U.S. Lacrosse CEO: "Hugs, not Hospital Hits"

May 20, 2012; Chester, PA USA; Duke Blue Devils midfielder Robert Rotanz (26) drives as Colgate Raiders midfielder Jimmy Ryan (9) defends during the first half of the NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Quarterfinals at PPL Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

That headline may be a bit misleading. Stupid liberal media.

Steve Stenersen is the chief executive officer of U.S. Lacrosse, which means that he's basically the guy that makes sure that Big Lacrosse survives. Stenersen has been involved with the game -- not just the college game, genius -- for the better part of four decades, playing at North Carolina in the early 1980's, graduating to the prestigious Mount Washington Lacrosse Club, and serving in various administrative capacities within national lacrosse governing bodies since the Reagan Administration.

Basically, this is a guy that has seen and had to deal with everything. There is one thing he's not going to tolerate anymore, though: Lacrosse players playing demolition derby in a nitroglycerin plant.

In a piece titled, The Time Has Come to Remove Violent Collision from Men's Lacrosse, Stenersen outlines a policy position that appears to lay the foundation for a return to a more skill-based collegiate game that promotes player safety through stricter punishment for dirty animals. This sounds like a pretty draconian change to the way that folks go about their business, but Stenersen actually makes a pretty decent case for the policy shift:

I’d like to see rule changes proposed that severely penalize hits to unprotected/defenseless players. For instance, in a loose ball situation, I believe we should consider eliminating the opportunity for a player who has no intention of playing the ball from running full speed into another player who is playing the ball. This may be viewed as blasphemous to some who relish the violent component of the game, but even the NFL has embraced similar rules because of growing concerns about player safety.

The minimum penalties associated with existing rules focused on player safety simply aren’t sufficient to change player behavior; allowing an official the latitude to call a 1, 2 or 3-minute penalty for a rule violation involving player safety rarely results in a 2 or 3-minute penalty. I’d like to see the minimum penalty for unnecessary roughness, illegal body checks, and contact to an opponent’s head increased from 1 minute to 2 minutes, and expulsion should be an acceptable call for each of these infractions if they’re viewed as sufficiently violent. I’m not sure why some coaches don’t seem to appreciate that a 1-minute penalty is not a fair punishment for an infraction that results in the loss of a player to injury…nor is it a sufficient deterrent to the violent behavior in the first place.

I like seeing big pops as much as the next knucklehead, but Stenersen lays out a nice little approach: Contact is part of the game, but renegade justice isn't; as such, the structure of the game supports the former but further punishment for the latter is necessary in order to mitigate the consequences that such play create. It's pretty fair, if you ask me. There isn't going to be much growth in the game in 20 years if everyone is stumbling around due to all the unnecessary headshots they took while clearing the bean and getting blindsided by a middie with an ax to grind.

The issue with this, of course, is coordinating all the logistics in implementing the policy. Not only does U.S. Lacrosse need to filter this through its hierarchy -- administrators, coaches, players, officials, and fans -- it also needs to continue to put pressure on equipment manufacturers to value advances in helmet design that help prevent and reduce concussions as much as such entities value developing super cool chrome masks.

U.S. Lacrosse is working within a complex web -- keeping the game exciting while also promoting player safety -- but I think they're moving down the right path.

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