April 13, 2011

Sheehan Stanwick Burch: Stiffer Penalties Needed to Nip Foulplay

by Sheehan Stanwick Burch | LaxMagazine.com

Resurgent Syracuse seems to have hit its stride by returning home after the longest stretch of away games (six) in school history.

© Greg Wall

I had the privilege of calling both the Colgate-Navy and Notre Dame-Syracuse games last weekend. All four of these squads are in a position where they control their own destinies, as their success in conference play is directly tied to whether they will play in the postseason.

After losing to Patriot League foe Holy Cross last week, Navy looks to be the favorite to take the conference title after edging Colgate 14-10 on Saturday.

Syracuse just played the longest stretch of away games in school history (six) and suffered four losses to then No. 1 Maryland, No. 10 Florida, No. 2 Northwestern, and No. 18 Dartmouth. After 39 days on the road, the Orange finally made its way back home to the Carrier Dome to host Big East opponents Connecticut and Notre Dame on Friday and Sunday. Syracuse won both contests, and it seems that the Orange may have turned the corner.

In the wins against Connecticut and Notre Dame, Syracuse started to get the confidence that seemed to be lacking early in the season. The Orange faces Georgetown this weekend, which has become a huge rivalry over the years. The matchup carries a lot more weight than just bragging rights this season.

In the ALC, Ohio State seems to be making a late season push. After beating Vanderbilt 17-16, riding Brittany Zerhusen's 10 points, the Buckeyes made an appearance in the top-20 rankings for the first time this season.

The ALC is shaping up to be a much more competitive conference this season than most expected. All of the early buzz focused on Northwestern and Vanderbilt, but as the season has unfolded, we watched Florida routinely knock off power programs, and Penn State, Ohio State and Johns Hopkins have continuously improved. There are no "gimmie" games in this conference anymore.

The biggest game this week is Northwestern at Florida in Gainesville on Thursday night. This game will be a great barometer of how far Florida has come since its 19-5 loss to the Wildcats last year.

One thing that became apparent watching the Syracuse-Notre Dame game is the need to address the constant fouling in the midfield. Unfortunately, this issue was not specific to Syracuse-Notre Dame. If you've read any of my prior columns, you know that I am always preaching safety. In addition to the major safety concerns related to persistent midfield fouls, it is equally painful to watch a game where the action consistently stops because of needless cross-checking or pushing fouls in the midfield.

I don't know if players feel the need to give the extra push or cross-check to intimidate or because they think the refs won't call it. Regardless the reasons, the fact remains that it is a foul to push, displace or cross-check your opponent. The officials are instructed to make this call because it is against the rules, and coaches have asked officials to blow the whistle so players will correct their actions.

The issue that I see with midfield fouls is that players are implicitly encouraged to push the envelope and commit a foul because the reward outweighs the risk of being penalized. Essentially, the defense has two ways that it can "win" by being overly physical: either the attack's forward movement or fast break is stopped by the unnecessary force of a metal pole or a push, or the referee stops play to call a foul. The penalty for a major foul, such as a push or a cross-check, is for the offending player to go four meters behind the offensive player fouled. When this occurs in the midfield, there is plenty of time for the defense to adjust so that any real offensive advantage is negated.

From an official's perspective, these types of midfield fouls are a double-edged sword. If the official doesn't make the call, offensive players get roughed up, but a fast break can continue. If an official makes the foul call, the attacker gets penalized by losing a great opportunity.

About the Author

Sheehan Stanwick Burch, a former All-American at Georgetown, is a college women's lacrosse analyst for CBS College Sports. Check laxmagazine.com each week for columns and podcasts.

If you haven't guessed by now, I'm not a fan of midfield fouls, both from a player conduct/safety perspective and from a style/flow of the game perspective. To be honest, you would be hard-pressed to find a fan that enjoys the constant whistles. However, if players continue to foul in the midfield, I don't see this issue being resolved until the penalty associated with these fouls is intensified.

Perhaps the solution is that, much like in basketball, each team accumulates penalties each half for every major foul incurred. Once the offending team meets a specified foul limit, the offending player on each successive major foul would go into the penalty box for one minute. During the one-minute penalty, the non-offending team would get a true "woman-up" offensive opportunity, as both teams would have to keep four players behind the restraining line. This would be different than how the yellow card penalty is assessed today. With a yellow card, teams remove a player from the field for three minutes, but can still play seven-on-seven, with less than four players behind the restraining line.

Perhaps cross-checking should be a mandatory yellow card, like a check to the head.

I have never been included in any rules discussions, so I have to plead ignorance when it comes to implementing new rules. However, I think that something needs to be done. I would love to hear your thoughts on how to remedy this issue, so post a message below.

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