The issue of high speed collision in boys’ and men’s lacrosse is an immediate concern with respect to rule evolution and enforcement. Lacrosse was never intended to be football with sticks, yet violent collisions of similar force regularly occur on the lacrosse field due to bigger, stronger, faster players…coaches who encourage big hits…and officials who either don’t feel empowered or refuse to enforce current rules.
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.
One final thought…US Lacrosse recently reduced the distance from a loose ball within which legal body contact can be made from 5 yards to 3 yards as part of our national youth rules. The intent was to reduce the momentum and resulting intensity of collision between players that could lead to injury. Because adult players can accelerate at a much faster rate and carry frames that easily weigh twice as much as U15 players, this rule is completely transferrable to the high school and college levels, as well.
Coaches, officials and fans who support violent collision as an essential part of the game don’t fully appreciate the potential for serious injury, particularly with respect to the long term effects of concussion, for both the player being hit and the player who initiates contact. Player safety, not tradition, must be the primary focus of proactive efforts to evolve the rules of the game. If we don’t accept this important responsibility, the game’s violent reputation will surely impede its continued growth.