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Proposed Face Off Rule Changes Create A Lacrosse Uproar

By now you MUST have seen the proposed changes to the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Rules. It’s all anyone wants to talk about, and that’s totally fair, because some of these modifications could be real game changers. No proposed rule has created as much dismay and anger as the face off rules, so let’s dive in and figure out what all the hubbub is about!

On Friday, I offered up my initial thoughts on the proposed rule changes, and with all the immediate negativity out there, I’ll admit, I was looking for the positives. I tended to find them in most cases, and while I’m still sold on the value of the proposed stick and pocket changes, I’m not as sold on the face off situation as I originally was.

The fact that there is now a petition where “Face Off Men Unite” speaks volumes to the backlash this proposed change is already seeing. Has that made me change my mind? I don’t think so, but when I combine that will all the negative messages I’ve gotten about this ONE rule, it did make me think again.

Here’s my almost immediate take on the newly propose rules:

– Faceoffs: No more motorcycle grip. Seems crazy to me. I’d rather have the refs actually focus on players touching the plastic as opposed to how they hold their stick. First lefties can’t face off, now motorcyclists can’t face off. Not a huge fan of this part of this new proposed rule. You also can’t tape the throat of your stick anymore.

However, there are other rules which I do like. Violations no longer mean a player has to leave the field of play, BUT, if a team gets two pre-whistle violations in one quarter, every subsequent violation in that quarter is a 30 second penalty. Interested to see how this one plays out!

The biggest change of all for face offs? This Fall, the Rules Committee wants teams to try facing off from 12 inches apart, instead of the current FOUR inches. Face offs would change FOREVER if this one goes through.

I have no problem with not taping the stick. The stick is plastic. Deal with it. But when it comes to killing off the Motorcycle Grip, I really don’t see it. I’m a pretty awful face off guy, but I win my fair share of them, and 99% of those wins come from cheating. Fingers under the opponents’ crosse, handling the ball, etc. And you know how I can do that? Because I face off with regular grip.

I still like the violation changes. A man down is more of a deterrent for constantly jumping early than just having to run off the field. But where I’m not as sold as I once was comes down to the 12 inches apart rule change. Originally, I thought it would turn things into a ground ball scrum, remove specialization and still allow FoGos to exist (more or less), but now I’m not so sure… and a lot of other people are right there with me.

Here were some more of my original thoughts:

It seems to me, especially as I reflect further on the proposed changes, that the Rules Committee would like to see less specialization in the game.

By limiting HOW face offs can be taken, and by moving the players back, I believe the Committee is trying to create more of a “ground ball” situation, and less chance of specialized, highly skilled FoGos.

My inclination would be to put my most athletic, ground ball hungry player at the X now and let them fight it out. Could create more transition, and will definitely lower the number of jam scrums, which while fun as a player, are slow and boring for fans, especially ones new to the game.

Maybe I’m arguing against myself. FoGos have a TON of skill, and we seem to want to keep skill in the game. But they are also specialists, and that seems to be a negative. I’m confused… Ok, enough of my opinion… let’s get to some people who actually know what they’re talking about!

First up we have Matt Schomburg of Schommy was an All-American at Adelphi, played for Australia 4 times in the World Games, has coached in the MLL and NCAA and knows his face off stuff like few others in the world.

When I spoke with Matt, he wasn’t worried about himself or his business, which was refreshing. He was confident that even with new rules, FoGoLax would continue on. So where’s the beef? Well, here’s what the Schominator had to say, and it’s all about the kids and safety!

matt schomburg grow the game lacrosse lax australia beach baby sunny
Schommy with the little one at the beach in Oz.

I have read these rule changes many times now and have thought long and hard about the ramifications if they are implemented. I have been coaching face offs for over 10 years now, at many levels and age groups, and consider myself to be somewhat of an authority in the field.

As I read these rule changes and consider what will action happen within the face off with these rules in place, I struggle to understand the logic behind the changes. By spreading the sticks apart to 12 inches, there will be less control over where the ball will end up. In actual fact, the ball can only really go in one area, forwards in either direction, and on a 45 degree angle.

In essence what we will end up with is a collision impact area the likes of which we have never seen. Wing players will have a very good idea of where the ball is going to end up and can run at full speed to an area where two face off guys also know where the ball will be.

No longer will we see kids in lower stances trying to skillfully maneuver the ball to an area where it is a 1 on 1 competition for possession, and I believe this rule change alone is promoting violent, NFL-type collisions. Is this what we really want for the game?

When was the last time at the face off X that anyone saw one of these types of collisions with the current rules? I am from an era when the rules allow the ball to be placed in between the two stick with no room to clamp and your only option was to rake, similar to what we will get now, and that is what we saw over and over. Face off guys getting blasted by wing players. If a skilled face off guy can’t control where the ball is going then we may as well call it a jump ball… with the potential for massive contact and injury.

Mr. John Hind was quoted on Inside Lacrosse as saying, “We primarily looked at safety of the face-off, and fairness of the face-off. In any of our discussions related to what we could do or change with respect to the face-off, those were the two primary points that we decided to focus on while discussing the face-off — safety to the participants and fairness.”

The current face off rules may need some tweaking, and the hand off the plastic would definitely take the tie ups away, but tape off the plastic seems over the top. Different heads made by various manufacturers have longer and shorter throats than others so it would be very easy for a face off guy to manipulate his head to have a shorter throat counter acting on the hand on the plastic.

In my estimation, 85-90% of NCAA are using motorcycle grip. So my next question is, how is this fair? From a standpoint of a coach and former face off athlete, the regular grip promotes grabbing the opponent’s stick, simply because the fingers of the player face up and are being clamped down on.

The last public case of someone grabbing the ball was John Glynn at Cornell. He was using a regular grip because it is easier to grab the ball that way. When he was exposed, what grip did he have to go to remain in the game? Motorcycle.

In addition to now taking the game away from many current face off guys in NCAA by eliminating every skill they have ever worked on or known, this proposed rule puts into jeopardy many thousands of extremely hardworking underclassmen throughout the country who have known nothing else but facing off.

This is their only role on the team and they love it. Many of my kids are going off to college this fall and have no idea now what their college lacrosse experience will be. Can any of us imagine that feeling?? Imagine telling a right handed attack men in two weeks time when u arrive on campus u can no longer shoot underhand, or cradle one-handed?  That sounds crazy, right? Well, this is what the Rules Committee is proposing for these committed kids.

Do we really want to kill this off?

If you doubt what I’m saying here, I urge you to speak with the coaches, speak to the kids, speak to some authorities in these coaching positions to make the correct, if necessary, changes for the game. I can’t tell you how many coaches, parents and kids the rules will harm if they are implemented. I hope that cooler heads will prevail and the right decisions will be made to help promote this wonderful game of ours.

Ok, I’m actually pretty convinced by that! I remember playing HS lacrosse in Massachusetts in the late 90s and face off resulted in the EXACT scenario Matt Schomburg described. The ball would often go 45 degrees out from the X and we saw big collisions regularly, with the face off man often getting the short end of the proverbial stick.

For more on the Face Off Rule Changes, check out Jerry Ragonese’s take on the new rules, Connor’s original take on the 2013 Proposed Rules, and The Lacrosse Show’s take on the possible new stick stringing regulations!