Something must be done to save college lacrosse. The sport has regressed from the “fastest game on two feet” to the world's longest chess match. Coaches have taken over the game and slowed down its pace to unbearable levels. Nowadays, the greatest teams in the nation are also the least entertaining to watch. Take Maryland, for example. In last year's quarterfinal between the Maryland Terrapins and the Syracuse Orange, Maryland, a team that was clearly capable of playing high-tempo, exciting lacrosse (ranked seventh nationally by Inside Lacrosse on May 2, 2011), decided instead to earn ten stall warnings in their boring, micromanaged, and slow 6-5 victory over Syracuse. Just 11 goals over 60 minutes in a nationally televised game will kill off the game's existing spectators, and certainly won't attract new ones.
The problem lies in the rules of the game. Under the current rules, the one punishment for slow play is a stall warning. While this punishment may sound severe, it is, in fact, weak and ineffective. The reason Maryland was able to garner ten stall warnings in just one game is that a stall warning only forces a team to keep the ball inside a 35 x 40 yard box. With the high-tech sticks of today, offensive players can run around this huge box without ever losing the ball. Plus, the NCAA doesn't even think that the refs should have to force action. NCAA rule 6-11 states that: “It shall be the responsibility of the team in possession to attack the goal.” Maryland coach John Tillman certainly isn't following that rule, and Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala might not even be aware of it. Rule 6-11 continues on to state that a stall warning shall only be administered under “the judgement of the officials.” The vagueness of this rule is appalling, although admittedly, refs these days have been relatively quick to apply the meaningless stall warning.
Telling a child not to take a cookie from a cookie jar is tantamount to asking them to stick their hands in the jar. But leaving the cookie jar out of reach guarantees there is no way the child can get the delicious, unhealthy cookies. Slow play is the cookie of NCAA lacrosse, and the rules must keep it out of reach. If we give teams no room for stalling under the rules, then the game will again become fast-paced and exciting. A popular rule change proposition is the addition of a shot clock. Many coaches, including Syracuse’s John Desko and Virginia’s Dom Starsia have stated that they would be in favor of its addition. Quint Kessenich, ESPN’s leading lacrosse analyst, can’t stop talking about it. Plus, many players have advocated the implementation of the shot clock as a way to save them from the pain of being forced to stall or play slowly. I believe that a 60 second shot clock that begins after a team clears the ball into the box will be sufficient to speed up the game. 60 seconds after getting in the box will not force outrageous shots and disorganized possession like Major League Lacrosse's 60 second clock that begins after the opposing team makes a save or a team turns the ball over. Additionally, the relatively long 60 seconds should satisfy those smaller teams that argue that a short shot clock makes it disproportionally harder for less skilled teams to succeed. If 60 seconds turns out to be too long, then in 2014 when the rules committee meets again they can shorten the time period.
All we need now is support for this rule change. When the rules committee meets this summer, they should feel that most of the lacrosse world wants a change. They should have few reservations to add the shot clock. Contrary to popular belief, it won't kill the game or change it from its traditional roots. As a matter of fact, back in the 1970s midfielders played both defense and offense in lacrosse without stalling. There wasn't a 45 second period of on-the-fly substitution on every single possession. Adding a shot clock would actually return the game to its traditional style. If we want lacrosse to truly explode across the nation, there must be a substantial college league to watch. Young lacrosse players shouldn't feel that watching college lacrosse is a chore; rather it should be an exciting way to learn how the best players in the world play the game. Young basketball players are able to watch 32 exciting college games on television over just two days! And let's not forget, NCAA basketball added the shot clock in 1985 and hasn't looked back on it since. It’s time lacrosse does the same.