College Lacrosse Braces for Significant Off-Season

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 30: Bray Malphrus #30 (C) of the Virginia Cavaliers holds up the trophy after they defeated the Maryland Terrapins 9-7 at M&T Bank Stadium on May 30, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Well, the 2011 college lacrosse season is officially in the books. 

Congratulations to Virginia for winning its fifth title on Monday.  For a program that looked like a jalopy heading into Beverly Hills just about a month ago, things turned out pretty well for the Clampetts . . . err, Cavaliers.  

Where 2011 ends and where 2012 begins, though, is in the front of everyone's minds.  This is a gigantic off-season for college lacrosse, one of the most crucial in recent memory.  There are issues all over the place and most of them are bigger than the usual "Who will step up for [TEAM X's] graduating class?"  and "Will [TEAM Y] rebound in 2012?"  Just off the top of my head:

  • There are head coaching vacancies across the country, from Navy to Wagner to Rutgers to Marist to Bellarmine.  Big and small, schools are looking to close vacancies quickly.  Towson filled its opening over the weekend with Shawn Nadelen, but there is still a lot of silly season left and fall ball is right around the corner.  If Matt Kerwick leaves Jacksonville to take the assistant position at Georgetown, that's just one more big hole that needs to be filled before the big summer evaluation period begins at camps throughout the nation.
  • Michigan is ramping up for its entrance into Division I; Denver just finished off its best season in program history.  How these teams will prepare for 2012 -- Can the Wolverines make a splash immediately?  Can the Pioneers continue their success? -- will carry huge weight in A) providing a blue print for other schools to join the big show; and B) Continue the western growth of the game and keep the east coast curious as to what is going on west of, say, Pennsylvania.

Probably the largest conversation that will dominate this summer and fall will be how to open up the game.  The focus point of the debate right now seems to be "shot clock or no shot clock," but I think that's jumping to a resolution item before you ask some threshold questions.  The most important question that I think you have to ask is this:

  • Do you want college lacrosse to be a coaches game or a players game?

It's a simple question in structure, but how you answer it leads to all kinds of different results.  Depending on your response to it, there are hosts of resolution items on the table and the implementation of the following will turn on whether you put rules on what a coach can do or what a player can do:

  • Do you implement a shot clock?  If you do, is it 30 seconds or a minute?  Is it tied to entering the ball into the attack box or when offensive possession is generated?  Who administers it?  Is the shot clock in the style used by Major League Lacrosse or do you forge a new path that redefines "shot"?   What are the potential downfalls of a shot clock?  (Sloppiness?  Increased use of zone defenses?)  Will shooting suffer?  There are a lot of residual issues stemming from the resolution point.
  • Do you restrict substitution patterns to just dead ball scenarios?  Will this effectively re-invent the two-way midfielder, thereby increasing transition opportunity importance and keeping teams from rushing through possessions if a shot clock is implemented?  Do you carve out an exception for getting a long-stick midfielder on the field?  Is this fair to a 40-man roster? 
  • Do you change face-offs, either through total elimination or by merely downgrading their importance to only occur at the start of quarters?  Is this a fair treatment to a specialized part of the game that has developed significantly over the years?  Is this even necessary if possession is going to be changing every 30 to 60 seconds?  Remember: Basketball got rid of the tip-off rule long before it instituted a shot clock.  The comparison to hoops here isn't quite on point.
  • Do you materially change the game in limiting what defenses teams can play and where?  Is this a fair limitation on coaching strategy?  Is this done on its own or in tandem with another rule change?  Is the zone defense the wave of the future and should offenses adjust accordingly? 
  • Are there any equipment changes that need to be considered?  It takes a hacksaw to get a ball out of an offensive player's crosse these days.  Should the NCAA re-evaluate equipment specifications to encourage defenses to pursue the takeaway more?

I'm sure there's more things to consider, but these are the big stream of consciousness things that popped into my skull.  What do you guys think?  What are you issues and resolution items for this summer and fall?

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