Faceoffs

Maryland midfielder Charlie Raffa wins a faceoff during the second quarter of a game against the Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. (Mark Konezny / USA Today Sports / February 22, 2014)

In lacrosse, a team isn't assured that they'll ever get the ball. They could play an entire game on defense if they never win a faceoff, which is is conducted after a goal has been scored, and to start a new quarter.

Faceoff men use speed, balance, technique and power to battle for vital possessions. Over time these faceoff men have become specialists.

Faceoffs are a source of wonderful tension in a tight game — they can be the catalyst for momentum swings. I would never want to see faceoffs eradicated.

But the current system doesn't work, and I'd like to see a simple rule change: A faceoff man cannot leave the field until there is a shot on goal or change of possession.

Make them run a real shift.

I'd also like to see referees adhere more precisely to the rulebook, demand fairness and enact stiffer penalties for offenders.

Enhancing the tempo can only help. Adding a 60-second shot clock would allow defenses to earn the ball back quicker, increasing the number of possessions in a game, and lessening the stranglehold of a great faceoff man.

In Major League Lacrosse, they utilize a 60-second shot clock. A well-oiled defense can earn possessions and overcome a faceoff disparity, as the Chesapeake Bayhawks did on their their way to the 2013 MLL title. The team with the best players ultimately won, not the team with the best specialist.

What's a FOGO?

Every college team in the country counts on a FOGO — faceoff, get off — to earn possesion. These are players who's only job it is to secure the ball from the draw, and get off the field as quickly has possible.

FOGOs don't play offense, and try to play as little defense as possible. Too often stick skills, the ability to dodge, pass accurately, shoot and play defense are sold separately. They are specialists, like kickers in football.

No other sport has a specialist as important as a FOGO — they decide more games than kickers. That's not right. It's ironic that the least-talented player on the roster might be the most important.

How'd we get here?

In hockey, faceoff men don't immediately skate off the ice after possession is determined — they skate a full shift and are contributors. That's the way lacrosse used to be.

The faceoff midfielder was a premier midfield athlete who also took faceoffs. Studs such as Jim Brown, Jon Reese, Andy Kraus, Paul Cantabene, Peter Jacobs, Ryan Wade, Kyle Harrison, Stephen Peyser, Jeremy Thompson, and CJ Costabile handled faceoffs and were productive in other aspects of the game, too.

Lacrosse has become a game of tightly-controlled possessions, no longer a free-flowing track meet. Fewer overall possessions add importance to owning the ball.

They're tough, but lacking

Go watch a practice. FOGOs spend 80 percent of the time by themselves in a corner of the field in a crouch position working on technical skills such as clamping, raking and timing the whistle.

The best ones are built like fire hydrants; their work is physically demanding. They are a tough bunch, but too often are lacking in skill and remedial stick work.

They also command significant scholarship money. The going rate for FOGOs for a fully-funded program is about a 50 percent scholarship, a healthy chunk of cash considering the total team allotment is 12.6 scholarships.