September 9, 2012

NCAA Rules Committee to Meet Monday; Coaches React

by Matt | Twitter

Jac Coyne contributed to this report. Email or follow Jac on Twitter.

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Jon Hind, the rules committee chair, has received nearly 300 emails regarding the proposed changes his committee will be tackling Monday.

With fall ball underway in earnest for most teams, the NCAA men's lacrosse rules committee will gather via teleconference Monday afternoon to "revisit all of the proposed rules changes," committee chair Jon Hind told Lacrosse Magazine.

Meanwhile, without knowing the rules under which teams will play the 2013 season, coaches across the country have asked themselves this question as they're conducting opening practices: Stick to the status quo and continue per usual, or anticipate changes and adjust the routine? Coaches of varying divisions and ranks have reached different conclusions.

During Monday's meeting, Hind said the committee would discuss all the feedback it has received since the proposals were publicized Aug. 3, including but not limited to a formal position paper the US Lacrosse Men's Safety Education Subcommittee submitted and an online follow-up survey all NCAA coaches were asked to complete. (This was a separate survey from the one completed in advance of the rules committee's annual meeting in Indianapolis in early August.)

"All the rules are not all under the same level of reconsideration, because the feedback hasn't come back to warrant that," Hind said. "Everything is on the table for discussion, but some are weightier than others."

As Lacrosse Magazine reported in mid-August, the committee can "continue to move forward with the suggestions as voted on and proposed or re-vote and pull things from the table" as part of its "consideration and reconsideration" process.

The supported rules proposals will be sent for approval to the Playing Rules Oversight Panel (PROP), which is scheduled to meet via conference call on Sept. 21, Lacrosse Magazine learned. The committee also can modify its original proposals before submitting them to the oversight panel. The oversight committee will not consider any dropped proposals.

Hind said, "It is not [the committee's] intent, but it's our hope, that everything will be finalized [Monday]." If the committee does not reach a resolution on all the proposals, it "may interject another meeting early [next] week and convene another time, prior to the oversight panel's meeting date."

In hopes of further clarifying the impending process, Hind read aloud an email sent to a constituent by Ty Halpin, the NCAA's Associate Director of Playing Rules Administration. The email said: "[The oversight panel] sees the proposals, as well as all of the comments submitted [by the rules committee]. Once PROP rules on what is proposed, it is final. ... PROP only votes 'yes' or 'no' on the rules change recommendations that they have. PROP has, from time to time, tabled this decision if there's a number of questions raised in the discussion on the rule change. The men's lacrosse committee is planning to have representation at the PROP meeting to address any issues or questions that might arise immediately, in hopes of providing the background information needed and avoiding the tabling of any recommendations. It's also worth noting that having specific sport committee rep[s] at the meeting is not out of the norm, but it also doesn't guarantee that a rule recommendation gets passed."

Richie Meade, president of the Intercollegiate Men's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IMLCA) and head coach at Furman, told LM that the committee's finalized proposals are "usually a rubber stamp," meaning they are rarely overturned by the oversight panel.

Meade said the IMLCA recently formed a subcommittee to develop a position paper on behalf of the coaches' association. That group has "started to review some of this stuff together," but has not yet submitted its formal stance.

Per LM's mid-August report, Hind said the rules committee was originally scheduled to reconvene the week of Aug. 20. With an overwhelming flood of feedback, initially from the faceoff community — Hind has received nearly 300 emails — that meeting was delayed because "we didn't want to cut short the opportunity for people to weigh in," Hind said.

Additionally, the committee's impetus for immediacy decreased when it learned the oversight panel's conference call would take place in late September, not early September as initially expected.

"To be honest: Because of the number of changes proposed, coupled with the fact that several of them are pretty significant within the game, that's what led to the in-pouring of opinion," Hind said. "Quite honestly, if there hadn't been such an in-pouring of opinion, we probably would've already wrapped up and PROP would've wrapped up."

Still, Hind said he recognizes the sense of urgency with which the committee needs to act, while still doing what's best for the game.

"We're very cognizant and concerned that athletes and coaches are already getting started on fall ball," Hind said. "These rules are important enough that we don't want to make decisions based on the fact that they've started. But we're very aware. ... We're trying to be careful and judicious, yet we're trying to get to some formality so that coaches can practice what they think PROP might be passing."

In Lacrosse Magazine's last report, Hind described an email wherein a prominent faceoff specialist didn't know how to practice his craft for the upcoming season.

Hind read a similar email from an attackman inquiring about how to prepare his stick, with regards to the proposed stick-stringing specifications.

"That's why we're hoping to wrap up Monday," Hind said. "Because at least then coaches would know what we're putting forward to PROP. We understand this: Fall ball games and tournaments are not too far down the pike."

"If it goes through, we've tried to prepare for that and if it doesn't go through, we haven't wasted a whole fall and we've continued to try to improve our play at that position within those old rules," Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said.
© John Strohsacker

Hind said he expects the committee will have a healthy discussion about these stick-stringing regulations after receiving significant feedback from experts, as well as from coaches, players and alumni of the game.

"My own thoughts, looking back over the last five or six weeks: I think the faceoff group is a small, tight-knit group, and they came out in full force right off the bat," Hind said. "But then what happened, over the course of time, is people started looking more closely at what the proposed stick-stringing rules actually say. So people had more time to string sticks and voice their corresponding concerns. As well as their other concerns."

Related, Hind said all the faceoff feedback will be discussed at length. He also anticipated a conversation about the pace of play issues.

The depth to which these proposals will be discussed is strikingly detailed. For explicit examples, please read the footnotes below with Hind's thoughts on stick-stringing and pace of play. (Also read Corey McLaughlin's Q&A with Hind, which took place after the proposals were initially released.)

Overall, with regard to the rules proposals, Meade said: "Something had to be done, and [the committee] did it. There are always going to be people who react harshly when you [change] anything. ... Lacrosse is a great game because everybody is involved. But not everybody is going to be happy."

Even with the rule change proposals nearing completion, the oversight panel remains roughly two weeks away from finalizing the recommendations. All the while, fall ball practices and scrimmages are well underway for most teams, in most parts of the country.

Meade stressed "there's no good time" to make rules changes, but the August-September timeframe was agreed upon as the best option. And regardless, "coaches are going to figure out how to coach, no matter how the game is changed."

That serves as an appropriate backdrop for the way different coaches at different levels of the game have approached fall ball, lacking clarity with regard to the rules under which their teams will play in 2013.

Dave Pietramala, who expressed some concern regarding the faceoff and shot clock proposals, said Johns Hopkins will practice this fall "finding a balance between both" the old and new rules. The Blue Jays ran a scrimmage last weekend with officials under the instruction to call the new rules.

"If it goes through, we've tried to prepare for that and if it doesn't go through, we haven't wasted a whole fall and we've continued to try to improve our play at that position within those old rules," Pietramala said.

Kevin Cassese said Lehigh would spend the first half of its six-week fall season playing under the old rules to "buy a little bit more time to wait for something final." The Mountain Hawks played two evaluation games last week, and both were played under the old rules.

"Right now, it's really a moot point for us. We're in the process of setting our roster, and we're trying to figure out who can do what with a lacrosse stick, and who can do what athletically. To be honest with the rules, I don't even care right now," Cassese said. "None of us want to go crazy and practice all this stuff, and then find that none of it or very little of it was approved. So that's been the general consensus: We don't know what the heck is going on, so we're going to go with status quo until we know what's going on."

In comparison, Notre Dame assistant coach Gerry Byrne, who was not reached for comment by Lacrosse Magazine, Tweeted on Sept. 4: "1st Prax last nite was $, new rules, no horn, larger sub box etc made the value of conditioned, high IQ 2 way mids that much more obvious."

For what it's worth, Cassese said that to his knowledge, none of the fall ball events Lehigh is scheduled to play in will use the new rules. The Mountain Hawks are slated to play in the Sixth Annual Nick Colleluori Classic (Oct. 6-7) and the San Francisco Lacrosse Classic (Oct. 21).

Coaches in the Division II, Division III and MCLA ranks also have taken mixed approaches...

From Dan Sheehan, coach of Division II national semifinalist LeMoyne:

"We've been talking about it already and certain wrinkles that we could use to try and take advantage of the new rules. The minute it comes out, I would imagine that practice that day, we'll be ready to roll. ... I fall under the category of wanting to know sooner rather than later. Any opportunity that you have to practice like you play, it's certainly to your advantage. Not only that, but some of these rule changes affect kids personally. For example, the motorcycle grip, we've got a couple of guys on our roster that's what they've done for the past seven years of their life, so to give them as much time as possible to make changes in their individual game, I kind of feel for those guys because they're in limbo."

From Steve Beville, coach of Division III national runner-up Cortland:

"The only way to really get good at any of this stuff is to go out and practice it. We just have to be ready that if those committees decide they are going to make all of those changes, we're ready for them as best we can. If they don't change them, we'll be fine, as well. We'll have to deal with some wasted time in preparing. We're not going to go crazy changing a million things. Fall is a big time for us to develop guys anyways, so we're going to focus on the development, especially the rookies and the new guys who come into the program. ... The nuisance is we don't know what it's going to be right now."

From Steve Koudelka, coach of Division III Lynchburg:

"We do like a fast-paced style anyway, so I think some of those rules are things we implement in practice already just because it's what we want to be doing anyway. I don't think it'll be a major deal. I think the motorcycle grip is a lightning rod, so we'll see what they decide to do with that. The stick dimensions play a little bit of a factor for the players, so those are those things I think could impact the game more than the rules, per se. ... It will be interesting to see what the guys do with these things now because every time these things happen it takes a little while them to get used to it."

From Alex Smith, coach of MCLA Division-I national champion Colorado State:

"For us personally, we've got bigger fish to fry than the rules. I've got 70 guys and we're trying to sort through that mess to see who is going to play and not going to play. In our scrimmages, we've widened the box and I've done my best to do the shot clock a little bit to get an idea of it, but I told the guys we're going to pretend these rules are in existence until we hear otherwise. We're just going to go about our business. If they take certain things away, there's no harm, no foul — we'll just go back to it. For me, it's not much of an issue right now. September is much less about game-planning and much more about shaping the team. We're not thinking about it too much at this point. It's much more about the how than the what right now."

Hind concluded his half-hour conversation with Lacrosse Magazine by sharing an email he received. It read: "I want to thank you and the entire committee for not only proposing rule changes but being willing to listen to the entire lacrosse community in considering the opinions of players, coaches and all involved in this great sport. Despite anyone's personal opinions about the proposed changes, I believe we all know the intention of such a proposal is always to help the sport of lacrosse be the best it can be, and for that, I send you my greatest appreciation."

And that message was echoed by Koudelka, the incoming NCAA tournament selection committee chair, who fairly summarized most coaches' reactions.

"It's great having someone like [Hind] being really the lead person in this. He doesn't have a dog in the race, but I know he is a fan of lacrosse, and you need to have a little bit of that in terms of trying to set the tone," he said. "We have a rules committee for a reason, and I have full trust in the guys on the committee that they will do what is best for the betterment of the sport. I don't think there are any personal agendas on the group. We'll live with what they do."

Hind on stick-stringing...

"Probably the biggest concern people have: When you try to string three diamonds — when you're trying to put in three shooting strings — it's kind of evolved in the game where people have shifted the strings downward, not all the way into the throat, though that was our biggest concern. A lot of stringers are stringing the stick 3, 5 and 7 diamond. And even to move it up to 2, 4 and 6 — that sixth diamond down takes you a little bit beyond three-and-a-half inches [from the top of the crosse]. You can string a stick at 1, 3 and 5, and that just fits in most heads. But does 1 become irrelevant because it's so tight to the plastic? It becomes complicated. If we turned around and said, 'OK, forget the distance. You can only put shooting strings through 2, 4 and 6 diamonds.' Who's kidding who? Kids will use the wider-diamond mesh, and now we're right back to square one with strings in the throat. We're still going to have to come up with a distance. A lot of our discussion has centered around a standard mesh pocket, since 95 percent of the players seem to be using that nowadays. Then it comes down to the fact that most players were stringing 3, 5 and 7. If we bump it up to 2, 4 and 6, do we have to change the distance down to four-and-a-half inches [from the top of the crosse]? I don't think there's much interest in leaving it where people are stringing at 3, 5 and 7, because now you're getting pretty far down into the throat."

Hind on pace of play...

"In fairness, there's been a good amount of discussion among us on the pace of play issues. We'll talk at length about that: whether the 20 and 10 is the best method. The question that has come up: Why can't all 30 be stoppable? It's not that it can't be. There's technology out there. We could go to 30-second beepers. We've even done enough research to know that there are mechanisms with Bluetooth, for those teams playing on fields that have wireless scoreboards already set up with play clocks where they play football. You could potentially tie these timers into Bluetooth technology, and into the shot clocks. Not everyone would have that ability. But certainly a lot of people play in stadiums with that capacity. There is discussion on that: Should the whole 30 seconds be stoppable? Should it be left that the first 20 is not stoppable, but the last 10 is? Some things we hadn't talked about that have come up: If you've been told to get a shot, and five seconds into it you call a timeout. Do you re-set the beeper and get 30 seconds off the timeout to get a shot? Or do you let the beeper run out, and when you come out of the timeout you know you're only going to have 10 seconds left? Or are you not even allowed to call a timeout because you've already been scolded, and should you have an opportunity to call a timeout after you've been told to get a shot? A lot of that discussion has happened and will happen. What's allowable, and what plays out during those 30 seconds?"

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