March 1, 2016

Straight Up: Almost the Fastest Game on Two Feet

by Brian Schneider and Sheehan Stanwick Burch | LaxMagazine.comTwitter

In a new LaxMagazine.com series, Brown assistant Brian Schneider and CBS College Sports analyst Sheehan Stanwick Burch join forces to share their opinions on hot topics in women's lacrosse.

Schneider was a four-year member of the men's lacrosse team at Hofstra, where he graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism. He also has a master's in journalism from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. Schneider had previous coaching stops at Columbia (women) and Yale (men).

Burch is in her 15th year as a TV analyst. She has also served as a CBS Sports sideline reporter for men's lacrosse and football. Burch was a four-time All-American at Georgetown and the 2001 IWLCA Division I Attacker of the Year. She was one of the five finalists for the inaugural Tewaaraton Award in 2001. Burch remains' the Hoyas' all-time leading scorer with 330 points.

Why Wait to Stop Stalling?

2016 was supposed to be the year we saw the end to the biggest problem plaguing our beautiful game.

2016 was supposed to be the year our sport gave the fans, and TV audiences, the change everyone has been begging and clamoring for.

2016 was supposed to be the end of the stall. Unfortunately, we need to wait one more season.

Starting in 2017, the rules committee approved a 90-second possession clock and I think fans everywhere sighed a collective, "Finally!" But I can't help but wonder why nothing was done to fix this issue for 2016. As a fan of the sport for my entire life, and now as an assistant coach for a Division I team, I have never understood why the sport allowed stalling. Don't we want the most exciting game possible? Don't we want the most viewer-friendly game possible? Don't we want fans to walk away every Memorial Day weekend talking about how the best teams in the sport gave us an unforgettable game?

Instead, we allow teams to play a four-corners offense for long stretches in the second half. Why even allow stalling to remain a talking point for even one more season?

Let's make two things clear: Coaches will, and should, do whatever is in the best interest of their teams to win. And the rule-makers of our sport did a wonderful job implementing all of the changes for this season. From self-starts, to sudden-victory in overtime, to eliminating incidental empty stick checks, the NCAA rules committee made changes that were needed and made common sense.

But allowing stalling to exist for one more season does not make sense, and does not allow for the growth of the game.

Simple solutions do exist that could easily have been implemented for this season: Enact a restraining box the last two minutes of a game when winning; a 30-second timer-on when refs determine a team is stalling, similar to the men's game; or a "shot clock" on the clear, forcing teams to possess the ball inside their offensive zone within a set amount of time.

While coaches will use whatever rules they have to their advantage, it is up to the rule-makers of our great sport to progress women's lacrosse forward. Any of these changes would speed up the game immediately, and would have had the desired impact for 2016 that the sport badly needs.

Scoring in 2015 was at its lowest since 2005 at 21.4 goals per game and has been trending downward for several years. According to awfulannouncing.com, the 2015 NCAA championship game only drew 63,000 viewers. One can't help but make a correlation between the pace of play, scoring and viewership.

In a sport with more than 450 college teams and a 161.7-percent uptick in high school participation since 2001, women's lacrosse is bigger than ever. To continue that growth and increase viewership of the sport's marquee event, rules must be made with the fan in mind.

"That's always what you're trying to do at the core. How do you make it better? How do you make your sport grow?" Virginia coach and NCAA Women's Lacrosse Rules Committee chair Julie Myers said last fall following the IWLCA Convention's rules scrimmage.

If cultivating the growth of women's lacrosse is the main objective, everything the sport does must stem from that admirable goal.

Moving forward, we need women's lacrosse to be innovative and not afraid of change. We need to embrace different and new ideas, and the foundation of the sport must continue to evolve, because that is the only way to make women's lacrosse more mainstream and more fan-friendly.

The possession clock is that change and is that evolution. However, the sport needed a change of that magnitude for 2016, not 2017.

— Brian Schneider

Starting in 2017 for Division I and in 2018 for Division II and III, all NCAA women's lacrosse programs must have a visible 90-second clock in place to govern possessions. (Brian Schneider)

30-Second 'Timer On' a Better Option

Stalling has been a problem in the women's game for years. The NCAA rules committee finally decided to address this issue, and in 2017, we'll see the implementation of a 90-second possession clock.

The biggest question looming for me is: Why wait?

"The Stall" has long been a complaint of fans watching women's lacrosse. No one likes watching any sport when a team decides to "take the air out of the ball." Done correctly, there are times when it can be an effective component of the winning strategy. This is why this is such a difficult issue to address in the rules.

When I was a player in the late 1990s and early 2000s, we played against the goliath Maryland program. In those days, it seemed everyone (including my Georgetown teams) tried to maintain long offensive possessions to keep the ball away from the high-powered Maryland offense. With discipline and good stick skills, this can prove to be an effective strategy. Very few teams ended up winning against Maryland, but they managed to hold the score in check for part of the game — before Maryland lit up the scoreboard.

Fifteen years later, little has changed.

However, in recent years, we've started to see the outright stall in the second half of games by the winning team. I have seen players standing at the restraining line, virtually motionless for minutes at a time waiting for a defense to play them. Though this is within the rules, it's difficult to watch.

There's been a fair amount of uproar over the latter strategy, and the rules committee listened. A visible 90-second possession clock will be required for the 2017 season for Division I and the 2018 season for Divisions II and III. However, I would prefer that this change be implemented across all of Divisions I, II, and III for the 2016 season to address the stalling for this year or, at a minimum, implement an incremental change for 2016.

While I'm glad the rule committee acted, if I'm being honest, I'd rather see something other than a 90-second possession clock. The main reason is that the 90-second clock applies to every possession. I really only saw the stall being a problem in the second half of the game and when the offender was the winning team.

The new rule calls for the clock to be on every possession, which is going to encourage the team that is losing to force offense, rather than working through the offense to get a good shot. No offensive coordinator or player wants to see a possession end without a goal. When the players see the clock winding down, I believe you will see some really bad shots, as well as dangerous plays in an attempt to do anything to get a shot off.

If the option is to roll the ball into the corner or take a shot — any shot — I think we'll see a lot more of the second option. This scares me. I love a fast-paced game and lots of scoring, but I don't want to see more injuries that would potentially lead to more equipment.

Why not borrow from the men's game, use the "timer on" and have 30 seconds to get a shot off? This would be determined by the refs, only used when a team was trying to stall and it would only be called when teams were not attempting to attack the goal. To me, this seems to be the problem that the rules committee was trying to address.

I know that teams still will utilize long possessions to try and take time off the clock as a strategy to keep the ball out of the opponent's hands. A "timer on" would minimize the effectiveness of this strategy if officials deemed that a team was not trying to create offense.

I hate the stall — and I mean hate. I understand that, in the last few minutes of the game, holding possession to secure a win is smart. However, slowing an offense down to a standstill with 10 minutes left on the clock is not good for the game, and it's never fun or exciting to watch.

It's not too late to make an amendment, right?

— Sheehan Stanwick Burch


comments powered by Disqus

More Headlines