September 14, 2012

Making Sense: Time for More Rule Changes

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

The lacrosse season lasts a little over three months, but coaches have created a scenario where the summer recruiting circuit has evolved into a season of its own. It's time bring a little sanity to the process, writes Jac Coyne.
© Kevin P. Tucker

College coaches have a lot of uncertainty in their lives. Whether finding out whether a prized recruit chose their program over a rival, awaiting the news from the admissions office about a borderline kid or simply wondering if a homesick sophomore is going to show up for practice the next day, coaches are always dealing with variables.

Because of this, the constants in the sport provide a bit of solace. With a couple of minor exceptions, the rules of the game have been an immutable aspect of a coach's job.

That has changed this year.

Due to the timeline utilized by the NCAA men's lacrosse rules committee and the NCAA oversight committee – which is the final arbiter of what changes will be adopted – coaches at both the varsity and club level entered fall ball without a firm grasp on what the expectations are in terms of stringing, faceoff grips, horns and a de facto shot clock (although the faceoff thing is now a dead letter).

There have been rule changes made this close to the start of the season before – just a couple of years ago the count on the failure to advance call was still being pondered in the fall – but none have been as invasive as the ones currently being contemplated.

This isn't to say that coaches are against change. Most coaches I've spoken with are fine with adding a true, bench-operated shot clock to the rules and, other than the prohibition against the motorcycle grip on faceoffs, there is no overwhelming consensus against one of the proposed rule changes. The fact that everyone is operating on a level playing field in terms of knowns and unknowns makes it more of a nuisance than any sort of competitive disadvantage.

Further, a majority of coaches use the fall for development and evaluation as opposed to installing systems for the following spring, so awaiting rules changes isn't that big a deal.

The process can be done better, however. It's time for the rules committee to move up the timeline it uses to install new rule changes.

The adoption a biennial protocol for issuing rules changes was a thoughtful move several years ago, eliminating the temptation to tweak the rules on a yearly basis. But waiting until September to pass rules that will go in effect the following January effectively negates any benefit of that waiting period. Coaches and players still have to manage the new criteria dumped in their collective laps at the last minute.

In the future, the rules committee should use the "off-year" season to formulate its potential changes and allow a year for debate and feedback. The committee should then convene immediately after the Memorial Day championships during "on-years" (the next one being 2014) and have the new rules in the hands of coaches by July 1. This will allow coaches to be ready to roll on the first day of fall ball instead of waiting until nearly October to see what surprises await.

This will put pressure on the rules committee to have a bit more foresight in crafting rule changes, but it will also protect the sport from knee-jerk decisions (such as the since-rejected faceoff concepts). The NCAA will have to get on board in order to expedite approval, but changing its protocol for the good of one of its sports - and the sanity of its coaches - shouldn't be a terribly hard sell.

College lacrosse coaches, as well as the players, are extremely resilient animals. They can handle just about everything. But just because they can doesn't necessarily mean they should. Let's hope the powers that be make a couple of small changes for the good of the sport.

Coaches Need to Limit Summer Recruiting – For Their Own Good

From late February through May when my wife attends parties, get-togethers or other social functions, she typically does so without me. She jokingly – albeit without laughing – tells people at the events that she is a "lacrosse widow" during those months as my weekends and many evenings are spent covering or writing about the sport.

During the other nine months of the year, and especially the summer, things revert back to some level of normalcy. I even try go the extra mile to put lacrosse on the backburner for the sake of our marriage. We go on vacations and have "date nights," etc.

Most coaches that I've spoken to at the NCAA level follow a similar pattern, but that's becoming increasingly more difficult. The summer months, dominated by camps and clinics, usually require some sort of presence to keep a program in the hunt for the top kids. It has elongated the "lacrosse widow" period to unhealthy levels.

"We were within two weeks of the kids coming back this fall and my wife looked at me one morning and said, 'Are we going on vacation this summer?' I'm in trouble at this point," said Merychurst head coach Chris Ryan, with a chuckle. "The USS Ryan is sinking. We'll have to wait and see what happens here."

Ryan said this in jest, and most spouses of career lacrosse coaches have an understanding of what they got themselves into, but it's something that the coaches need to address, preferably sooner rather than later. It should start with a narrowing of the summer recruiting window.

Camps, clinics and evaluating events should be limited to a month, and at maximum six weeks.

"One of my old assistants asked me, 'Why isn't the summer recruiting season like basketball? Six weeks,'" Ryan said. "The summer turns out to be another season altogether."

One could argue that this is the job that coaches are paid to do. Even Ryan concurs. "If you don't like it, get out of the business," he said. But if you put it into the framework of the academic world - ostensibly what coaches are operating in - the summer expectations for coaches far exceeds that of any professor or college staff member, many of whom make considerably more than a small college coach.

Admittedly, these same camps and clinics are often used to subsidize a small coach's salary or throw a couple of extra bucks toward an assistant. And the aforementioned quest to grab the attention of top kids (or at least the ones who didn't commit to a Division I program as a sophomore) is nearly pathologic, even if the results don't always match the time spent in the pursuit.

Perhaps the saddest part of the increased length of widowship is that the coaches have no one to blame but themselves. They created the summer recruiting monster, and could solve it themselves if the right voices took a leading role in forcing a change. It needs to happen.

My respect and admiration for college lacrosse coaches, especially those in the lower ranks, is unwavering. The sense of dedication, camaraderie and family that coaches instill in student-athletes (there's a reason why the coach gets "the call" in the middle of the night and not an academic advisor or a psych professor) lasts far beyond the utility of most curricular pursuits. For that, we should all be grateful.

But I worry about the coaches. I worry that their dogged pursuit of excellence during the summer will exact an irreparable toll on the rest of their lives.

Midsummer Night's Power Rankings

NCAA Division II
NCAA Division III
MCLA Division I
MCLA Division II

Summer Notebooks

NCAA Division II: It's good to be Mercyhurst.
NCAA Division III: The NCAC's Catch-22.
MCLA Division I: CSU following in BYU's footsteps.
MCLA Division II: The junior circuit has a new concern.

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