It’s finally happening.
After months — even years — of speculation, debate, and controversy, the NCAA is implementing a standardized 60-second shot clock in men’s lacrosse.
Penn coach Mike Murphy met along with the eight other members of the NCAA Rules Committee earlier this month to authorize the changes. In September, those changes are expected to be approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Committee, bringing a much needed change to college lacrosse.
The new rule will give possessing teams 20 seconds to carry the ball from the defensive zone to the offensive half. Once across that midline, a 60-second shot clock will automatically start.
To satisfy that shot clock, the attacking team must score, hit the post on a shot, or hit the goalie with a shot.
The result should be a faster, cleaner game.
In the past, the team that won the faceoff could and often would carry the ball into the offensive zone and pass it around the perimeter for minutes before even thinking about attacking the goal. Without a standardized shot clock, there was no incentive to do so, as possessions were so valuable.
Now, a team will no longer be able to dominate possession with the superior faceoff player throughout the entire contest.
Before the proposed rule change, referees had to institute a 30-second shot clock whenever they felt the offense was stalling or holding onto the ball too long.
Among the many issues with this method of tempo control was its overall subjectivity.
It was nearly impossible for the officials to remain consistent with their calls throughout the game. Oftentimes, from the onset, teams were given more time to set up their offense. However, in the final minutes of a close contest, the referees might call for a shot clock just seconds into a possession in order to prevent the winning team from running out the clock. Essentially, the officials were placed into an impossible position.
However, the burden of no official shot clock affected fans as well.
Just as end-of-game fouling halts the pace of college basketball, the possession game within the actual game proved detrimental to college lacrosse. For a sport that aimed to brand itself as the “Fastest Game on Two Feet,” the pace of play could often be sluggish.
Instead of driving towards the net in transition situations, teams would often pull the ball out, substitute in their offensive personnel, and then only attack the goal after tossing it around the perimeter.
The arbitrarily enforced shot clock did little to dissuade teams from operating so slowly, as offenses could even use phony shots wide of the goal to keep the officials from putting the timer on.
With the new 60-second clock, the disincentive to shoot will be removed, the magnitude of each faceoff will be lessened, and the pace of play will increase drastically.
While the shot clock rules headline the committee’s work, other changes were proposed as well.
For one, the committee decided to re-implement the dive shot. Once again, players are authorized to leave their feet and dive head-first across the crease to score. Formerly, if the attacking player left his feet on his own volition and landed in the crease, he was called for a violation, but now, such a move is once-again encouraged.
At the Major League Lacrosse level, the dive is legal, allowing the league to showcase the athleticism and creativity of its athletes.
Although it creates great highlights, it often leads to collisions between attacker and goalie. Because of the shot’s proximity, the goalie has almost no chance to save the shot without making contact with the diver, thus creating dangerous situations.
Additionally, the committee proposed to reduce the substitution box from 20 yards to 10 yards. By doing so, the committee keeps with its theme of amping the sport’s excitement. A smaller box will hopefully lead to more transition opportunities and again, a faster pace of play.
It is entirely possible that it will take multiple seasons for these new rules to produce the desired effects. None of the current crop of players have ever played with these conditions, and, at the high school level, there has never been a shot clock at all. Even the coaches, while teaching their players, will have to learn on the fly, as their old playbooks may not work in this new era.
While the offenses figure out this new landscape, defenses might flex their muscles in 2019. Between zone formations and advanced slide packages, defenses are well equipped to stop the offenses for only 60 seconds at a time. But eventually, that pendulum should swing. Offenses should become more precise, the ball should move faster, and optimal lacrosse might finally be played.
Brevin Fleischer is a College junior for Albany, N.Y. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.