Road Trip Dad - Dear Road Trip Dad

Dan Witmer | September 4, 2015
Hopefully you read and enjoyed last week’s RTD piece, entitled “Dear Mr. Abbott,” in which I talked about some rules I’d like to see changed, added, or dropped.

Before I sent it in to, I sent it to local veteran referee and new NCAA national coordinator of men’s lacrosse officials Tom Abbott for his approval, and to make sure I wasn’t completely wrong about any of the rules and about to embarrass myself. Well, less than a few hours later, Tom had replied to my draft with the following detailed response, and I decided – with his permission, of course – to use his emails as the core of this week’s column.

Tom’s first reply was this:

Dan -

Hold off on the printing until I can get back to you after grabbing a couple back books to double check things (that's right - I need to look too!!).

The comment on personal fouls always being "full time served" in NOT correct. It should say that personal fouls are more serious in nature and are always served regardless of who has the ball (or if it's loose at the time of the foul). They are 1 to 3 minutes in length and could also be "full time served."

I'll get back to you on the rest of it as soon as I can.

- Tom

PS - Thanks for the kind words!

Then, within an hour or two, he replied with this email:

Okay - I now have my rule books in front of me and I can logically (sort of!) respond to the rest of your letter. If I reference a specific page it's from the 2015 rulebooks currently in use. It's important to note that the page numbers will change every time the book is reprinted or changed.  

I'll go through  your letter  in the order you have it written so you can follow along.  

The Push call - You're right. 

An illegal push can only  occur when the contact is from behind. As long as the push or follow through are not excessive, pushes from the front or side are LEGAL.

I believe where we all have issues is when the contact is  borderline excessive. I'm not making excuses for refs’ calls, but many times an official doesn't want to put a team man down for something that is "borderline." The result is often a loose ball push (when it was initiated from the front or side). In my opinion, it's often a difficult call if a flag is thrown.  It should be a 1 minute foul or nothing. Maybe your suggestion of stating it was "from behind" would help everyone understand it better.  

Today there are 45 signals in the NFHS Rulebook & 47 in the NCAA Rulebook and none of them are for an illegal hit from behind.

Years ago, there were only a dozen or so signals and one WAS an illegal hit from behind. Over the years  the signal was  eliminated  because it was just determined to be an illegal check and one signal was  used as an all-inclusive one for every illegal check. Both rule books have it listed under Illegal Body Check (page 55 in NFHS book, page 53 in the NCAA book).

  The Personal Foul vs Technical Foul issue: You should say that Personal Fouls are of a more serious nature and are always time serving fouls. The comment you have written now says always full time serving fouls and is not correct.  

Cross Check Hold: The terminology for "cross check hold" was in the book for a while to try and help officials and coaches to understand what "equal pressure" means. I believe it has been removed from both books, but everybody (including older refs like me!) has still used it to some extent to explain what a player did to draw the foul. It's simply listed in the rulebooks  under  Rule 6: Holding (page 64 in NFHS, and bottom of page 60 in NCAA).  

Initiating contact with the head or Spearing: You're right again!

Spearing is a hard one to find in both rule books, because it doesn't have a specific category, but I can assure you it is an important  part of the world of lacrosse today. It does need a separate category listed "Spearing.” The NFHS addresses this issue  in Rule 5 Section 3 and specifically in Section 4 ART. 3 (pages 55-56). The NCAA addresses it in Rule 5 Section 6 (page 53).  

Lastly - the most difficult play in the game - The Dive:

The NCAA took great strides last year to try and clarify the rule on a player launching himself in an attempt to score. One letter (k) was added to page 37 under Rule 4-11. It states "If an attacking player, in possession of the ball and outside the crease area, dives or jumps (becomes airborne of his own volition), prior to, during, or after the release of the shot, and lands in the crease, the goal shall be disallowed."

I'll try to explain the logic behind this change.  I'll start by saying, the play happens in an instant and is very difficult to call regardless of the rule, but maybe this will make sense after you read it. The facts of the play are 1) Did he leave his feet on his own?  If "yes" and he lands in the crease (FOR ANY REASON) the goal shall  NOT count. Now we go to fact #2) Was he fouled on the play? If "no" then NO GOAL and the  ball goes to the defensive team to clear. If "yes" then NO GOAL and team "B" serves a foul and the offensive team is man up.

Officials deal with FACTS. Did he launch? Did he land in the crease? The answers are pure facts. Officials are not to speculate where a player might have landed if he was hit while in the air. If he was hit, the question becomes another fact. Was it legal or illegal?

This leads to more of the proper calls of NO GOAL/Time Served Foul/Man up. More importantly - it discourages the offensive players from diving at an angle that will result in a NO GOAL call. If they leave their feet, they MUST land outside the crease to have the goal count.

I personally believe that when the rule was put in (during the Watson/Knight era) it was put in to stop offensive players from diving AT the goalie or crease area, and for safety issues. The rule was officiated more loosely over the next 20 years (due to unclear language) and was usually called a good goal if the defensive team pushed the offensive player during or after he launched. By using that logic, officials and coaches came to accept that was the way it was going to be and  the dive was okay to teach. It was still a dangerous play (and no doubt exciting) but was NOT what was originally intended.  

The NFHS rules committee meets 3 weeks PRIOR to the NCAA every summer (July & August). The result is the 1 year lag in NFHS rules being more similar to NCAA until the next season. (thus, the face-off procedure this year in HS games). It would be nice if we could somehow fix that issue, but with recruiting the way it is, I don't see it happening any time to soon.  

I hope this helps.

Thanks for all you do for lacrosse; I'll see you soon.

- Tom

So there you have it. Sounds like I’ve got a few points with some merit, but I was dead wrong about the personal foul for hitting for behind (though it IS included as an example of an illegal body check), and I never should have said that personal fouls are all full-time served – what I really meant to say is that they are always time-served fouls.

Thanks again to Tom Abbott not only for his time and expertise, but also for his constant willingness to rationally explain the rules of the game we all love.

Happy Labor Day, everyone. Please drive carefully!

- Dan Witmer