NCAA still reviewing rules year after death

Committee is reluctant to alter flow of the game

February 25, 2005|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Nearly a year after Cornell defenseman George Boiardi died after stepping in front of a shot, getting struck in the chest and going into cardiac arrest, the NCAA is still grappling with proactive ways to prevent a repeat of such a tragedy.

The NCAA men's lacrosse rules committee has considered rules changes, such as forbidding any player but a goalkeeper to step into the cage. It has considered requiring all players to wear chest protectors and consulted with manufacturers about the feasibility of such an equipment addition. It has talked with doctors to get more educated about the circumstances that apparently killed Boiardi.

For now, the committee has decided to take an incremental step by urging coaches not to teach players other than goalies to attempt to stop a shot by blocking it intentionally with their bodies.

"What we did as a point of emphasis was tell coaches we do not want to teach a kid to willingly stand in front of a shot. And we do not want a kid to step in front of the goal behind the goalkeeper," said Willie Scroggs, the associate athletic at the University of North Carolina and chairman of the rules committee.

Scroggs, who met with the committee in August and participated in a conference call with them in December, said the committee is continuing to listen to the opinions and suggestions of coaches, as well as equipment and medical experts.

He said the NCAA was reluctant to impose hard rules or equipment changes on the game just yet. For starters, he said a reliable chest protector has yet to be tested successfully enough to be mandated by the NCAA.

"We didn't want to mandate something we couldn't back up," Scroggs said.

Boiardi was believed to have died from a rare phenomenon known as commotio cordis, which occurs when a person is struck in the chest at a precise moment in the heart's rhythm, causing cardiac arrest. Boiardi collapsed during a game March 17.

A rule change - penalizing a defender for intentionally blocking a shot or stepping into the net - seemed to be the more likely choice, but Scroggs said the committee struggled with how to enforce it without changing the fiber of the game. It is not unusual, for example, for a player to be struck by a shot inadvertently away from the goal in the normal flow of the game.

Scroggs said the committee rejected the idea of penalizing a player for defending the goal after the goalkeeper has vacated the cage - for example, to start a clear that resulted in a turnover, thereby creating a scoring opportunity for the opponent in transition.

"We didn't feel comfortable saying you can't do that, when what you would be doing is giving up a goal," Scroggs said. "We don't want to change the game with a drastic change. We don't want to be a rules committee that changes the game just because we're a rules committee."

Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, who recruited Boiardi before leaving Cornell after the 2000 season, said he hoped for a definitive rule change, such as restricting the cage to goalies.

"Kids get hit all the time, I realize that. I used to get in front of shots all the time [as a player]. How do you penalize a kid by determining whether he jumped in front of the ball or he just happened to be there?" Pietramala said. "But the person that should be in the goal is the goalie. I thought [the committee] might contemplate that step.

"I'd rather address this than worrying about riding and clearing rules and where you can call timeouts. I'm not sure what we've done to make the game safer."

Said Loyola coach Bill Dirrigl: "I don't know that I was expecting anything. If there's a way to protect the chest area and make it protected, I trust the powers that be are doing everything they can. [As for rules changes] how do you do it?"

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