August 8, 2012

Faceoff Specialists Unite in Opposition to Proposed Rules Changes

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter | updated 08.08.2012 at 4.00 p.m.

* NCAA Men's Rules Committee Proposes Major Changes
* Q&A with Committee Chair Jon Hind
* Faceoff Veterans React

Proposed rules changes for 2013 would outlaw use of the motorcycle grip at the NCAA level. Many faceoff specialists have reacted in opposition, asking the NCAA's Playing Rules Oversight Panel to vote against changes that and other changes the face off when it meets in September.
© John Strohsacker/

They were already a close-knit group, these special breed of players who start every game battling at midfield, and continue to swing momentum in one way or the other during the next four quarters, and perhaps overtime.

Now they're swinging back at the NCAA men's rules committee's proposed changes for the 2013 season which, if approved in September, would dramatically change how the faceoff is taken and enforced.

In the hours after the committee's proposals were announced on Friday – they include outlawing the motorcycle grip, a 30-second penalty on the third pre-whistle violation per half, disallowing tape on the throat of the crosse, and an experimental rule for this fall that will move faceoff players from four- to 12-inches apart – faceoff takers of all levels expressed their disapproval.

One Division I all-conference faceoff specialist told Lacrosse Magazine: "Correcting a FOGOs grip is like telling a kid he can't shoot sidearm. It's the individual's way of doing his job. If this passes, I won't see the field. Our backup is a regular gripper. I won't beat him."

On Twitter, Major League Lacrosse specialists Anthony Kelly ("Just got a memo on the proposed rule changes for NCAA face-offs... What a joke!") and Jerry Ragonese ("Parents calling me freaking out about there Moto grip D1 FO recruits losing there scholarships. This is what I WANT to deal with today" and "No more face offs all together its not fair to anyone. No goalies either just a trashcan. Every game ends in a tie no matter what.") voiced their opinions. High school- and college-level players had questions and concerns as well.

They aren't alone in the general sentiment. On Wednesday, an online petition titled "Face off men unite" had more than 450 signatures, including support from Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene, who retired as MLL's all-time faceoff wins leader, former Long Island Lizards specialist Pete Vlahakis, who broke Cantabene's record in 2011, and Team Australia's Matt Schomburg, who runs a faceoff instructional company.

The petition states: "We, the undersigned, respectfully urge the Members of the Playing Rules Oversight Panel NOT to approve the face off rule changes proposed by the Men's Lacrosse Rules Committee, particularly with respect to the elimination of the motorcycle grip, taping of the shaft near the throat of the head, and the moving of the face off payers from 4 inches to twelve inches apart."

The author of the petition, Joey Lefebvre, played at Winnacunnet High (N.H.) and will play for Division II Bentley next season.

"I felt the need to start this petition because I feel so strongly about the subject," Lefebvre told LM. "I have put in thousands of hours on and off the field to get to where I am right now, and to see it all go to waste on a rule change that only has anecdotal evidence to support it would negate all the hard work I and other moto grip face off guys who are going to/aspire to play at the collegiate level. When I read the proposals I felt singled out as a moto face off guy as I suspect many others did as well, so I decided to try and do something about it."

The petition also says that moving the faceoff men 12 inches apart could lead to more head injuries.

In an interview with LM on Friday, rules committee chair Jon Hind said that all of the changes proposed regarding with the faceoff centered on improving fairness and safety.

"I’ll tell you the faceoff was better this year than the faceoff I was watching a couple years ago. I do think the faceoff has gone in a great direction," Hind said. "And while I know there are a lot of people that said now, 'The faceoff is fixed, let’s leave it alone,' there are a whole lot of other people that still felt the faceoff needed to be cleaned up some more. We arrived at a place where we tweaked it a little bit more. There’s still a feeling out there the faceoff is still not fair and not entirely safe."

The committee, which met for four days in Indianapolis last week, is comprised of Hind, North Carolina coach Joe Breschi, Army athletic director Boo Corrigan, Mount St. Mary's associate AD Mike Hardisky, Vermont coach Ryan Curtis, C.W. Post coach John Jez, Washington and Lee coach Gene McCabe, University of New England coach John Hunt and UMBC coach Don Zimmerman (nonvoting secretary-rules editor).

Asked specifically what about fairness and safety caused the committee to propose outlawing the motorcycle grip, Hind said: "You know the move. The concern was what happens off of that move and what's the driver behind using that move. That grip kept coming up, resoundingly in the conversation."

He also said he understood the reaction by the faceoff community, saying he could see why they may feel "singled out," but that the committee felt tweaks needed to be made.

"If that's been what you do and that's been your specialty and now that's changed this dramatically, I would be there, too," Hind said. "I understand that, but there was a concern from a standpoint of fairness and safety that the motorcycle grip didn't have a place in the game."

He also said, "There is an absolute understanding in this age of specialization that certainly when one is asked what is the most specialized, it’s the faceoff person. I’m not going to make any kind of attempt to minimize the change or say that it’s minimal. If the faceoff men feel as though this is a huge change for them, who am I to say it’s not? If they think it’s that enormous then it must be, and is."

The NCAA's Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which oversees rules changes for all NCAA sports, not just lacrosse, will vote on the proposals in September. The date for when the lacrosse proposals will be considered will be determined Aug. 16 when the panel is next scheduled to meet by phone, an NCAA spokesperson told LM.

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