2013 College Lacrosse Preview: New Stringing Rules and Potential Impact

Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

I don't think the changes will create a disaster situation, but there may be interesting consequences for a few teams.

I hinted at some of this in a piece a few months ago when the rule proposals were floated to Planet Earth, and I'm not sure that any of this is particularly groundbreaking (like building a college lacrosse facility on the moon for anti-gravity face dodging), but the issue remains: The new stick stringing rules could have a notable impact on how teams go about their business in 2013. The role of the crosse in lacrosse is obviously paramount in how things operate -- no doink! -- and with changes to how players are allowed to string heads, there are four areas of the game that may or may not see impact: carrying, shooting, passing, and dislodging the ball. That's the foundation; let's build the analysis from there.

There are four metrics that are probably worthwhile in tracking how teams are adjusting to new heads without "U"-stringing: turnovers per offensive opportunity, caused turnovers per defensive opportunity, clear and ride rate, and offensive shooting rates. None of these are silver bullet-type measures to illustrate how teams are adjusting (and some of the measures highlight issues that are outside of how heads are strung), but I think those metrics are probably the strongest at tracking whether the new stringing specifications are impacting overall play. (As an aside, I'm not sure assist rate means a heck of a lot in this situation given how different teams run their offenses. It could be indicia of a team's ability to pass with heads that are unlike what was permitted a season ago, but I think it creates more noise in this context than I'm willing to accept.)

With an eye toward those metrics in totem, I'm interested in these following four schools: Mercer, Bucknell, Army, and Robert Morris. In various combinations, they may be impacted most captivatingly under the new regime. (Although, I think at the end of the day these stringing rules aren't going to totally ruin things or otherwise significantly change how teams perform compared to last season. Whatever.)

Mercer
The Bears' production isn't going to be dictated by the new stringing rules -- it could be a fun scapegoat, though! -- but Mercer could see some trouble if discomfort occurs around new stringing: No team turned the ball over per offensive possession than the Bears (focus: carrying and passing); no team shot the ball worse than the Bears in 2012 (focus: shooting, duh); no team had a tougher time sharing the ball to score (focus: a potential decrease on carrying due to fear of having the ball dislodged combined with an increase in passing the ball to create scoring opportunities); and only two teams cleared at a worse rate than Mercer a year ago (focus: carrying and passing). While the Bears did an average job on its ride in 2012 (focus: dislodging the ball), this doesn't look like a team that is going to thrive under the new stringing regime that may permit more takeaways (only 10 teams created fewer caused turnovers per defensive possession). Again, Mercer has bigger problems than how the program will adjust to newly strung heads, but watching the team perform and adapt could serve as a nice test case to chart development.

Bucknell
Frank Fedorjaka is one of the stronger minds in Division I lacrosse and I'm sure that he and his staff are approaching the new stringing rules not unlike their Patriot League rivals up in Hamilton, New York, but the Bison may have a weird relationship with restrictions on stringing. On the positive side, Bucknell's ride and pressure defensive postures may actually become even more damaging to their opponents: Last year, the Bison were 19th in ride rate and second in caused turnovers per defensive possession; with heads that are now supposed to allow for defenders to dislodge the ball and potentially create passing issues, Bucknell could really become a terror in 2013. On the negative end, the best shooting team in the nation (outside of personnel losses) could step back a bit if the Bison's shooters don't have the same kind of feel in their sticks. (Bucknell, also, may need to worry about their turnover rate from a season ago (the team was 40th last year in turnovers per offensive possession, the team's rate slightly higher than the national average). This is partially attributable to issues with clearing the ball (43rd in the country at 82.5 percent), but the biggest thing is still whether the strongest shooting team in the nation will take a step back.)

Army
The Black Knights had a weird situation last season -- a low turnover rate (eighth best in the land), but a mind-boggling issue with clearing the ball out of their own end (81.43 percent, 47th overall). Obviously the stringing rules could impact passing and Army's clearing game, but there's something here a little more subtle: With a guy like Garrett Thul that routinely runs through checks and hordes of defenders, will the Black Knights' overall carrying ability -- and its turnovers per offensive possession rate -- see significant impact? Thul turned the ball over 25 times last season and John Glesener wasn't far behind with 17 giveaways; as the hubs to the Black Knights' offense, will a decreased carrying ability due to less hold increase Army's inefficiency as a result of an avalanche of turnovers? It's not clear right now, but it's an interesting thing to keep tabs on.

Robert Morris
The hecticness to which the Colonials play makes me want to send them a really nice fruit basket as a token of thanks, but these new stringing rules could have all kinds of effect on Robert Morris' universe. The 2012 numbers paint the background: Only two teams played more possessions per 60 minutes than the Colonials, creating all kinds of animal activity -- a turnover rate ranked 18th lowest in the country; a caused turnover rate ranked 39th in the country; an average ride rate that ranked 25th; a terrible effort on clearing the ball (ranked 51st); and the second strongest raw shooting rate in the land at about 35 percent. The function of how the Colonials get their business done ultimately drives all this, but new stringing rules that may increase turnovers (both for and against) and decrease shooting ability could further create more chaos for a team that already attempts to thrive in insanity.

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