It's the opening face off of your first game. The midfield gets you the ball left of the goal behind. You work it to the plane of the goal; get by your man, shoot and score. Amidst the celebration, you hear the goal official call your number and ask for your stick. You think "WHAT'S THIS? IT'S 25 SECONDS INTO THE GAME! IT'S NOT TIME FOR A STICK CHECK! THE REFS DON'T CHECK STICKS UNTIL THE END OF THE FIRST QUARTER!" You reflexively pull the strings of your stick. The official throws his flag and you've earned a trip to the penalty box for a full minute, your goal is wiped off the scoreboard and your opponent gets the ball.
What's going on?
Another scenario: you are on the other team in this game. The defense takes the ball downfield, they get the ball to the attack, a teammate feeds you the ball on the crease and you score. The officials ask for your stick and your coach yells out "DON'T PULL YOUR STRINGS!" And you don't. The official pulls out his tape measure and finds your stick is 39 ¾ inches long. Oh-oh. Your goal is disallowed and you go to the sin-bin for three minutes full time.
Two stick checks and we're less than a minute and a half into the game? What, indeed is going on?
As if specialized substitution, slow-down tactic and deliberate offense have not done enough to slow down "the fastest game on two feet", the NCAA has insisted that the zebras build another potential delay into the game.
College lacrosse players, fans and critics are hereby warned, the Lords of Lacrosse have proclaimed that officials must administer as many as six random stick checks per game, since the coaches have apparently failed to effectively police the equipment used by their players.
I repeat- this is a decree from the NCAA- not the officials. So let's not jump on the striped shirts for any dilly-dallying caused by inspection of sticks and punishment of miscreants. In fact, the referees are striving to make these stick checks as unobtrusive as possible so as to not interrupt the flow of the game.
This spring, the NCAA has demanded that officials take proactive steps to, as they put it "get the dirty sticks out of the game". Let's review what the referees are checking for.
An attack or midfield stick that is less than 40 inches or more than 42 inches long is an illegal stick.
A long-stick midfield or defensive crosse less than 52 inches and more than 72 inches long is illegal.
If the distance from the top of the head of any stick to the bottom of the stop is less than 10 inches- it is illegal.
If the width of the top of any stick head is less than 6 ½ inches, it's illegal.
If the official places a ball in your stick and it doesn't fall out when he tips the stick over, you are in violation.
If the pocket of your stick sags too low- you got it, you're illegal.
If a ball does not fall out of the back of your stick or has a lip on it that aids you in facing off- the stick's illegal.
Pocket violations cost you a one minute full time visit to the penalty box. Violations seen as altering the stick to gain an advantage like changing the length of the stick or width of the head are three minute fouls- with no parole.
Look for the first stick check to occur after the scoring of the first goal of a game. The goal shooter's stick will be inspected and a member of the team that's just been scored upon will have his stick inspected at the same time by another official. If the scorer's stick is illegal, the goal will be wiped off the scoreboard and the player will be penalized 1or 3 minutes. The defense will receive the ball outside the offensive box on their defensive side of the field. Any stick that has been found to be altered to gain an advantage (i.e.: length, width) cannot be returned to the game.
Subsequent checks can come at any time. Officials will only be looking at length, width and pocket- no other equipment will be inspected. Officials will make every effort to conduct most of the minimum of six inspections per game without interfering with the momentum of the game (during team timeouts, media timeouts, in between periods, for example). However, at any time during the game, a stick check can and will occur.
Although there seems to be a gentlemen's unwritten code discouraging the practice, coaches may, during "dead ball" situations, request equipment checks of their opponents. When a coach asks for an equipment check- all equipment is inspected for legality.
You score a goal and the ref asks you for your stick- don't even think about pulling the strings or smashing the head into the ground- the penalty of one minute full time for these actions is automatic.
What you will likely see- after the scoring of every goal- the shooter will pull his stings and bend the stick head BEFORE the official has the chance to ask for the stick. Heck, if the coach is smart, he will instruct all his players to pull stings and bend stick heads after every goal is scored and before an official has the chance to ask a player to hand over his stick for inspection.
And another thing- the increased number of stick checks is only a prelude to a total revamping of the legality of the stick head. Check out page 109 of the NCAA Rulebook to see what a legal head will look like beginning in 2009.
The rules committee declared this drastic change "back to the future" because the modern stick construction did not allow for the free dislodgement of the ball under normal stick-checking conditions.
As one member of the committee explained "We found that the offensive players using sticks with narrowed or channeled pockets had such an advantage over the defensive players that defensive players had to resort to dangerous tactics in order to try to dislodge the ball, bringing a safety issue into play. The intent standardizing the stick head is to return the stick to a construction that will allow the free dislodgement of the ball under normal defensive pressure so that the defensive players are not forced to beat the offensive player up in order to get the ball".
The plan is to go in effect beginning with the spring of 2009. Lacrosse stick manufacturers who have sunk millions of dollars onto research and development of new stick technology will likely have more to say about this rule change between now and 2009. So the jury's still out on whether this change will indeed take place, literally.
OTHER RULES CHANGES TO LOOK FOR IN 2007
A team may request a time out once a member of that team takes the ball inside the restraining line. The team no longer needs to have the ball in possession inside the offensive box to call time out.
Officials will be issuing stalling warnings earlier in the game than ever before. If a team has been warned for stalling, the warning stays in effect until the defense gets the ball, a goal is scored or the period ends resulting in a face off.
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