September 24, 2012

30 in 30: How Will New Rules Impact the Game?

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter


Loyola coach Charley Toomey on the impact of new rules: "Who knows? We'll just have to see how it goes."
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com 

The intention of LaxMagazine.com's "30 in 30" fall ball series was simple in concept: For 30 consecutive days, ask 30 pertinent questions lingering over the fall season, and provide 30 somewhat-definitive answers.

But, in a somewhat-ironic twist, the first question of LaxMagazine.com's series will yield perhaps the most ambiguous, murky and uncertain answer: How will the new rules changes impact the men's game?

That query prompts only further wonderment, befuddling curiosity akin to a Matt Brown-inspired Denver offense.

The short answer, for the short term: It will have to be worked out in the wash.

"That's why I'm looking forward to seeing how these rules play on Oct. 13, when we play Villanova," Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. "Who knows? We'll just have to see how it goes."

But Toomey, along with some of his coaching colleagues, expressed concern about the early returns of the new rules changes, even while commending the job of the rules committee. The new rules as proposed by the committee, it should be noted, were formally approved Friday by the NCAA's Playing Rules Oversight Panel.

"We really could be opening Pandora's box," Colgate coach Mike Murphy said. "The intentions of the rules changes are good, to speed up the game. We want to continue to be the fastest game on two feet. But the administration of the rules may be more problematic than a guy going back into an invert and not going to the goal. Some of it was so drastic, that sometimes we might be cutting our nose off to spite our face."

For Colgate and Loyola — which ranked second and eighth, respectively, in scoring offense at the Division I men's level last year — the new rules regarding the eliminating of substitution horns have most notably resulted in an unanticipated, frenzied pace of play as changes are made on the fly.

"The biggest fear for me is the no horns," Murphy said. "We've run a couple practices with no horns, and the game can become frenetic in the up-and-down. We're good at playing fast, but you're going to get officials who are caught in between, and they may miss something on the back end because things are going 100 miles per hour."

Said Toomey: "We had a green-grey scrimmage with no horns, and the one team beat the other team 18-3. It was organized chaos between the lines. It was almost like we unleashed a pack of dogs with our short-sticks. But the horns, and some of the other situations that are created out of the new rules, it's just crazy."

Murphy indicated the extended box also could "invite some big-time collisions — with a guy trying to get out of the box, 10 more yards down the line, and then there's a defenseman who's ready to tee him up."

Toomey noted riding might not be as prevalent, because, "If you're committed to riding, you're committing to your offensive middies staying on the field. That's a fun part of the game, but I think that will be a lost art."

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Accordingly, Maryland long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt, a second-team All-American in 2012, said "selfishly, I wonder how much they'll affect the LSM position, when we won't be able to get on the field in situations where we could in years past."

The pole position has developed in recent years into one of the most exciting spots on the field. Yet some of the situations long-stick middies created or became involved in might vanish.

As a response, Murphy suggested coaches might benefit from being given an extra timeout or two per half. "Everybody has this thought that lacrosse should be more like basketball, more fluid," he said. "When you watch basketball, it's a 40-minute game and they get six timeouts a half. In a situation where you've got extra timeouts, maybe you use them to make your subs."

Perhaps more puzzling, however, is the soft shot clock after stall warnings, which Murphy said "a lot of the Division I coaches are kind of in an uproar about." More specifically, Murphy said, "Making the time remaining on the shot clock somewhat a secret is a little concerning to me. You don't know how much time there is. It's basically invisible."

Under the current rules proposals the first 20 seconds of the shot clock will be operated by the officials' buzzers, and the remaining 10 seconds will be signaled via hand count. How can officials ensure consistency of the 10-count? Are they counting down, or are they counting up?

Are teams going to ask an assistant coach to hold a stopwatch in hand, and approximate how much time is left on the officials' count?

With the shot clock in effect, did the offense's shot graze the goalie? Or clank the pipe? Or did it miss wide entirely?

"I shot the ball with 17 to go, and we lost 7 seconds because we ran and chased the ball out," Toomey said. "What other sport has that?"

Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan emailed every coach in the USILA to inquire about how many teams play in stadiums with visible shot clocks and the corresponding necessary technology already installed. The estimated total? Roughly half.

And with time winding down, will defenses automatically go into zone? Or will they press out, playing a physical man-to-man scheme? Will the offenses respond by tossing an easy shot on cage? Or will they roll the ball to the corner or miss wide intentionally, just so they can get back on defense and get their subs in?

"Originally, I thought the shot clock was a good idea," Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala told Lacrosse Magazine editor Matt DaSilva. "But the more I think about it, how are we going to react when we have the ball on the end line and it's, "Eight, seven, six," and our player either isn't the right player to go to goal and we don't want to just charge to the goal and throw it at the goal — or that player is just too far from the goal — are you just going to roll the ball to the corner and then quickly substitute out? Get guys on, get guys off, take your attack and drop it way back? I'm not sure if we're going to speed up the game or slow it down."

With the clock ticking, what if an offensive player gets injured? What if an offensive player fakes an injury? Does the clock stop? Or does it continue running?

Meanwhile, fans trying to understand the game from the stands, or from the couch, might not totally understand what's happening. "Whatever the case," Toomey said "It's going to make a much more confusing game for the fans."

Murphy offered a perfect storm scenario, for fans that are interested in learning about the game.

"You're a lay person, and you turn on the game," Murphy said. "The stall warning is put on, and the offense has 30 seconds to score. You're watching the play, and then for some reason, unbeknownst to you, the whistle is blown and the ball is given to the other team. You just got off the UFO from Mars and you're going, 'Huh? Why did that happen?' Somebody tries to explain it to you and you go, 'You guys are crazy. That doesn't make any sense.'

"I remember the first time I watched field hockey. It was like totally arbitrary blowing of the whistle. You can put yourself in a similar situation, Colgate playing Lehigh, and Peter Baum, the Tewaaraton winner, is behind the goal and he's driving toward the goal and the ref blows the whistle and points it the other way. As a casual fan, you're going, 'What just happened?'

 
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Visible shot clock
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"Even the announcers and broadcasters. They'll probably say, 'Well, I guess the shot clock went off.' I'm not sure that Dave Ryan and Quint Kessenich and the guys who call the game on TV really want to say, 'I guess,' in their broadcast. They want to be convincing in how they call the game. Can you imagine Dave Ryan turning to Evan Washburn and saying, 'What do you think happened there, Evan?' And he's going to interpret it. He'll say, 'You can see there, that was a ward. Peter Baum stuck his hand out and gave Mike Noone the Heisman.' And Evan is going to be like, 'Well, Dave, I guess the shot clock went off. They were in the stall period after the buzzer went off.' As a fan you're going, 'Why don't they have a visible shot clock?'"

Murphy said Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan emailed every coach in the USILA to inquire about how many teams play in stadiums with visible shot clocks and the corresponding necessary technology already installed. The estimated total? Roughly half.

According to Murphy, Corrigan also called Daktronics — a company that produces scoreboards and display boards — to determine the cost of portable shot clocks. As a potential solution, a shot clock could be placed at each end of the field. Or one shot clock could be placed at midfield on the opposite side of the benches, where coaches would be able to see the remaining time.

The shooting-string proposals also have been met with some disdain. Murphy said he recently joked with his staff, "Is the NFL going to take the laces out of the ball because Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers threw for 5,000 yards last year?' Probably not. So why are you going to make a decision when you've got a boy who was closing in on 100 points, and you look at the career that Steele Stanwick, some great players of this generation, and that's all they've been playing with their whole lives? Why are we doing this?"

Baum and with fellow Tewaaraton finalist Mike Sawyer were proponents of U- and V-stringing. Loyola attackman Justin Ward said he anticipates the new stringing rules will benefit Canadian box players, while hurting many American players. In turn, Ward said there could be fewer sidearm, low-to-high stingers that fans have been so accustomed to seeing players like Sawyer snap off. Instead, play might be more fundamentally sound.

Conversely, Virginia assistant coach Marc Van Arsdale told LaxMagazine.com's Joel Censer that, "It's just anecdotal, but... [the shooting-string changes] have had absolutely no impact on the ball coming out of the sticks from the defenders checking. ... I have not noticed any drop off, in terms of guys being able to handle the stick either. I don't think we're all of a sudden going to have takeaway defenders back in the game. I don't see balls coming out of the sticks any easier."

Ultimately, a greater responsibility will be placed on the officials to make stall warning calls, and subsequently, operate the shot clock. And as Toomey said — not as a reflection of the officials, but of the rules: "We don't want a situation like the NFL has in college lacrosse."

"My concern is we've put more responsibility on the officials. We've made their job more challenging," Pietramala said. "We're asking a lot of our officials, putting more responsibility on them and making it more challenging. If we're going to do that, I would rather see a straight one-minute shot clock."

"I don't know that the officials want this onus," said Murphy, relaying a message through Colgate assistant Mike Abbott, whose father Tom is considered one of the best officials in the country. "And the officials are worrying about it."

Lacrosse Magazine editor Matt DaSilva and LaxMagazine.com contributor Joel Censer provided reporting.


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