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Syracuse vs. Army men's lacrosse 29
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Good Rules And New Field Lines: Are They Better Than A Shot Clock?

As we predicted in our weekend recap, the Notre Dame – Penn State 4-3 OT game precipitated a small outburst of calls for the shot clock.  I don’t love an argument based on just a couple of games (or just one game!) but I can see the point there on some level.  8 stall warnings against one team does seem excessive, but also clearly not that effective.  But is the shot clock the only answer to the issue of slow-down or low-scoring lacrosse (the two are not always the same)?

Or is there another, simpler solution out there?

Now I’m not pro or antishot clock.  I definitely see some of the benefits, and I can easily see how improper implementation could result in new problems, or how cost can be factored in to the decision.  I’m conservative on the issue, but not sold 100% either way.

Syracuse vs. Army men's lacrosse 29
The end of Cuse - Army would have been different with a shot clock.

The slowing down of the game is seen as a problem by many, even though it’s long been a part of the game.  New rules have been created over the years to keep the game flowing, but do we really need to go to a shot clock in the next iteration?  In the past you could put 6 poles on the field, now you can’t.  This was done to create more scoring chances.  There used to be no clearing time limit.  Now there is and teams are forced to advance the ball.  The list goes on and on.

But NONE of those rules changed the game as drastically as adding a shot clock would.  So it’s worth it to see if there are other answers out there.

Here is one possible way to change the rules, without adding in more technology, clocks or costs:

Rule Change #1:

Once a team enters the offensive end, they have to be in possession of the ball inside the box, as they are forced to now by “touching it in”.  They can then move the ball outside the box to a teammate and sub their players.  However, once the offensive team enters the box for a SECOND time, with possession of the ball, the stall warning rules come into effect, meaning the offensive team must keep the ball in the box for the rest of their possession.

Rule Change #2:

The shape of the restraining box is changed. The restraining line would have to move towards midfield by 5 yards, creating a slightly larger box for possessions and dodging.

These two very simple rule changes could accomplish a couple of very important things.

First off, teams could no longer work the ball around 30 or 40 yards away from the cage during a possession without being harassed at all by the defense.  This makes routine plays more important, and the chance for takeaways much greater.  It also forces offensive players to be skilled, and not just athletic ball carriers.

Secondly, teams would still be able to hold the ball on long possessions, like they do now.  But they would have to do so in tighter spaces and on every single possession.  By forcing a team to get off a shot quickly, you open the door to having only athletic monsters on D, replacing many of the high IQ players of today.  The hard part on D isn’t staying with your guy for a minute or 45 seconds, it’s paying attention for 2 to 3 minutes as the other team runs their offense.

A third bonus is that you would see fewer pure athletes just pulling the ball out up top and dodging.  Honestly, the one on one dodge from up top is kind of boring lacrosse.  A team gets it around, moves the ball well, and then throws it up to a kid up top who dodges looking to shoot.  If he doesn’t have anything, rinse, repeat.  It’s safe lacrosse, but it’s boring to watch.  And too many teams rely on this offense these days, so I have no problem seeing it go the way of the Dodo.  Truly athletic and skilled players will still be able to get a good dodge in, as the restraining line has moved up, but the 15 yard run up to a dodge will be much less common.  That’s a good thing.

Finally, by not adding a shot clock, we can still see exciting endings to games where possessions are KEY, like Denver – OSU, or Army – Cuse.  Some of the best action in those games came at the end, when the winning teams had to keep it in the box, trying to weather the defensive storm.  As the seconds ticked down, each opportunity became more and more important, and you could feel the intensity ratcheting up a notch.  By using the rule changes I laid out above, we’d still get this type of action, but we wouldn’t have to wait for the refs to initiate the stall warning, because it would pop up right away.  In fact, we could even see intense end of game action in the first quarter if a team really wants to press on D.

One of the reasons that people often advocate for the shot clock is that refs are too varied in their implementation and interpretation on the topic of the stall warning.  I don’t think people give the refs enough credit here, but for the sake of argument, let’s say the pro-shot clock people are right, and the refs don’t need to make any more judgement calls.  Well my two rule changes work perfectly in that regard as well.  Once a player steps in the box for the second time, the stall warning goes into effect.  Simple, no judging required, no new clocks, and no new timers.

My two rule changes emphasize skill, the ability to control and possess the ball in tight spaces, while still allowing for long possessions.  These changes make the refs’ job easier, and take the burden of deciding when a team is stalling off their shoulders.  It could create a lot of transition, tough, extending defenses, and lots of pretty, action-filled goals.  It adds no new technology, doesn’t ask more of the refs, and keeps the game flowing, without putting somewhat arbitrary time barriers in the way.

Would my two rule changes make the sport of lacrosse a little different?  Sure they would.  But a shot clock would change the game a whole lot more.  You’d still get the dodges from up top, and teams might switch their personnel a little less, but overall I don’t think the shot clock is the way to go… at least not yet.  Lacrosse isn’t basketball, and we don’t need teams “forcing” shots.  But we do need the pressure to be on constantly, and by creating an instant stall warning, with a slightly larger box, it could help both aspects of the game thrive.

Here are some examples of how these new rules could impact the game:

– Team A clears the ball into their offensive end and touches the ball into the box. Team A player #1 passes the ball to player #2, who steps in the box and is met by a defender.  He is pushed out of the box.  Turnover the other way, fast whistle.

– Team A brings the ball down the field, and touches the box.  Moves the ball out of the box and then player #2 dodges into the box.  Player 2 passes the ball to a teammate, who is also inside the box.  Then player #2 steps outside the box without possession.  Team A retains possession. If the ball is passed back to player #2 while he is outside the restraining box, Team A loses possession.

– Team A brings the ball down the field, steps into the box, and keeps the ball in the box, moving it to X.  Team A subs a new player on at midfield.  The player at X throws the ball from X to the player up top at midfield.  Team A keeps the ball as this was their first pass outside the box.  When the midfield player steps back into the box or passes the ball into the box, it must stay in, or it will result in a turnover.

– Team A has the ball and the stall warning is on.  Team A shoots the ball, but it goes out along the sideline.  Team A is the closest to the ball.  Team A will start with the ball outside the box, but once they move it back into the box the stall warning goes back into effect, as this is viewed as a continuation of their earlier possession, but the ball had to put back in play.

– Team A has the ball and the stall warning is on.  Team A shoots the ball and misses with the ball going out on the end line.  Team A is closest to the ball.  Team A will start with the ball on the end line, and the stall warning will still be on.

Got Questions or Comments!  I’m sure you do!  Let me have it in the comments!