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Adding A Shot Clock: An Analysis

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The sport of college lacrosse continues to expand and therefore it’s no surprise that College Crosse is doing the same. So here I am. I’m Brian Harrison and I’m the editor of Orange::44, the oldest Syracuse blog on the internet. We cover Syracuse Lacrosse there, but we try and cover the larger things in the game and try to promote the “fastest game on two feet” as much as we can. Clearly you have to be saying “just what that blog needs, another Syracuse guy”. And to a point, you’re correct. But while I am admittedly a fan of Syracuse, I’ve built a reputation of integrity in analysis and the bigger picture and made my bones talking on the radio providing analysis of lacrosse and the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament. Plus I love watching it. I’m a 2005 Syracuse graduate, and also a 2009 graduate of Western New England College School of Law in Springfield, Massachusetts. So there’s your introduction. I’m sure you’ll let me know in the comments if I step into homer analysis.

That being said, for my first piece here I’d like to talk about the hottest topic in the college game, and that is the addition of a shot clock. Many people, including Virginia Coach Dom Starsia and Syracuse Coach John Desko, are in favor of the change. Others, like the governing body in charge of the rules, don’t seem to think it is a necessary rules change. And here on this site John Carrozza made the case for the change. We examine both sides after the jump.


Low scoring games and simply bad lacrosse to watch is the main reason that most fans want to see a shot clock. And the best example lately is the double overtime game between Johns Hopkins and Syracuse in the Carrier Dome this past Saturday night. Hopkins really took the air out of their game and passed the ball around and around. Despite winning 10 of the 14 faceoffs in the game, Hopkins took eight less shots in the game. So needless to say, the game was very entertaining slow. It's one of the only strategies a lesser team can compete against a more talented and athletic team. By slowing the ball down and making more deliberate passes and shots it provides more opportunity strategically to score, along with limiting the possessions of the other team. For teams like John Hopkins, it is just part of the coaching philosophy and their team strategy. Needless to say it results in a game that is boring to watch, and generally not a good showcase of offensive prowess or team speed.

It would make sense to adopt the Major League Lacrosse (MLL) rules already being used. MLL uses a 60-second shot clock that is reset after a goal is scored, a shot hits the post, is saved by the goalie or there is a change of possession. If the clock runs out, possession is given to the other team. These rules makes sense and in effect they would speed the game up significantly. We would see many more shots, ideally from each team, per game and really give the fans an offensive show. Scores would be higher, and fans would be delighted because, let's face it, fans like offense. It isn't defense and X's and O's people come to see.

A shot clock is also necessary to eliminate the seemingly endless quagmire of wasted time when a change of possession occurs. Teams like to obviously get favorable personnel matchups on the field. So after a change, there is a lengthy dance of teams subbing out midfielders that are better on defense, for ones that are better offensively, and so on. This can take up to 45 seconds on some occasions as the ball simply circles around the cage with no shot intention in sight, and players fade in and out of the box to avoid a turnover. This is not fun to watch and a shot clock would solve this. Players on the midfield would have to be good at offense and defense if they wanted to play at the midfield line.


Adding a shot clock to the game of NCAA Lacrosse is unnecessary and will just force bad shots. Perusing this past weekend’s scores from Division 1, there were literally only two games Saturday that did not see a combined 10 goals. The first was John’s Hopkins / Syracuse, and the other was Bryant v. Hobart. Both Bryant and Hobart have a combined record of 4-8, so we aren’t talking the top of the talent pool for lacrosse. But this low scoring is by far the exception. As a matter of fact, those were the only two games all week that did not combine for at least ten goals. Additionally, most other games that would feature such stalling with a far more talented team playing a lesser opponent, still ends up high scoring despite the stalling by the inferior squad. Any given day, when opponents step on the field, either team can win. This is just as evident in lacrosse, when a red hot goalie can make all the difference, even if a team struggles on the offensive end.

There are already rules in place to enforce such tactics if they get out of hand. A stall warning can be issued that forces players to stay within the box on the offensive end, and gives more of an advantage to defenders to push out players or dislodge the ball for another offensive opportunity for their team. By simply making stall warnings a point of emphasis on the part of the referees, they will be called and meaninglessly moving the ball around will be eliminated as players will be forced to get better shot opportunities by looking for streaking players or creative dodges.

A shot clock would simply force terrible and worthless shots by offenses. A team that takes longer to clear would be at a distinct disadvantage on the offensive end. Granted they already have a specified amount of time once possession is established to clear the ball to the other side of the field anyway, but this would then force a shot to occur before offensive rhythm is established, or better offensive personnel that fans will want to see on the field.

Is A Change Even Likely?

It doesn't seem to be heading that way. The people that change the rules don't seem to be in favor of adding a shot clock to the NCAA level. They are the ones that really matter. But, the fact that both Starsia and Desko, two of the sports top coaches, are in favor of adding it, this argument could get some traction soon. After all, it was Desko finally believing SU joining a conference would be a good thing that led to the creation of the Big East Conference for lacrosse. These big time coaches are well respected and these changes, if continued to be pushed by them and their coaching brethren, could be changed. But obviously these things take a while and major convincing. While the shot clock is an overall success with the professional game, obviously they have the best talent, whereas college is not at that level as there are many more NCAA teams that professional and the talent is just not at that level.

Bottom Line

This is a topic that is not going away anytime soon. Especially since Hopkins, a top flight program, plays the sport deliberately in the fashion they do, and other teams will always try to gain an advantage by taking long substations and trying to limit opposing team's possessions. While MLL is a successful example of the shot clock, they aren't college, so I would perhaps like to see it experimented with during fall ball or various other scrimmages at the college level before this gets a real hard look at the impact it has on the game. Personally, I'm just not convinced the game needs changing yet. While some games are dreadful to watch because of stalling, there is already a rule that the officials can enforce more than they already are to help, and those games are few and far between anyway. But of course I'm not against the trying of something new if it can help grow the game. I just want to see it tested at the NCAA level before we just take the word of a few coaches or fans that this is the best way to improve the game. Needless to say, we here, along with all lacrosse fans, will follow this story in the quest for a better game for the fans.