After a great weekend (and now the MCLA tourney) of college lacrosse, and lots of spots on SportsCenter’s Top Ten, I felt like lacrosse was in a good place and poised to have a great month. And then a new video hit youtube and all that was lost.
Deadspin found a box lacrosse brawl video featuring a bunch of 16 and 18 year old kids from Canada and called it “Canadian Lacrosse Brawl Is Best Lacrosse Brawl“, and now that is the lacrosse people outside of the sport are talking about. Not the real athletes playing in college, not the pros heading to the finals, but a bunch of teenagers brawling under the guise of a lacrosse game.
I’ve said it before, and now that I’ve played full contact box lacrosse, I’ll say it again… Fighting is STUPID. And completely unnecessary.
It does nothing for the sport of lacrosse overall in terms of bringing in new, legitimate fans, and it turns many field lacrosse people away from box lacrosse, who might otherwise be interested. Those that do come over “for the fights” want fights, and more of them, and this means less actual lacrosse.
If you think that fighting is pulling in the crowds, please remember the NLL is not filling arenas, and neither is any other box league. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But it is broke. And it needs to be fixed.
If fighting is going to be eliminated, some things need to change. Off ball crosschecking must remain legal, and the rules should not really have to change at all. BUT, they will need to be enforced more stringently. This means that a no skill defender who survives by crushing people somewhat legally will soon be out of a job. The pure fighter will also be lost.
But that doesn’t mean the sport won’t still be tough. Guys like Joe Cinosky, Sid Smith and even Jack Reid could become more valuable than ever for what they can do on the floor defensively. Reid might be on the bubble there, but I think he could change his game if the rules required him to.
But pure brawlers and enforcers, like Matt Bonterre, would be so heavily penalized that they would become a detriment to their team. Crosscheck a guy in the face? Penalty. Knock someone over with a hit to the back of the head? Penalty. Slash someone hard off ball for no reason? Penalty. Why this is called sometimes and not others baffles me. The refs simply let it go too much, and when that happens fighting IS required. But it doesn’t have to happen.
At the Ales Hrebesky Memorial, there was no fighting. The games were intense and there was certainly some pushing and jostling. But it never escalated, because it simply wasn’t acceptable. The refs called a clean, tight game for the most part. Emotions were not allowed to run wild. If the NLL ejected someone for fighting and suspended them two games automatically, we would see a vast reduction in fights.
Pair that reduction in fighting with a cleaner game, and box lacrosse could really start to flourish in a larger market.
There are those who will say that my proposal would soften the game, and that it is impossible to eliminate all cheap shots. To the latter point, I agree. But there are cheap shots in basketball, football, soccer, field lacrosse, and many other sports where fighting is simply not allowed. What exactly makes box lacrosse different? I’ver never heard a convincing argument here.
As to whether or not it would soften games, I don’t think it would. The game could still be fast and physical, and skill and speed would remain as premiums. But there would be less cheap play if the refs called it tighter, and didn’t let so much extra stuff go. The game wouldn’t be slowed down by fights, and losing teams couldn’t brawl or intimidate their way to wins.
If you want to see a bunch of guys knock each other senseless, go to an MMA event, or take in a WWE spectacle. But this acceptance, and even promotion, of fighting in box lacrosse is getting ridiculous. The video above starts with one kid bum rushing another from behind. Later one kid punches another kid who is pinned down by a third player. Players leave the bench. It’s like something out of a bad sports movie.
Even under my proposed changes, fighting could still happen once in a while. Teams could bring in guys to fight in the first period of a couple games a year to “send a message”. But the penalties would be stiffer, and I really think it would happen a lot less. When it did happen, it would be a fight between one man and one man. And it would probably never escalate to a brawl because of the immediate suspensions handed out.
Fighting would again serve a purpose in the sport, and no longer be an expected norm. Brawls like the one above wouldn’t be looked at as “part of the sport”, but as the black eye that they truly are.
Box lacrosse is a tough, fast sport, but getting so frustrated that you cheap shot or fight someone isn’t tough. Getting beat on and still scoring 7 goals and winning the game IS tough. I guess I’d just rather see a lot more of the latter, and this is the perfect way to do it.
Okay, fighting enthusiasts… make your best case. CONVINCE ME that I’m wrong!