This past Friday, the lacrosse world was sent into a frenzy when College Crosse broke the news that the NCAA Rules Committee had decided to move forward with a recommendation to the NCAA that men’s lacrosse should have a shot clock.
Queue the hysteria.
Then, Inside Lacrosse let it be known that an additional rule change was coming: the dive is to be legal.
Online anarchy ensued.
Seemingly everyone (including myself) started voicing opinions for what these changes meant, didn’t mean, celebrated, complained, etc. into the void that is social media. Eventually the NCAA released their official story on the topic. But what does this actually mean? Take the rules piece by piece and see how it may impact the game.
The rules being changed are:
- the sub box will be reduced to 10 yards from the current 20,
- the dive will be legal,
- there will be a shot clock for all possessions once the midline is crossed (with some faceoff nuances).
It’s important to add a disclaimer that the NCAA itself does need to ratify these proposals, but it’s fully expected that this will be the new landscape in men’s college lacrosse when teams set foot on campus this fall (or shortly thereafter).
The Shot Clock
The existing shot clock rule is that a 30 second clock is turned on when the refs decide the possessing team has not made a legitimate attempt to score over a (cloudy at best) period of time. For some refs, the rule of thumb is 90 seconds, but has clearly been subjective at times. This rule is viewed as confusing for fans, and onerous on the refs to administer. In terms of the refs, nearly every game, you wind up seeing one ref staring across the field at another and kind of shrugging to indicate: “how about now? Can we do it now?” Getting any combo of two refs, let alone three, to agree on when stalling has officially started is not totally clear for anyone. Sometimes it is, usually it is not.
In terms of fans, they have NO idea what’s going on. I sit in crowds all spring where “SHOT CLOCK” is yelled incessantly regardless of how long they’ve had the ball, or if a shot has actually happened. I’ve actually seen a shot bounce off the pipe, possession is retained by the offense, they inbound it, and someone yells “shot clock!” right away. It’s obnoxious. And I fully agree that it’s a problem. Should it be a problem? No. But it is. That brings us to where we are today.
The new rule will have a 60 shot clock start when the ball passes the midline. Before that, there is a 20 second timer count by the refs (worn on the hip) to clear the ball from the defensive end. During a faceoff, the player can go backwards with the ball from the offensive to defensive end once, and that will start the 20 second count. The 60 second count will start on a faceoff when the ball passes the restraining line OR if the player who gains possession makes a pass to a teammate on the offensive side of the field. Easy enough, right? In my opinion: no.
The mechanics of this new NCAA shot clock are just weird. It’s not a straight possession clock like you have in the MLL or NCAA women’s. Apparently the 90 second clock in the women’s game is viewed as too long when a reset happens and an offense retains possession, and the MLL 60 second clock is too fast to include clearing time. Splitting those down the middle to 75 was apparently also not the “just right” number, either. I do understand how a reset longer than 60 is not desired. Going to 75 or 90 can feel like it would drag on. But, I truly do not think you’re going to have a noticeable number of occasions where a team would get multiple clock resets after a nearly fully expired possession.
What these mechanics will setup is confusion with the refs and clock operator when the ball is on the ground. If the defense gets it, you start a timer count. If the offense gets it, you raise your hand to reset the clock. When these are happening repeatedly, it will create a clock on, clock off, clock on, clock off type of situation with refs throwing all sorts of signals. That’s the benefit of a possession clock. Each time it happens, the refs and clock operators do the same thing. Will that happen any more than the multiple reset possession I describe in the paragraph above? Probably not, but it’s still worth looking for in terms of an area of improvement.
The big thing that kept coming up in conversation with the shot clock was the chicken little crowd of “the zones are coming, the zones are coming!” The fear of zones slowing down offenses is apparently the next terrible thing in lacrosse. The line of thinking here is if you play a packing in zone, nobody can score, and teams will just pass it around for 60 seconds until they roll the ball into the corner or take a bad shot. I’m not going to say this won’t happen, because it probably will. But what’s more important is the matchup in question.
Even today, many man-to-man defenses are able to hold team to incredibly long possessions where only an optimal, high percentage shot is viewed as an acceptable result by the offense. Which, is hilarious to me, because this is EXACTLY why fans want a shot clock. Impenetrable zone defenses are not rampant in college lacrosse today, and are not the reason why possessions are longer (!!!).
Offenses looking for high percentage shots, reluctance to dodge against long poles, and setting up situations to isolate desired matchups based on scouting reports are.
Whether a defense runs a zone or man does not change the fact that offenses will need to start being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Lower percentage shots. Shooting while covered. Dodging the long pole with another pole slide coming. They need to create the plays on the field more consistently and rely less on opportunities presenting themselves through multiple big little picks. This bring up the next major point for the “zones are coming crowd”: the two point arc.
A shot clock for many people also means that a 2 point arc is then needed. These packed in zones will only leave an option for outside shots, and without the threat of more points, defenses have no reason to extent. They’ll sit back and just let the clock tick away because that’s all the offense can do. This is also completely wrong. I enjoy the 2 point line in the MLL because it’s a cool feature, but it’s not needed. It works there because nearly everyone on the field can shot over 90 mph and do so accurately. It adds a fun element. But that is not the case when you look across all of DI, DII, and DIII lacrosse.
Remember, these rules are not just for Maryland, Denver, Hopkins, Cuse, Yale, Notre Dame, and Duke. They also apply to RIT, Tufts, Wesleyan, LeMoyne, Limestone, Oglethorpe, Medaille, Bard, and Mars Hill. While all these schools may not be loaded with the biggest, fastest middies, or two solid lines of outsides shooters, they do have players that can pass and catch. All these schools already face zones and do find ways to score against them. Is having the ability to shoot accurately from 20-25 yards out a great asset to have in late clock situations? Absolutely. But, being able to pass the ball quickly, make the zone move, rotate, and create an opening is even better. You don’t need the best ball handlers in the country, but you do need to teach your players to be smart and recognize space. Those are things that transcend divisions.
Speaking of big, fast middies, the next point that a shot clock brings up is the return of the two way middie!
Now this is something that makes sense, but I do think people need to pump the brakes a little bit on. More than anything, a shot clock reduces the impact of a “wasted” possession, which in theory encourages more risk taking in transition. So, with that line of thought, having a player who can be a SSDM and an offensive middie will automatically put you in a better spot. That’s true, but I don’t see it as important as it’s been made out to be.
If anything, the current rule set incentivizes coach MORE to have two way middies. In an era of specialization, putting someone out there who can trap an offensive player back on defense every time is a huge asset. The skills gap will be larger than in an environment where more players train for playing both sides of the field. To help nudge this concept along, the rules committee brought up the next rule change: shortening the sub box.
10 Yard Substitution Box
Now, this is a funny one.
It wasn’t too long ago that the sub box was made larger to encourage transition, not make it less frequent.
So going back the other way for the opposite reason is a little interesting. The theory here is that with a smaller box, it is harder to sub on the fly, which will keep players on the field more, until they have a better opportunity to sub.
Why I don’t think that will happen is a pretty basic one: pretty much everyone subs through the midfield at this point anyway.
Even in the 60 second world of the MLL, there’s a full midfield changeover nearly every possession. It DOES trap offensive players back on defense more, but you don’t see defensive players hanging out to play 6v6 too much. If they don’t have that early transition look, they’re coming off. So if nearly everyone is using the midfield line to sub anyway, the length of the box is irrelevant for most of the subs. A fast break will still be a fast break. A middie line change will still be a middie line change. So while this change is noble, I don’t see it having a groundbreaking impact.
Now, this I love. I’m not sure there’s a rule I have personally advocated for more than this. I also really like the wrinkle that the committee put in here.
So, a player can voluntarily leave their feet and try to score so long as the ball goes past the goal line before they touch down in the crease. There can still be pushes, etc. like there are today. But also, the player cannot dive towards the mouth of the goal. Said differently: stay away from the goalie, or get a one minute penalty. It doesn’t say in the release, but I personally hope that penalty is locked in.
I also wouldn’t mind two minutes, but that’s a different story.
The reason why I have wanted to crease dive back is that it gives players options near the goal. Yes, it will be a tough call to make for refs at times, but so is the current rule. Deciding if a player was pushed, what their trajectory is, etc. is all difficult at game speed. In my opinion, this may become easier to figure out, but we will see. For anyone worried about zones, and no inside play, you need to be jumping up and down for this one. The number of plays you can make from X just drastically increased.
Whether is a jump from behind Air Gait style, a variation of an inside role on the side, or a feed to a cutter on top of the crease, there are more options. And all of them could yield results.
Along with the dive, come the concern of injuries. That is why I do like their wording about how and where the five is allowed and that a penalty is associated with it, not just a loss of possession. It leaves goalies vulnerable if there’s an out of control player coming into the crease. But to be totally fair, this risk is very present today.
Players enter the crease. Some of the worst collisions I’ve seen are actually due to defenders pushing a player into their own goalie. The injury of a player diving and landing on a goalie or defender’s outstretched legs is very possible, but I don’t think it’s that much different than a player diving to avoid the crease, either. Will injuries happen? Yes. With a contact sport, that is going to happen regardless, and I’m not totally discounting it. But I do not think it will be a net increase compared to the rules of today. Players still need to be careful and be smart when they make a play around the crease. That goes for offense and defense.
What Will Happen
How this all actually manifests itself on the field is a big old TBD. But that is what I’m most interested in, personally. People will throw their hands up at every zone defense and say “I told you so!”. They’ll also look at every fast break goal as a direct result of there now being a shot clock.
For me, I will find more excitement in seeing how coaches adapt all over the field. Who start forcing their FOGOs to always win backwards to take advantage of the additional 19 second to sub out their faceoff crew? Who gets rid of FOGOs all together and goes all two-way middies? Who gives a green light to every long pole and every SSDM on their team to shoot in transition? Who sets up every possession to last for 59 seconds? Who adopts zone and calls up Weselyan’s John Raba for constant advice? Who adopts a hyper aggressive man defense to create turnovers and cue more transition? But most importantly: who actually changes their style completely?
In my opinion: I do not think the 2019 season will be night and day from 2018. I think the changes will have an impact, but most teams will still try to keep their core identity through the season. Some teams and coaches are going to struggle mightily. Others will thrive. But those two things can be said at the beginning of every season, regardless of the rules.