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Hot Pot: Solving The Specialization Problem – One Rule

While the 2013 Rule Changes sped the game up, limited substitutions, and changed a number of small portions of the game, lacrosse is still lacrosse, and not all that much has really changed. College coaches still found ways to get their offensive players on the field during possessions, and their defensive players on during big stands. LSMs, FoGos, D-Mids, O-Mids… all of these specialty positions still exist, and now coaches just use them a little differently.

Fairfield Yale Lacrosse
Photo Credit: Greg Vasil

Of course even with all these changes, there are still some people out there who continue to lament the specialization aspect of the game, and they are coming up with some pretty crazy ideas on how to regulate this ongoing (in their eyes) problem.

Quint Kessenich does NOT want face offs removed from the game. BUT, he does think the FoGo has become too specialized. His proposed fix for the problem is that face off men can not leave the field until a goal has been scored or a change of possession has been created. This means both FoGos, for both teams, would have to stay on the field until a goal was scored or until there was a turnover. Why is this important to Quint? This is the reasoning behind his proposal:

Lacrosse has become a game of tightly-controlled possessions, no longer a free-flowing track meet. Fewer overall possessions add importance to owning the ball.

While I agree with his above claim, is Quint’s proposed solution really the kind of thinking that will get rid of specialization? Will this type of rule change make lacrosse more attractive to fans? Will it simplify the game and make it flow better?

No. No. And no. Allow me to explain why this approach is so flawed.

Notre dame jacksonville lacrosse
Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan

First off, like the 2013 rule changes, D1 coaches will find ways around it. I don’t think they will create turnovers on purpose to get their FoGos off, but a SIMPLE answer here is to have your FoGo lock one of their players off if you are on D. Play 5 on 5 D on the rest of the guys. Offensive coaches probably wouldn’t want there FoGos handling the ball so they would pull their guy out to the side (if the other team followed) or just throw him on the crease and play a 4 on 4 box. Teams could just have their FoGos cover the other team’s FoGos. It would not force coaches to USE these guys… just keep them on the field, and that means nothing.

You want another HUGE problem for this proposal? Cuse wins the face off. They put two poles on the wing. Daddio goes back on DEFENSE for Cuse, and locks off an opposing attackman. The SSDM that was locked on to that attackman goes off, an O-mid goes on, and the LSMs comes off and two more O-Mids go on the field. Cuse now has six offensive players on the field, Daddio is locking off an attackman (he’s still “on the field”), and this entire concept is ruled ineffective and full of holes. I came up with this fix in 2 minutes. I am not currently a D1 head coach (but maybe I should be!). Think of what those guys would come up with! Of course it doesn’t stop there…

The second major problem with this proposal is that it adds in another arcane, small scale, lacrosse-only rule. Imagine if hockey had a rule where the guy who took the face off needed to stay on the ice until a goal was scored or until there was a turnover. How would the refs keep track of that efficiently? Would you need ANOTHER official just to track that? It seems overly burdensome for the people in the stripes.

The third major problem with this proposed rule change is that fans would have no idea of what was going on. A big knock on lacrosse (which Quint has pointed out himself) is how complicated the rules can be to new viewers. Chasing a shot on the end line is bizarre to new fans. Can you imagine trying to explain the nuances of why only ONE specialty player needs to stay on the field until a goal or turnover? That is literally a nightmare for Growing The Game, brining in new fans, refs, and players.

This proposed rule is a) not foolproof, b) confusing and limiting, and c) doesn’t Grow The Game. It is far too specific, and does absolutely nothing to address the issue of specialization overall. It’s a band aid on a much larger problem that requires surgery to fix, and honestly, I’m a little shocked that Quint’s proposal is even being talked about in a serious way by anyone (even me!). The problems with this proposal are just so evident… it’s a real head scratcher.

But there is an answer, and thankfully, it’s actually really simple! Are you ready for it? Because here it is:

Limit Roster Sizes.

One rule, so simple, so easy to implement, and it makes total sense. Let’s get into this!

There is no reason any college team needs to dress 44 players for a game. Teams play 20-25 guys at most in tight and competitive games, so we can start right there. Limiting roster sizes to 23 players (like the FIL does) is a no brainer that would definitely cut down on specialization. If you don’t have 5 D-Mids to choose from and don’t have 4 FoGos to choose from, these specialty players need to show value in “other” places… or they need to be VERY good at what they do.

The second piece of my equation means that FoGos could easily still exist under my above scenario. If they are good enough, they will find a spot on a 23-man team, and just take face offs. It happens on Team USA and Team Canada already… But who says we have to keep the limit at 23? Why can’t we go lower?

Duke Beats Syracuse 16-10 For Division 1 title.
Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan

The 23 man roster allows international teams to play 7 games in 10 days, and the roster is LOCKED in after Day 1. NO D1 school plays that many games in that many days. That means 23 is probably too high for a college lacrosse team. Why not drop it down to 20? Why not go a little lower? I can tell you from personal experience that the lower numbers approach works in a major way. I’ve seen it, and it’s awesome.

I lived in Perth, Australia, in 2001 and played for the Wembley LC. We played in the WA State League against East Fremantle, Bayswater, Subiaco, and Wannerroo. Each club selected 15 players each weekend for their Division 1 team, and then we went out and did battle. In my first game against Bayswater, I played LSM, SSDM, O-Mid, Attack, Close D, and took 2 face offs. Even though we lost that game I remember coming off the field thinking that I had just played in one of the best games of my life. I was 100% spent, but had played a ton of lacrosse. It was heaven and there were no specialized players on any of the teams.

Photo Courtesy WA Lacrosse
Photo Courtesy WA Lacrosse

While down in Australia I played against Matt Schomburg, of, who was playing for East Freo at the time. In the US, Schommy was a FoGo. In Australia, Schommy was a dominant midfielder, who also never lost a face off. The ONE difference? In the US, Schommy played on a 40 man roster. In Australia he played on a 15 man roster. He had the skills, as many FoGos of today do, but COACHES wouldn’t use him more.

The basic set up for college is that teams would keep their 40-50 man rosters, and all of these players would be “on the team,” and would practice daily. However, on game day, only a select 15 (or 17 or 19 or some number under 20) players would dress, and that honor would be HUGE. If you dress, you’re going to play. Imagine how much that could mean to programs? Remaining roster players could play a JV game that week, and travel with the team. Heck, run the JV game before the varsity game! That means 30 guys would get in a full game of lacrosse each weekend… that’s more than get to play now!

Instead of having 25 guys who stand on the sideline and never play, some of those guys could play on the JV team and actually get some run. If your strongest argument against my theory is that sideline players would be hurt by not being able to stand on the sideline, then get out of here right now. You have no idea what you’re talking about. Standing on the sidelines in fresh gear is simply not what college sports are all about.

Umass lacrosse
Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan

Now, if a player gets injured, you can replace him for next week with another player from the program who didn’t dress the week before. If a guy is struggling, maybe you give someone else a shot next week. It puts a lot of the emphasis back on coaches coaching and players playing. Player #1 makes a mistake? Well, you can’t just yank him and put him on the bench, because then you’d only have 14 players left! So not only would this rule cut down on specialization in a HUGE way, it would also make college lacrosse more of a player’s game. Overcoaching; isn’t that another constant complaint?

Major League Lacrosse has cut their rosters down, and we do see players take on slightly more diverse roles for their teams. Matt Abbot at Cuse was a D-Mid… in Chesapeake, he’s just a midfielder, albeit an awesome one. Stephen Peyser is an all around midfielder. Jeremy Thompson is one. Kyle Harrison will be another this Summer. These guys aren’t JUST throwbacks, they are also asked to do more, because the rules require it. Want to get rid of pure FoGos in the MLL? Cut roster sizes down to 15. It’s a magic number!

Lacrosse does have some issues, but almost all of them can be fixed with ONE SIMPLE CHANGE: Limit roster sizes to less than 20 player and you will see a change. I’ve seen it happen before, and it can happen again. We can keep tinkering with the rules, and distancing our game from its original inception, OR we can limit roster sizes and let the players play. It really is a simple choice.