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Guest Columnist Feature: MLL and the new NCAA rules

March 17, 2016
Lacrosse is often nicknamed the “Fastest Game on Two Feet”.

Yet when Major League Lacrosse was created, co-founders Jake Steinfeld and Dave Morrow felt that this wasn’t always justified by the college game.

In the book, “Take A Shot!” by Steinfeld and Morrow, Steinfeld writes about killing the clock at the end of a game and says, “And all that stalling doesn’t make for real excitement. That’s why I came up with a shot clock.”

The shot clock was a direct response to the stalling techniques used in college lacrosse. Much like in basketball, the shot clock was put in place to promote a faster tempo of play and more attacking on offense which in turn would make the game even more exciting.

After the increasing outcry from lacrosse fans for faster play in the college game, new rules were made in the fall that have changed the tempo of the game. While the NCAA runs entirely separate from MLL, the professional league rules and style of play seem to have helped the new rules in the college game come forth.

The biggest rule change in the NCAA is the 30-second shot clock.

Unlike in MLL, the shot clock does not start once a team gains possession, it is not 60 seconds long and it is not a visible shot clock.

When the offense doesn’t make an attempt to go to goal, the referees call for the timer –kept by the officials – on and the team has 30 seconds for a shot to get saved by the goalie, hit the cage, or score. If none of those things happen, the offense turns the ball over.

It’s not an exact science. Officials will have different interpretations of what constitutes a team’s attempt to score. It is a start, however.

It seemed for years that the NCAA was resistant to a shot clock. Yet after many fans and commentators of the game clamored for something to end stalling it seems like the pushback from the public was finally enough.

In a 2012 New York Times article, Virginia head coach Dom Starsia called the MLL “a laboratory” and said the college game “could be like that with more coaching and practice.” The thought was that MLL has been a place to experiment with different rules and see what works and what doesn’t, something that MLL Commissioner David Gross has said in the past.

Since its inception in 2001, MLL has operated with a shot clock and no one has complained about the tempo of the game.

With the pro leagues increase in popularity over the past few seasons combined with cries calling for the end of stalling tactics, it was time for a change. The game needed to be played at a faster pace.

The 30-second shot clock is an experiment and because of its inconsistencies, it is only the start to the path to a shot clock. Steinfeld was a bit of a visionary in that respect.

The NCAA didn’t end there in an effort to speed up play this season, though.

This year dead ball restarts are played faster and the goalie is no longer given five seconds to get back to his cage. Play is restarted rather immediately.

There is also no longer a horn this season. Teams can’t slow down the pace of a game by calling for a horn – stopping play – on every side out. Substitutions must come on the fly, during a time-out or after a goal.

These rules definitely help the pace of the game.

Horns won’t stop the play on restarts so teams will be able to pick up the ball and just go, rather than wait for the opposition to put in fresh legs and for the defense to set up in position.

These rules also create more transition play and opportunities. It’s an unsettled situation and if teams sub on the fly it could leave them at a disadvantage in numbers, creating those man-up fast breaks.

The no horn rule also has an additional effect on the professional league.

Major League Lacrosse is known as a midfielders’ league. Before this winter’s draft, many team officials said they were looking for athletic two-way midfielder, guys that can get up and down the field and play well on both ends.

Those types of players can be hard to find, however, and that’s because of the many specializations of players, especially in the college game: FOGOs, long-stick midfielders, defensive midfielders and attack midfielders.

Those positions and types of players do appear in the professional league and are very valuable to team success. Think of guys like Chris Eck, C.J. Costabile and Kevin Drew.

But without the horn to sub these specialists in and out, players will have to develop more well-rounded games in order to stay on the field and keep their team from being at a disadvantage.

With more well-rounded players, teams will find those two-way midfielders and the level of overall skill in the game will increase.

The changes in the college rules have been visible and quantifiable. Tempo of the game is up. Shots are up. Goals are up. Complaints are down. The game is being played at a pace that justifies the sport’s nickname.

As the lacrosse community continues to observe the game, more changes will likely be made for the betterment of the game. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a visible shot clock on an NCAA lacrosse field.

What comes to mind, however, is that these rule changes have been deemed acceptable and put in place in part because of the success that Major League Lacrosse has had and the excitement that has permeated from it.

It will only make lacrosse as a whole better.


Phil Shore is a lacrosse enthusiast who writes for the New England Lacrosse Journal. His work can also be seen at and