It's been nearly four months since the final gun sounded at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and the Virginia Cavaliers were crowned NCAA Division I Champions for 2003. In those roughly 123 days, there has been lots of lacrosse for fans to watch, notably the Under 19 Men's and Women's Championship sweep by Team USA at Towson University and the conclusion of another Major League Lacrosse season with Long Island edging Baltimore for the second time in the three year history of the pro league.
Let's hope the decision makers in the NCAA noticed what fans did this summer watching both the U-19 tournament and the MLL season. Either game would be a pretty good model for the collegiate game to at least start with. Both are quicker, more athletic versions of the sport that better exemplify the game's longtime moniker, "the fastest game on two feet".
Now is the time for the keepers of the game to implement some of the rules employed by the pro and international games in order to move into a new age of college lacrosse. What follows is the list of rules changes the NCAA would adapt if I were to have a shot at "fixing the college game".
Get rid of four 15 minute quarters with start and stop on every whistle and implement 20 minute running time periods. In the MLL the clock only stops in the last two minutes of play when they go to a start and stop on every official's whistle, for 20 seconds after the scoring of a goal to allow for the teams and officials to set the next face off, and for 10 seconds following a time-serving foul to allow the penalized player to get into the penalty box and for extra man and man-down defenses to race onto the field through the special substitution box. The use of a running clock results and a 2 hour and 10 minute game- roughly identical to what's in place now but- and here's the big difference- using a running clock directly speeds up nearly every other aspect of the game.
Make all substitutions on the fly by enlarging the special substitution box and eliminate all horns and wholesale substitution when the ball goes out of play on the sidelines. Some head coaches may howl about this one- whining about their not being able to use all their players and reducing the use of specialized players but let's face it, that very specialization they crave (long stick middies and so forth) has all but eliminated midfielders who possess both the skill to shoot on goal and effectively defend other midfielders and has, in many cases, obliterated the run and gun style of play that makes lacrosse exciting. More importantly, the single rule change that will speed up the pace of the game is the elimination of the substitution horn.
Reduce the number of long stick midfielders by one to open up scoring opportunities and put offense back into the game.
Implement a shot clock- 60 seconds, 45 seconds- whatever. The shot clock would be re-set every time a shot hits the goal post or a defender and upon the possession of the defending team. This idea of a 60 second shot clock was floated three years ago but got shot down because several Division I schools lobbied the NCAA to not implement it because the use of a 60 second timer did not fit their style of play; and Division II and III balked at having to pay out the added expense of buying the equipment and paying someone to run the shot clock. To the D-1 coaches that oppose the shot clock for strategy reasons, I say "Too bad. Coach your team the new way of doing things and get with the times". As for buying the equipment- how about the NCAA setting aside some of the profit they make at the final four to partially fund shot clock equipment. To the argument against the use of a shot clock because schools have to pay someone to run it- I say "poppycock". It's not rocket science- the shot clock can be operated by student managers- just like they are used to work the game clock at most schools. A shot clock eliminates the silly notion of forcing a team to get the ball from the midfield line to inside their offensive box in 10 seconds. Most teams comply with this rule by having a midfielder tippy-toe into the box, then come right back out to waste another 10 seconds until they are forced to tippy-toe back into the box.
And speaking of 10 second counts, take out the 10 second clearing rule and make all teams take the ball over the midfield line in 20 seconds. Further- implement a back court rule like in the MLL. Once you get the ball over the midfield line, taking it back to the defensive end results in a turnover. The 10 second clearing rule is a joke in college lacrosse. Every team can clear the ball in 10 seconds and once they possess the ball past the defensive restraining line, they can stall forever. Make teams clear the ball past midfield in 20 seconds and keep it in their offensive zone. This rule change will add some intrigue to clearing and riding and force teams to push to the goal, not waste time in the midfield area.
Finally, make all technical fouls 1 minute, releasable with the scoring of a goal by the offended team. The penalty clock, unlike the game clock, starts and stops on the whistle. A holding foul can directly affect the outcome of a game as much as a slashing or tripping foul. Thirty seconds in the penalty box is too short a sentence for holding and with the implementation of the shot clock, the 20 second clearing rule and back-court, a minute in the box is appropriate for technical fouls.
So there you have it. Are these suggestions radical? Perhaps. Should they all be implemented at once? Logically, yes- because each change integrates with all the others. Will this happen? No. But radical moves are necessary if college lacrosse has any hope of moving forward or even backward to a faster, more exciting brand of ball and a time when the game truly lives up to its reputation as "the fastest game on two feet".