The death of Cornell University's George Boiardi last spring has had a resounding effect on the men's collegiate lacrosse community.
When the NCAA men's lacrosse rules committee convenes next week in San Diego, officials will be seriously addressing whether similar tragic incidents can be avoided or prevented in the future, whether by rules changes or upgrades in protective equipment.
Boiardi is believed to have been a victim of commotio cordis - a syndrome that occurs when a blow is absorbed over the heart at precisely the wrong time - after blocking a shot with his chest.
"There has been a bunch of talk and correspondence about it," said Willie Scroggs of North Carolina, the committee chairman. "We're certainly going to take a look at it. And we're going to take a hard look at someone [a coach] who is teaching players to plant their bodies in front of a shot."
Suggestions have included penalties imposed upon participants other than the goalie who deliberately step in front of shots to applying pressure to equipment manufacturers to create better protective gear for players.
US Lacrosse, based in Baltimore, advanced several possibilities in a letter dated May 10 to the NCAA signed by executive director Steve Stenersen.
Although US Lacrosse serves only in an advisory capacity for the men's collegiate game, Stenersen forwarded the opinions of the organization's sports science and safety committee, citing injury research specific to lacrosse.
After a discussion with Dr. Mark Link of Tufts University, an authority on commotio cordis, US Lacrosse advised "greater education and awareness ... funding of additional research, greater collaboration with equipment manufacturers to establish higher protective standards and/or develop new equipment, and the evaluation of cultural issues."
The committee also recommended a manufacturing standard for chest protectors and "immediate action" to prevent players from stepping in front of shots, a practice that appears to be condoned and in some cases taught.
An upgrade in the current standard for helmets was advised as well because of the increased frequency of helmet-to- helmet contact, collisions and resultant concussions.
"The manufacturers are interested in what they can do," said Jody Martin, the men's division director of US Lacrosse.
Whether all the concern translates into change is questionable.
Navy coach Richie Meade, the chair of the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse rules committee, agreed that "the overall issue of equipment and safety is in the forefront. But that [penalty for stepping in front of a shot] will be a very tough rule to enforce. What constitutes doing that? You can say a lot of things, but actually implementing it on the field is a different matter. Sometimes, you put a finger in one hole in the dike and another hole opens somewhere else."
Meade's group is the coaches' liason to the NCAA rules committee. Also involved in the process are athletic administrators and officials.
"There has been criteria established by which a rule can be changed," Meade said. "But it will take another year at least for it to happen. I don't see anything major happening right away."
Scroggs said he knew of a 14-year-old playing in a youth league who absorbed a blow to the chest and was "revived by a defibrillator."
A defibrillator is a device that is designed to pass electrical current through a patient's heart. A requirement that such equipment be on hand at all games may also be addressed.
"Everybody is just kind of stunned that his happened," he said. "It has certainly raised everybody's awareness."