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It's about time: With strong support, automatic shot clock likely coming to men's college lacrosse soon

Men’s college lacrosse appears poised to add an automatic shot clock for the 2019 season, only about a year after the idea began as an experiment.

There is growing support among college coaches at the Division I, II and III levels to install a shot clock to eliminate “stall-ball” strategies that have frustrated opponents, broadcasters and fans alike. Division I women’s lacrosse programs have been playing with a 90-second possession clock since the 2017 season — Division II and III women followed this year — and Major League Lacrosse uses a 60-second shot clock.

“I’d be very shocked if we do not have a shot clock,” Loyola Maryland coach Charley Toomey said. “I think we’re going to have some form of a clock.”

“I could be wrong, and stranger things have happened, but I would anticipate that in this rules cycle, we would see the implementation of a shot clock,” Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. “The majority of our coaches’ body has voted that they would be in favor of the shot clock as well.”

The sport’s rules committee will make the final determination during a series of meetings Aug. 7-9, but the sport already has slowly warmed to the idea. Ahead of the 2013 season, men’s college lacrosse adopted a “timer on” measure after stall warnings, in which the offense was given 30 seconds to shoot on goal, the last 10 seconds of which an official counted down by hand. The 2016 season was the first in which Division I programs were required to have a visible shot clock; Division II and III followed a year later.

Before the 2017-18 school year, the rules committee asked teams to experiment with a visible 60-second shot clock in fall competitions, then sought feedback from coaches and officials. But Willie Scroggs, the NCAA secretary-rules editor for the panel, said the so-called all-possession shot clock is not necessarily inevitable.

“A couple years ago, I didn’t feel it was necessary to have a shot clock, because you can’t legislate tempo,” said Scroggs, who coached North Carolina to NCAA championships in 1981, 1982 and 1986. “If you think we’re going to have more 15-14 games, I’m not convinced of that with an all-possession shot clock. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Denver coach Bill Tierney, the Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association’s liaison to the rules committee, said a significant majority of Division I coaches and an “overwhelming” number of Division II and III coaches voted at the IMLCA’s convention in December to endorse the installation of a shot clock. But Tierney insisted that the intent of a shot clock is not to accelerate the game’s pace of play.

“I think what’s important is that people don’t think that a shot clock is proposed to do anything to speed up the game,” he said. “That’s the wrong perception. The whole thing is to address the variance in adjudication of the ‘timer on.’ That’s really what it comes down to.”

While some coaches are content with the existing shot clock rules, officials have differing standards on what warrants a stall warning. Teams also have delayed such warnings by intentionally launching shots high or wide of opposing goalkeepers to retain possession.

Pietramala said an automatic shot clock would remove the guesswork.

“I think a shot clock allows for more consistency, and the adjudication of the rule becomes easy,” he said. “The clock goes on and the clock goes off. You’re getting consistency in the adjudication of the rules. I just think these guys have so much on their plates, from officiating the game to rules to timekeeping, and it’s way too much.”

If an all-possession shot clock is approved, the rules committee would have to decide on the allotted time; 60, 75 and 90 seconds have been discussed.

While an automatic shot clock could begin once a team has cleared the ball into its offensive half, the consensus preference is that the clock starts as soon as possession is established. Another potential change could be the addition of a 2-point arc similar to MLL’s, but that does not appear to have as much support.

ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich, who prefers a 60-second shot clock, said rule revisions should be geared toward pleasing players and fans.

“Too often, college rules are geared towards the coaches,” the former Johns Hopkins goalie said. “I think they are in favor of speeding up the game, but I think they’re also extremely concerned about how it’s done.”

Despite his support of a shot clock, Toomey said he does not think the college game should mirror MLL’s.

“We’re going to overcoach this thing,” said Toomey, who jokingly described himself as an “old fuddy-duddy.” “We’re going to think about it and sit in our offices every day and figure out ways to play within the rules and find ways to benefit our own teams. We’re all going to get our players on the field. It’s not going to turn our sport into two-way middies that are all of a sudden going to be great defensive and offensive middies. That’s not going to happen. What’s going to happen is, we’re going to end up rolling the ball to the corner of the field at the end of a shot clock to get our players on the field, and I don’t think it’s going to make the game something that is exciting to watch from a fan’s perspective.”

Whether a shot clock is implemented in time for the 2019 season or further in the future, Tierney emphasized that college lacrosse is still “a great game.”

“It’s just one of those things that you just never know what’s going to happen,” he added. “So I think that’s just another step. There are obviously concerns from people about what’s going to happen defensively and offensively and all of that stuff. But I think the bottom line is that, yes, from my own personal opinion and from the votes of the coaches, the game is ready for a shot clock — and not only ready, but it’s in need of it.”

edward.lee@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EdwardLeeSun

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