By Paul Espinosa
As an official for 21 years, I am always amazed at how certain myths become a part of the lacrosse culture when it comes to rules and officiating.
As we start the season, I thought it would be a good idea to provide you with a list of 10 common myths related to lacrosse rules. Officials are never perfect, but good officials always strive to become better and for the most part officials get the calls right. This goal of this article is not to defend all officials, but educate fans and develop a culture of sportsmanship.
Myth 1 – They only have 2 back, they must be off-sides.
Officiating offside is one of the hardest things for an official to do, especially if the official is new or never played the game. With 20 players on the field and so many others in the bench area available to substitute on the fly, keeping up with who has 4 back (clearing team) and who has 3 back (riding or new defense team) and making this call on a moment’s notice is very hard. Officials also have to be cautious because if they blow the whistle to early and end up being wrong, it could result in a lost scoring opportunity for the attacking team. For a team to be offside by rule an attacking team must have 7 or more players in their attack half of the field. It is not enough to call offside only because a team only has 2 back. There could be another substitute in the bench area.
Please also keep in mind that calling an offside on games with only 2 officials is not as big of a priority as making sure we do not miss a foul call against the player who has the ball or a potentially dangerous off-ball hit.
Myth 2 – Player lifting his arm is a ward.
From the High School Federation Rulebook – 6-11-1 – “A player in possession of the ball shall not use his free hand or arm or any other part of his body to hold, push or control the direction of the movement of the crosse or body of the player applying the check.”
Oftentimes we see a defender poke his stick into the underarm area of the attacking player with the ball. We then will see the attack player lift his arm and then tuck his arm back under the stick of the defender in an effort to continue to protect his own stick or put his hand back on his own stick. We hear “ward” so many times, and it is just not true. The player with the ball must extend his arm and push away the stick for a ward to be called by an official. Additionally, a ward can be called if the attacker runs into the defender and pushes him away (Bull Dodge).
Myth 3 – A stick-on-stick check cannot be called a slash, or contact on the head is a slash.
Most people see and understand a slash should be a true “blow” or “strike” to the head, back, body or arm. Depending on the level of play, most officials will allow one or two light contacts to the free arm with a warning of “get stick” or “stay off the arm.” However, it is possible to call a stick-on-stick check a slash. Also, not all contact with the stick to the opponent’s head is a slash. This is most often seen when a defender pokes his stick towards the attacking players and as he raises his stick, it comes in contact with the front of the mask of the attacking player. This is another one of those really tough calls. The judgment of the official is key here - was it a strike or blow or was it minor contact (brush)? Another factor that has come into play in recent years is the attacking player “acting” with that incidental contact to try and draw a slash call. Officials as a whole have not done a good job in discouraging this practice and using the rule book when needed. You see there is a foul in the book that is called Illegal Procedure – faking or feigning a foul, and should be considered misconduct.
Also not called enough by officials at the youth and high school level is the “uncontrolled” swinging of the stick. I also call this swinging with reckless abandon. This must be called a slash, and calls like these should be supported by the coaches, fans and players to ensure player safety. It could be called even if the slash does not touch the opponent in any way.
Myth 4 – Contact with the goalie’s stick when he is entirely outside the crease is interference.
Playing around the crease is very exciting, however the rules about when a goalie can be checked is often misunderstood. What makes this situation worse is that teams and fans are often 40 yards or more away and cannot see everything. Here are some easy reminders about playing the ball or goalie around the crease:
· As long as the goalie has any part of his body in the crease, his body can NEVER be touched
· The goalie’s stick can only be checked in 2 situations:
o If the part of his stick that is being checked is outside the cylinder of the crease and the ball is not in his crosse. This means if the goalie is clamped over the ball outside the crease, the part of the stick outside the crease can be checked.
o If the goalie is 100% outside his crease he is considered a field player and his stick can be checked if the ball is in his stick or within 5 yards of a loss ball.
· If the goalie has possession of the ball and any part of his body is touching the crease he is 100% off limits. Please note this does not apply to a defender who has the ball in the crease, his stick can still be checked but the attacking player may still not enter the crease.
Myth 5 – It is an illegal screen simply because the attacking team is moving and forces the defender to run around him.
Moving Screens (Illegal Screens) – just because a player is moving and a defender runs around him does not mean that is an illegal screen. For an Illegal screen to be called there must be contact made by the defender with the person setting the screen. Also the stick of the person setting the screen must be within the frame (shoulder width) of the body of the screener.
Tune in next month for part 2 of this article, which will outline 5 additional common myths in the game of lacrosse.
Hope this helps start the season off with a better understanding of the rules. Good Luck this season and stay safe!
About the author - Paul Espinosa is on the board of the Illinois Chapter of US Lacrosse representing the boy’s/men’s game officials. Paul is a 21 year lacrosse official and currently works NCAA Division I, II, III contests. He has worked in the NCAA playoffs for over 10 years. He also currently serves on the US Lacrosse National Men’s Officials Training Committee. You can send questions to PaulkEspinosa@gmail.com