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How are the New Rules Working Out?

Answer: It's unclear.

Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

I kind of wanted to wait until midseason to address the potential impact of a handful of the new rules -- points of emphasis around punishable behavior, quick restarts, the lack of sideline horns, and the modified shot clock -- as it was a bit of a big storyline entering the season. My preference for patience, however, has been blown to smithereens (in a good way): following a discussion during the ESPNU broadcast of Maryland-Duke game two weeks ago, the Baltimore Sun ran a piece today on how the new rules have changed the game (at least this far into the season).

I highly recommend reading Ed Lee's story; the coaches interviewed are generally on board with where the game is under the new regime, although Charley Toomey's comments don't exactly paint a picture full of rainbows and unicorns. When asked for insight as to what kind of impact the new rules were having, I had this to say:

Data compiled by Matt Glaude of the College Crosse blog suggests that the rules changes have had mixed results when it comes to encouraging offense and creating more excitement for fans. Teams in 2013 are taking a little more than five more shots per game than they did in 2012, but there is just one more possession per game this year, and the average number of goals is up by less than half of a goal from last season.

Of those statistics, only the increase in shots can be traced to the changes, said Glaude, who manages the website.

"If you want to see more shots and see a few more saves per 60 minutes, you're seeing them, and that's likely attributable to the new rules and not some grand increase in goalie ability," he wrote via email. "Unfortunately, the data doesn't indicate that players are charging down the field with their hair on fire and wildly putting balls on cage for 60 minutes, as some people would argue. It's just a solid increase concomitant with the rules."

Now, that's not the complete story; there's only so much room that a newspaper can dedicate to words about a data analysis, and let's be honest here: In a story that features quotes from Kevin Corrigan, Bill Tierney, and John Tillman, it's a minor miracle that somebody even wanted my opinion. But there is more to the analysis that I provided, even if the takeaways at this juncture in the season aren't all that clear.

I was originally asked to look at four things in the context of the new rules and how they were impacting play -- possessions per 60 minutes of play, total shots per 60 minutes of play, total goals per 60 minutes of play, and total penalties and penalty time per 60 minutes of play. This is the table that I put together (this is through games played on Wednesday):

March 14, 2013
Total Possessions per 60 Minutes of Play 65.71 66.86 1.15 1.75% 67.99 -1.69%
Total Shots per 60 Minutes of Play 67.95 73.03 5.08 7.48% 74.48 -1.99%
Total Goals per 60 Minutes of Play 19.73 20.26 0.53 2.69% 20.94 -3.36%
Total Penalties 60 Minutes of Play 7.34 7.98 0.64 8.72% 8.36 -4.76%
Team Penalty Minutes per 60 Minutes of Play 3:03 3:22 0:19 10.38% 3:17 2.48%

Again, it's still really early to start painting in broad strokes as to just how much the new rules are driving some of these metrics (and they're not necessarily the most important metrics to me, but whatever). Here are some additional notes (edited to mitigate rambling) that I provided relative to the above-table in an attempt to try and explain what I think is going on:

  • With respect to the increase in penalties from 2012 to 2013, this likely has a relationship to the new regime that officials are working under. Now, between late-February and mid-March penalties per 60 minutes of play has actually decreased about five percent (that's just a two-week span), but infractions are still up in the overall compared to last season. This, to me both from the numbers and from watching games, indicates that players and coaches are adjusting to the technically-driven new rules rather than officials simply flagging fewer infractions over the last few weeks. This thought is bolstered by the fact that time served in the box is actually up a strong percentage, both from 2012 and from late-February to today. In short, players and coaches are adapting to the little things -- as evidenced by the decrease in total penalties per game -- but are having a harder time working within a construct where officials are monitoring more egregious infractions with longer time-serving punishments. By late-March I'd expect both the penalties per game value and time-serving value to ease back toward their 2012 marks, but right now there's still a notable increase from 2012 to 2013 relative to both total penalties per 60 minutes of play and the length of those penalties.
  • With respect to total possessions per 60 minutes of play, I'm seeing an overall increase from 2012 -- about a possession per game but only about a two percent increase -- but that number has been sliding back to 2012 values. This is where the data can be a little tricky: While total possessions aren't streaking to the sky, when you physically watch the games, you can see the difference the rules have made -- teams are definitely adopting the quick restarts, the lack of horns has created more physical movement on the field, and, at least subjectively, I'm seeing more teams take shots at the cage in transition opportunities. So, while there hasn't been a large increase in total possessions per 60 minutes of play, the game looks more fluid. That's a good thing. As for the slide in total possessions per 60 minutes from late-February to now, I think that is going to continue. As teams play more difficult competition and conference seasons begin in earnest -- with all eyes toward getting wins and moving into the NCAA Tournament -- I think total possessions per 60 minutes is going to stabilize somewhere around 2012 numbers. Coaches just don't want to lose and the way that they believe they can avoid defeat is by using players as chess pieces and taking their opportunities in transition only when very favorable.