Experimental rules on trial this weekend in lacrosse

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By Greg Johnson
NCAA.org

Two men’s lacrosse scrimmages will be played this weekend with experimental rules that stakeholders hope will increase the pace of play.

On Saturday, UMBC will host Georgetown with the following experimental rules being implemented:

  • Substitution will be allowed only on the horn when the ball goes out of bounds. This includes all boundary lines. Current rules allow substitutions on the fly and on any out-of-bounds stoppage.
  • Teams will have 20 seconds to clear the defensive half and 10 seconds to reach the attack area after crossing the midline. Current rules require teams to gain the attack area within 30 seconds of gaining possession.
  • If a team is given the stall warning, it has 30 seconds to put a shot on target (goal/save/rebound/pipe). Current rules require the team to keep the ball in the attack area during a stall warning.
    • If the shot meets any of those criteria and the team on offense regains possession, the stall warning is off.
    • If the shot does not meet those criterion and the 30 seconds expire, the ball is awarded to team on defense. No horn will be sounded.
    • If during the stall warning, a shot is taken that misses the goal and goes out of bounds, the horn will be sounded, and the ball will be awarded to defensive team.
  • If a team commits a violation during the faceoff, it is not allowed to bring an additional player up to the wing area. This creates a 3-on-2 advantage for the non-offending team. Current rules require only the violating team’s faceoff player to leave the field and the team may substitute immediately.
  • If the offensive team commits a non-serving infraction and the ball is awarded to the defense in the attack area, the defensive team will be given the opportunity for a quick restart to promote a counterattack. Current rules require the ball to be restarted outside of the attack area.

On Sunday, North Carolina and Ohio State will scrimmage in Towson, Maryland, with an experimental shot clock being used.

Teams will have 60 seconds (first half) and 75 seconds (second half) to put a shot on goal (goal/save/rebound/pipe) after gaining possession. A shot that misses the goal will not count for this purpose.

Also in Sunday’s game, no substitutions will be allowed after a horn sounds.

“Our biggest concern is that the game has slowed down tremendously in the last 20 years,” said Sam Johnson, the deputy director of athletics at Army and chair of the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Rules Committee. “We think part of the cause is the substitutions on the fly. You see teams clear the ball out of the defensive zone, then they slow the ball down and you wait and wait. Teams take their time making substitutions. It has taken the speed out of the game.”

Both scrimmages will be filmed so that the rules committee can review whether any of the experimental rules should be implemented in the future. Depending on the results of the experimentation, the committee will incorporate ideas in its annual rules survey for membership consideration. The rules committee meets in early August and may consider changes for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Don Zimmerman, the coach at UMBC and the NCAA secretary-rules editor for men’s lacrosse, said the coaches involved in this weekend’s games agreed to play under the experimental rules to see if any are good for the game.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people and that includes players, fans and coaches,” Zimmerman said. “There was a recurring theme about how the game seems to have slowed down. There is a lot of dead time, and everyone would like to see measures taken and see lacrosse remain the fastest game on two feet.”

Some of the rules changes, particularly those in the UMBC-Georgetown game, could lead to players being more versatile and limit some of the specialization in the sport.

Some faceoff players are used only for that purpose. Johnson said coaches recruit prospects for that portion of the game, and many times faceoff players leave the field immediately after possession is gained.

“The experimental rules they will use in UMBC game will make that guy more of a universal player,” Johnson said. “Since no one can be replaced until a horn sounds, it means the face-off guy is stuck on the field. He has to be able to play, because he’s on the field until the ball goes out of bounds.”

But the main goal is to do what is best for the game.

“We are taking an open-minded approach to this,” Zimmerman said. “We will have our teams practice with these rules leading up to the scrimmage to get used to the rules. We want to see if the kids have fun playing under the new rules, because ultimately the game is theirs. The scrimmages are open to the public, and we can get some spectator feedback, also. It’s an opportunity to try some ideas and put them out on the field to see how they work.”