sake, I think we’re very close. We still need to give some modicum of power back to the defense. Even though the pace has picked up, we’re still taking (x) amount of time to sub on special O-middie robots to play against special D-middie robots.

I’m in favor of a solid shot clock, and I’m in favor of reinstating the good ole “winning team has to keep it in the box under two minutes”. The current rules are great, and we’ve seen some great lacrosse because of them, but we’re still missing the chaos and the pace that we all know and love.

A 60-90 second shotclock from the time you pick the ball up, with the requirement of getting the ball in the box within 30 seconds still in place. We’ll see more two-way middies, more longsticks playing O, and teams with much more direct strategies for scoring.

Why change it? If you admit that it isn’t broken? Why change it?

Fairness. My biggest argument against the current stall call rule is that it’s totally discretionary, and there are all sorts of factors that might change an official’s opinion as to apply the timer or not. Is the team leading? How much time is left? Are they still subbing? Is that my problem? If they sub through their entire bench twice, they’re still technically subbing… do I really want to put a stall call on? I cut my foot on a rock yesterday and I’d prefer not to run any more than I have to.

That’s Too Much!

From an officiating standpoint, let’s let the boys call pushes when there are pushes, and call a crease a crease. I want to take as much discretion off their backs as possible.

Sketchy voice of NCAA rulebook: “Brian, there’s a rule we can apply, when we feel like it, that says you have to take a shot on goal in 30 seconds, or less.”

Okay, simple, I understand the rule.

Sketchy voice of NCAA rulebook: “You can do whatever you want out there. BUT, if one, two, or three officials get bored with you playing catch, or the game is almost over and they want the other team to have an opportunity to come back, they’ll put on a 30 second shot clock… once they’ve all made eye contact and tried to communicate with weird hand signals… or not.”

…..sure?

Here’s a wild concept. Have a rule, not a discretionary guideline that turns into a rule when the official decides to make it so.

Get It In, Keep It In

The other edit I mentioned was the reinstatement of the “keep it in under two minutes if your team is up” rule from the days of yesteryear. What was wrong with it? Give the D a chance to get aggressive and create a turnover. Having the goalie come out and lock someone off or having the goalie double, also known as a “Red Dog” (in my neck of the wood) was once a very effective strategy. Honestly, it was exciting and a lot of fun for both teams.

Now we’re having a goalie run 20 yards from his goal to cover the closest attackman and giving the offense 50% of a 110 yard field to work with? And MAYBE you’ll get a pity call from the officials and they’ll institute a shot clock? Then you kinda just wander around while valuable time runs off the clock?

Great. Thanks, boys!

Rant Over

This has been an interesting exploration into my thoughts and opinions on the current climate of college lacrosse, a theory on why we’re seeing bigger numbers on scoreboards, and two quick potential fixes that might make it even better.

Does any of what I just said makes sense? It did when I was typing it. If I read this back to myself tomorrow I might delete the whole thing and call myself names. It made the cut. It’s an opinion I have right now, and I think it has some potential validity (again, right now).

I’d love to have some feedback. I like to think we have one of the better track records of being down-to-earth guys who are ALWAYS interested in having conversations regarding the game and how it’s growing/changing. We don’t just want to hear your opinions, we want to talk with you about them.

Seriously, there’s nothing that makes college lacrosse opinions more valid than yours. I just wrote mine down and I’m putting them out there in a public forum.

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