March 19, 2013

Sheehan: Let's Take Care of Cross-Checking Issue

by Sheehan Stanwick Burch |

Sheehan Stanwick Burch argues that enforcing current penalties for cross-checking is a must, but should the rules also be strengthened?
© Kevin P. Tucker

I want to start by saying thank you to everyone who weighed in on last week's column that touched on the increased physicality in the women's game. Keep those opinions coming. I think it is extremely important for the future of the sport we all love that we continue to have this discussion.

Many who commented felt that the game is getting out of control. I, too, am worried about the current state of the women's game. Not only am I concerned by the call of some to implement the use of additional equipment like helmets (which I think is a move in the wrong direction, though well-intended), but I also believe that increased cross-checking I've seen has eroded solid defensive footwork, can give one team an unfair advantage, and is a safety issue.

Like any difficult issue, the solution is not always easy. In this case, we can make a big improvement by addressing the officiating of current rules and rethinking whether any rules need to be tweaked.

Let me start by saying that I am a youth and high school referee and have a great deal of respect for these servants of the game. I am proud to call many of these folks my friends. That said, there is one way to quickly address the concerns that I and others have expressed about the increased physicality of the game: Officials need to begin calling the game according to how the rules are drafted.

Right now, too many refs are not enforcing the rules and, as a result, too many players and coaches are taking advantage of the officiating.

To be clear, cross-checking can occur anywhere on the field. However, all too often, players are utilizing the cross-check to hold an off-ball player or impede the ball carrier. This puts the offensive team at a significant disadvantage. When the correct calls are made, the players and coaches will be forced to adjust.

Next, we need to ask ourselves if there is a way to modify the existing rules to incentivize cleaner play. On the men's side, the repercussions of being penalized for cross-checking are great. Cross-checking is a personal foul resulting in a 60 second man-up penalty, and using the stick to hold/impede a player with the ball or off ball results in a 30 second man-up penalty.

Perhaps we take a page from the men's game and apply similar penalties? And maybe we take it a step further and any player recording five of these fouls in a game gets disqualified, similar to how a player can foul out in basketball. I have heard from many on the issue, and there are a lot of great ideas out there. Next year is a rule-changing year for the women's game, and I hope that the NCAA rules committee takes some of this feedback.

These issues are affecting the players and coaches too. There are a lot of frustrated players and coaches out there from what I can tell. Some are frustrated that they are playing by the rules, but they are at a disadvantage because opponents aren't doing the same and are not being penalized for it. Unfortunately, it's more advantageous for these folks to change the way they play to even the playing field. Players are bruised up and down their arms and backs from the force of cross-checks. Some players wear arm pads to protect themselves. Is this the direction we want to see the sport going?

I recently read a very insightful blog on by Brodie Merrill, former Hoya and current captain of the NLL's Philadelphia Wings, that raises similar concerns about the physical nature of the men's game.

"I think we need to take a serious look at the role of contact in our sport," Merrill wrote. "Do the big hits make the game what it is? I don't think so and I don't think we would miss them if they were gone."

I encourage you to read the full article. The men's game is also facing tough questions about high hits and repercussions that follow. Merrill gives a unique perspective as a current player and someone suffering the effects of a concussion. I worry that, in the women's game, a similar tale may not be that far off in the future.

It is time to come up with a solution and craft rules that demand they be followed with appropriate punishments. Let's put the shot clock and running through the goal circle on the back burner as potential rules changes. Let's get safety figured out first.

CBS Sports Network women's lacrosse analyst and 2001 Tewaaraton Award finalist Sheehan Stanwick Burch will be providing a column for every Tuesday throughout the Division I women's college season. Follow Sheehan on Twitter @StanwickBurch.

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