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What If? Rule changes in women’s lacrosse

WNUR Sports Online Content Director Cameron Songer (@CameronSonger) invents a few changes to the rules of NCAA women’s lacrosse to draw more fans and make the game more exciting.

In case you hadn’t heard by now, Northwestern has a really good lacrosse team. Their recent stretch (this is their ninth consecutive trip to the Final Four) receives some publicity around this time of the year, when college lacrosse becomes relevant for one weekend. Even so, Memorial Day weekend lacrosse coverage is heavily biased towards the men’s game. The only game of the women’s Final Four that will be televised live is the championship game on ESPNU, while many men’s lacrosse games all season air on national TV, including much of the tournament.

If that sounds unfair, it’s because it isn’t fair. But it’s a great reason to tune in to WNUR Sports’ live coverage of the national semifinal against North Carolina on Friday afternoon. We’ll go live on the air at 3:40 pm CT.

Lakeside Field at Northwestern has a capacity of about 2,000, and, while student attendance at lacrosse games has been good this year, I think it’s safe to say that most students will graduate from Northwestern without ever going to a women’s lacrosse game.

So what needs to change in the sport of women’s lacrosse to increase its national presence and popularity? Allow me to make a few suggestions.

1. Add a shot clock. Many first-time viewers of Northwestern’s offense call it a “stall” offense. This isn’t the case— the Wildcats simply use their precise passing and cutting skills to make an opposing defense make a mistake before attacking. When the opposing defense backs off and Northwestern has the lead, the Wildcats are content to hold on to the ball. As a result, a few minutes can pass in between shots on goal in women’s lacrosse. Adding a shot clock means that teams will have to at least make a token effort to score every so often. Yes, this greatly weakens the advantage held by a team trying to guard a late lead. But adding a 90-second shot clock creates more possessions, making it more likely that the better team will win.

2. Allow for some more contact. A common criticism of women’s lacrosse from newcomers to the sport is that almost everything is a foul. This has a lot to do with the way players are currently protected, which is “hardly at all.” If the players were allowed to wear protective gloves like in the men’s game, you could allow defensive players to check an opponent’s stick. Granted, with this change, players would probably want elbow guards and rib guards, which would then be required. Heck, I think this is a good idea even without the rule change. Women’s lacrosse is a physical game at the highest level, and a team with a target on its back (like Northwestern) will face plenty of physical play. One awesome side effect of the change to allow more physical defense is that you would then have to make the pockets on the sticks deeper. The new pockets would end up somewhere in between the men’s pockets and current women’s pockets. Deeper pockets in the women’s game means more flexibility to perform stick tricks and slick ballhandling moves. More flair equals more fans in the seats.

3. In the NBA, defensive players are not allowed to simply stand in the lane if their man is not in the area. The “defensive three seconds” call is a rare one, but it helps with the pace of play. Those principles could apply to women’s lacrosse as well. For example, if there are already four defensive players in the 8-meter arc, the fifth defender can’t stay in the arc for more than five seconds if she’s not guarding an attacker. More space around the goal means more space for players like Erin Fitzgerald or Taylor Thornton to create scoring opportunities.

4. Create an “enforcer” position. This player balances out the fact that fewer defenders are allowed in the 8-meter arc. The enforcer is a special defensive player who is allowed to stay in the 8-meter arc for as long as she likes, and she’s allowed to use her body to hit opposing offensive players. She’s also allowed to whack opposing players on the arms, but she’s not allowed to try to take the stick out of an opponent’s hands.

Early prototypes of "enforcer" equipment indicate that I have too much time on my hands.

Early prototypes of “enforcer” equipment indicate that I have too much time on my hands.

The enforcer is not allowed to carry a stick and required to wear special padding. the padded suit that covers her arms, torso and legs, and includes boxing gloves and a helmet. Basically, I imagine that the enforcer uniform would look like a dog bite training suit. Just imagine what the creative minds at Under Armour or Nike could come up with to make the enforcer look even fiercer. Another advantage to this position is the special skill set it requires: aggressiveness, strength, speed, and the willingness to wear heavy padding.

5. What makes “March Madness” and the NCAA basketball tournament so awesome? Okay, lots of things, but one of the best is when an underdog catches fire from behind the three-point line to complete an epic comeback. Major League Lacrosse, the professional men’s game, has a two-point arc that stretches 15 meters from the goal. As the name implies, shots taken from behind that line that go in are worth two points. Would a two-point arc in women’s lacrosse make the game more exciting? Yes. Would it mean that a team could upset Northwestern behind a good outside shooter? Possibly. (Gulp.)

What do you think? Would these rule changes make women’s lacrosse more exciting? What other ideas to you have? Leave a comment below or tweet @WNURSports with your thoughts. And of course, tune in to live coverage of the NCAA semifinals on Friday at 3:40.

Read prior “What If” Columns here

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2 comments on “What If? Rule changes in women’s lacrosse

  1. I love lacrosse but I have to agree women’s lacrosse need many changes mainly it needs more contact! Hell women’s soccer and basketball and even softball is hardly different from the men’s sports but women’s lacrosse is mostly just playing catch. I’m a female and I love playing lacrosse in my spare time, my friends and I allow checking and shoving. Heck the females of lfl tackle just as hard as the guys, you dont see them playing flag football!

    • I even bought a guys lacrosse stick just so I could teach my sisters some cool tricks to show their friends. Hopefully lacrosse as a sport grows and women’s lacrosse gets some time on air

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