A Shot Clock Isn't College Lacrosse's Magical Cure-All

March 24, 2012; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Lacrosse sticks lie on the ground behind the Virginia Cavaliers bench prior to the Cavaliers' game against the John Hopkins Blue Jays at Klockner Stadium. The Blue Jays won 11-10 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

Here we go again. If someone has an extra bullet lying around, all I'm saying is that I need just one.

The New York Times ran a piece late last week discussing the pace problem that is plaguing college lacrosse. It's probably worth a read if you enjoy reading things, but Brand's article -- like most that try and dissect the tempo issue at the collegiate level -- turns on only one issue: Shot clock or no shot clock?

The problem with framing the entire debate about opening up the college game around the implementation of a shot clock is that:

  1. Nobody seems to discuss the potentially terrible consequences to a shot clock; and
  2. Alternative options to increasing tempo are shelved.

Here's a quick pull from the piece:

“A team can’t rest on its laurels at the end of the game,” said Ryan Boyle, an attackman for the Boston Cannons who played at Princeton. “The shot clock keeps the action pressing.”

* * * * *

[Major League Lacrosse] also has a 2-point arc 16 yards from the goal that encourages offensive risk and stretches defenses. Many believe a 2-point arc and a shot clock go hand in hand.

All of that is true. There's just one issue I have with applying it to college lacrosse right away: It works for Major League Lacrosse. The guys playing in that league are some of the best field players in the world. If college lacrosse adopts this, how does it impact Wagner and Mercer and all the rest of Division I's offensively and/or defensively inept teams? The residue of applying a rule that works well for the capable but may not work well for the incapable is sloppiness and possessions for the sake of possessions.

If you want a marketable product that people are going to enjoy watching, is sloppiness really a cornerstone that you want to establish? Everyone knows that Denver and Virginia and the rest of the elite could probably play with a shot clock and see little difference in performance; it's those outside of the elite that make me wonder if a shot clock is in the best interest of the game.

I floated a bunch of ideas about a year ago trying to address the plodding pace that a lot of teams choose to play. (Well, they weren't so much ideas as much as they were considerations. So what? You want to fight about it?) I think a lot of these things are kind of getting washed away for the quick fix of just putting in a shot clock and artificially changing the tempo of play. The end result everyone is trying to get to, though, is similar in process: The balance of power in college lacrosse right now is too far tilted toward a coaches game; the more it becomes a players game, the more preferential the results.

In short, we all want to see Peter Baum tear defenses in half; we all want to see Brian Karalunas strip a guy clean and go the other way. We don't want to see coaches use players as pawns in a chess match. If we did, we'd just drink gasoline and watch chess.

Which brings me to this quote from Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan:

“To casual fans, the most interesting play is to see people attacking the goal and shooting a lot, but they don’t realize that the coach’s head is going to explode,” he said.

That's the problem, isn't it? This isn't about Kevin Corrigan; it's about the players, the fans, and the game. Everyone has adapted to what coaches have wanted to do for the last two decades. It's time that equilibrium is re-established and for coaches to adapt to whatever rule changes are put in place.

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