September 18, 2012

An Official's Take on New NCAA Men's Rules

by Charlie Obermayer |

The shot clock after a stall warning puts a lot onus on the officials to call a stall, which has always been a point of contention, writes Charlie Obermayer.

Charlie is US Lacrosse’s Officials Program Manager and a working collegiate men's official. This article reflects his opinion and not necessarily that of US Lacrosse.

In the first week of August, the NCAA men’s rules committee announced its proposed rules changes for the upcoming lacrosse season. The reaction and discussions that took place across the country were truly amazing. It was exciting to see all the passionate coaches, fans, former and current players weigh in with their opinions regarding the new proposed rules. I have never seen anything like it. It was really great to see people talking about the rules and how they will impact the game going forward.

Well actually, I have seen something like it before. Every other year the NCAA publishes a new rule book. And every other year 900 or so collegiate officials have these same discussions that everyone else has been having since August.

The officials, all 900 or so across the country, remain pretty quiet about the proposed rule changes each year. Often what is said is, “They write ‘em and we enforce ‘em!”  The officials are usually impacted in some way or another whenever new rules come out, but more because we have to forget the old and learn the new every two years. This year, though, it seems like the committee is putting more of the game into our hands than ever before. We, as a group, must figure out how we keep the game in the hands of the players where it belongs.

There are still a lot of questions out there regarding the new rules. The officials want to know what they are, in print, so they can learn them inside and out. We don’t really care what they are; we just want to know what they are so we can be as prepared as possible for when that first whistle blows to start a game in the spring.

Unfortunately, because of the timing – the revised proposed rules are subject for approval Sept. 21 - we still may be sorting some things out come the spring. Fall ball games traditionally occur in October and we use this time to figure out what and how we are going to enforce these new rules come the spring.

With each game worked, there will be new questions and new opinions on the rules. I was able to work an inter-squad scrimmage last Monday for a Division I NCAA program using the proposed rules. The coaches did not know how these rules were going to impact the game and wanted to see how. Well, neither did we! It gave us a great opportunity to play with some of the changes and see how the players reacted to a couple different things. The crew and I worked for about 50 minutes and we came away with about two pages of notes. As the committee was reconvening that day, we worked under the original proposed rules, but were not asked to try anything with faceoffs. (The committee ended up reversing its original decision on outlawing the motorcycle grip.)

Here are some quick thoughts on the rules changes from an official’s perspective:

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  • The shot clock after a stall warning is a completely new and dynamic aspect to the game. It puts a lot of onus on the officials to call a stall. This has always been a point of contention in the past as what one crew views as stalling, another may not.
  • Once a stall is on, the officials are then responsible for counting the 30 seconds. We will be using the timer on our belt for the first 20 and then count out the remaining 10. This should be interesting to see as officials are humans and we are not programmed digitally. One official’s 10 seconds is bound to be slower or faster than the others. (Don’t believe me? Set your watch and time yourself counting to 10 seconds.)
  • The quick restarts will be something that both players and officials are going to have to get used to. How will offensive players use this to their advantage? How will it be coached?
  • Faceoffs have been getting better the last couple of years but no matter what rules are put in place, faceoff guys will try and find a way around it and test the officials to see what they can get away with.
  • We will be checking three additional things this year when checking sticks. Will we see more stick penalties, especially the ball being withheld on the back of the stick or not rolling freely over the shooting strings?
  • Subs on the fly only will definitely speed up the game. I still think we will see players subbing through midfield and teams on offense getting their defensive middies off. But at least now we don’t have to wait for subs every time the ball goes out on the sideline.
  • The larger substitution box will keep the opposing coaches farther away from each other and it will be interesting to see how they use the larger area to gain an advantage when subbing.

It will be interesting to see the finalized rules and how they will be written in the rule book. Once we have those in hand the officials group will try and come up with answers on how to handle them once on the field. We won’t catch everything and we will have to make some adjustments on the fly. I can promise you we won’t be perfect either, because we never are. But we will be trying our best out there. Before the season and during it we will preach consistency and keeping the game fair between both teams. One last thing we will focus on, regardless of any rule changes, is to make sure we are keeping the players safe and allow them to enjoy their time as student athletes. After all, that’s why officials officiate.

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