Blogs and Commentary

posted 10.18.2011 at 10.03 a.m. by Jac Coyne

Morning Jac: The Non-Shot Clock Solution

On Friday, I posted my thoughts on how the adoption of a shot clock by the NCAA Division I rules committee would be a bad decision for the overwhelming majority of collegiate lacrosse programs. The feedback has come down on both sides of the argument, with several key points sprinkled in amongst them. I received a couple of emails that had a slightly more combative edge, and they all carried roughly the same question (and I'm paraphrasing): "Well, if not a shot clock, what's your solution to the current problem?"

It's a legitimate query. It's easy for an individual to point out the flaws in a proposal without offering one of their own, so it's only fair that I put myself out there.

Before I lay out my plan, please keep in mind that I believe the slowdown of the Division I game is something that, if allowed, will eventually rectify itself as coaches take the natural evolutionary problem-solving steps, which started with humans creating fire, developing the wheel, implementing the forward pass, etc. But if immediately grasping the attention of couch-laden sports fans on Memorial Day weekend continues as the overarching goal of the NCAA rules committee, here is my solution without the introduction of a shot clock.

We'll keep the current concept of the offensive stall warning – a "keep it in call" after three times around the box, or whatever the protocol is that day – but with one key caveat. Once drawing the stall, the offensive team must not only operate inside the box, but also send one of its players into the defensive half of the field within 10 seconds (for mechanics purposes, the trail official would have the count once the stall was called) for the remainder of that possession. That player would be released once the defense takes possession to assist on the ride (the officials would make a "release" call when they deem possession to have changed).

This would solve a host of issues that are not only affecting the D-I game now, but also eliminate some of the unseemly consequences of a shot clock. First, and most importantly, it would act as a compelling impetus for the team with the ball to continuously attack the goal, as the prospect of operating man-down while in the attack area would force offensive teams to operate with more urgency.

Second, it would help overwhelmingly superior teams avoid the heinous choice of either running up the score or dumping the ball into the corner of the field, which would be an unintended result of a shot clock at the lower collegiate levels (and to some degree at the D-I level). This way, better teams could still burn the clock, but at a reasonable disadvantage.

Third, micro-managing Division I coaches – who are ultimately the cause of the current stagnation – have the opportunity to develop man-down offensive packages to satisfy their neuroses.

But this is not the entire scope of my new rule. A secondary duty of the officials will be to determine whether there is the presence of a defensive stall (e.g., an unresponsive zone). The same penalty – one defensive player would be required to vacate its defensive area and move to the other side of the midfield line on a 10-second count – would be enacted. Again the trail official would have the count, and the signal mechanic would be the same as football's "too many men on the field." That player would release (again, on the officials' call) on a change of possession to help with the clear, but he would not release with a penalty (essentially creating a 6-on-4).

Fulfilling the qualifications of a defensive stall would be more stringent than that of an offensive stall – perhaps a glaring unresponsiveness to pace of play would be one criterion – but it would be an option if the stagnation of play is deemed to be egregious, and the fault of the defense. It would also come with a one-time verbal warning from officials before going into effect. 

The defensive stall would also have several benefits. First, it would keep defenses active, but not rob teams the opportunity to run a zone if they so choose. Second, defenses would still have an incentive to be proactive (as opposed to further packing in a zone) after a stall call because a turnover would immediately result in an odd-man advantage in the offensive zone if they can transition the ball quickly.

My idea, while less invasive than a shot clock, is not without its challenge. It would require officiating crews continue their quest for consistency from game-to-game, which is an obstacle that has yet to be perfected (just ask any coach at any level). But it does spare the various divisions, including Division I, the necessity of a shot clock – something that would ultimately prove to be just as inconsistent, if not more so, in its application as my concept.

The goal of a shot clock is to create more shots and, presumably, more goals. If given the chance, my solution will do the same, but in a manner that can be applied across every level of collegiate lacrosse without the problematic need for a shot clock.

Alas, in a perfect world, neither would be necessary.