After years of debate, men’s lacrosse moved one step closer to adding a shot clock for the 2019 season. But support for such a measure is not unanimous.
After conducting a series of meetings from Tuesday through Thursday, the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Rules Committee announced Friday that it will recommend the introduction of a visible 60-second shot clock after the offense has crossed midfield. A team will have 20 seconds to clear the ball, and if the offense retains possession off a save or a shot off the goal posts or crossbar, the clock will be reset to 60 seconds. If the 60 seconds expire without the offense taking a shot, the defense will gain possession.
Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala endorsed the rule change even though he preferred a 90-second shot clock. He said the most important objective was to help remove some of the responsibility placed on officials, who had been in charge of warning teams of stalling.
“I do think it’s good for our game,” he said Friday. “I think it is a change that has been a long time coming. I think it’s going to be better for the fans. I can’t tell you how many people don’t understand why the timer was put on here, but not there. I think there’s going to be a level of consistency as to how the game is officiated. I know we don’t change rules to make things easier for officials, but I think in this case, we allow them to do their jobs the way they’re capable of doing them.”
But not every coach was thrilled with the result. In a text, Loyola Maryland coach Charley Toomey wrote, “I don't think they valued the pulse of collegiate coaches. We will live with it, but it’s my feeling 90 seconds was what we were hopeful of.”
In a text, Maryland coach John Tillman wrote, “I’m optimistic that this will be good for the game although I think there are some things that will result from the changes that we might not have expected. We will just have to work through that. That’s part of our job.”
Also in a text, Towson coach Shawn Nadelen wrote, “Not overly thrilled for the shot clock.”
In late July, Duke coach John Danowski cautioned his peers on the necessity of a shot clock, pointing out that an opportunity to coach the United States national team in the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships without a mandatory shot clock had altered his stance to consider not implementing a clock.
After the 2012 season, the sport introduced a “timer on” rule 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, and Division II and III schools followed a year later.
While a visible 60-second shot clock would eliminate the need for officials to signal a stall, there is no visible clock when a team must clear the ball within 20 seconds, which irked UMBC coach Ryan Moran.
“We had these debates at the [Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association] convention in December, and everyone really agreed that 90 seconds would be awesome, and if it reaches 70, then you see that it’s at 70, and then you blow the whistle because you didn’t clear it in time,” he said, adding that the rules committee overlooked addressing what he viewed as a larger problem in faceoffs. “How is a kid supposed to know on the field where he is at? We complained about an invisible shot clock, and we traded an invisible shot clock on the offensive side of the field for an invisible shot clock in the clearing game. It’s ridiculous.”
Men’s lacrosse has dipped its collective toe in the pool for a visible shot clock without taking the plunge. Aside from the “timer on” measure, the rules committee asked teams last fall to experiment with a 60-second shot clock and then provide feedback on the change. The committee was likely encouraged by the results of an annual rules survey in which 62 percent of coaches, including 71 percent of Division I coaches, expressed support for a shot clock.
“It was clear to the committee that the majority of the lacrosse community felt strongly that a shot clock was needed to properly manage today’s game,” committee chair and Nazareth coach Rob Randall said in a news release posted on the NCAA’s website. “In our discussions, we debated many different options and reviewed the experiments that took place in the fall. Ultimately, we believe our proposal will continue the evolution of our sport.”
ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich said the visible shot clock would make the game more attractive for players and fans.
“I want the game to be a player’s game and a fan’s game, not a coach’s game,” the former Johns Hopkins goalkeeper said. “Too often the rules have been enacted by coaches for coaches. The shot clock actually creates more coachable scenarios in a lacrosse game. Not less, but more. Every 60 seconds, what are you doing defensively? What are you doing offensively to create a shot? So there will be more possessions per game, and there will be more coaching.”
If the proposal for a shot clock is approved Sept. 12 by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, the sport will mirror Major League Lacrosse, which also uses a 60-second shot clock. Division I women’s lacrosse programs have been playing with a 90-second possession clock since the 2017 season with Division II and III schools following a year later.
The committee also suggested cutting the 20-yard substitution box in half and reinstalling the dive play around the crease.
No matter the decision, Big Ten Network/ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said players and coaches will need some time to adjust to a visible shot clock.
“This is going to take a lot of getting used to for a lot of people,” the former Johns Hopkins midfielder said. “It’s a pretty healthy change.”