Local fall lacrosse games will experiment with new rules

NCAA considering provisions to speed up the sport

October 07, 2011|By Matt Birchenough, The Baltimore Sun

While lacrosse is often called the fastest game on two feet, the NCAA is studying options to get those feet moving a little faster.

This weekend, Georgetown will play at UMBC and Ohio State and North Carolina will play at Calvert Hall in games experimenting with rules designed to reduce stoppages in play and encourage faster, more fluid play.

"I think people want to see a faster game," North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said. "I think we're trying to make it more lacrosse — more free-flowing, more fan-friendly, more up and down the field."

Each game will feature a different set of experimental rules. In today's UMBC-Georgetown game, teams will be allowed to substitute players only on the horn when the ball goes out of bounds. The current ruleallows substitution on the fly and on any horn.

The teams will also have 20 seconds to clear the defensive zone and 10 seconds to reach the attack area, and they must put a shot on goal within 30 seconds after a stall warning is issued.

North Carolina and Ohio State will play Sunday with a shot clock that will give each team 60 seconds to get a shot on goal in the first half and 75 seconds in the second half. The teams will also not be allowed to substitute after the horn sounds.

"This is a way for us to address some of the key points we talked about in August to try to address some of the lulls in the game," said Ty Halpin, NCAA liaison for the men's lacrosse rules committee.

Mark Dixon, an ESPN and Inside Lacrosse analyst, said he believes the NCAA is taking steps forward with this weekend's experiments.

"I think it's important for the game that they actually do take action and not just talk about things," Dixon said. "Not just put it on paper, but experiment with it, put it in live-game situations."

The opportunity to apply these rules to game situations is made easier because of the sport's fall season. Don Zimmerman, UMBC's coach and the secretary-rules editor for the NCAA men's lacrosse rules committee, said the fall is the right time to look into rule changes.

"We would never do that in the spring as we're preparing for the regular season," he said. "We just couldn't afford to stray from doing the things that we're going to have to do. But in the fall, we have some time to prepare the team. We just felt that this would be something that would be interesting."

The rule experiments have been suggested to address an increasing concern about the pace of the game. Specialization has, at times, cut the sport to a half-field game, and defensive-minded coaching has also reduced transition play. The result has been fewer goals and slower play.

"I think we've seen more and more, over the last couple years, a huge increase in stall warnings, teams really not pushing the ball in transition," ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra said, "and this is a game everybody fell in love with years ago because of its pace and its ability to go from end to end. And I think we're seeing a lot less end-to-end lacrosse.

"We're at a pivotal stage, because the growth of the game is at an unprecedented rate. And to capitalize on that and to continue the growth of the game, people that are watching the game need to be interested, and the fast pace of lacrosse needs to be brought back."

Dixon also voiced a concern about the sport's image among fans.

"I [broadcasted] a 3-2 Loyola-Towson game last year that wasn't as bad as some people think," he said, "but at the end of the day, if this game's going to continue to grow, you can't have five goals in a 60-minute lacrosse game. It's just not going to lend itself to people that we're trying to make into lacrosse fans."

While the fans are a factor in the consideration of new rules, coaches and players could be faced with a difficult transition. Breschi said his players have had limited preparation in dealing with the rule changes they will experience Sunday.

"There are going to be some challenges, because we're not used to being under that pressure to take shots. We're not practicing that way," he said. "But we will have a sense of urgency to get shots off and to do our substitution quickly."

If rules are eventually put in place to speed up the game, certain coaches and programs that play a slow-down game might need to change their strategy. But Carcaterra said that shouldn't be a problem in the future.

"If you look at the upper echelon of teams that have played slow-down, they have the athletes to play with anyone," Carcaterra said. "You have some of these schools that typically have been tagged as slowing the ball down, that's just the strategy that those coaches have had.

"If these rule changes do come into play, the coaches that have played slow-down in years past, they're also some of the best lacrosse minds. They'll make the adjustments."

The rules committee is still a long way from making permanent changes. The NCAA will have a local TV crew film this weekend's games and will review the effects of the rule changes, Halpin said.

"We know this is a small sample, but either way we'll put some of these ideas on our annual rules survey that goes to the coaches and see what the feedback is from them," Halpin said. "When we move forward, the committee can consider those in August and potentially have them go into play for the 2013 season."

xcxmbirchenough@baltsun.com

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