MJ: Mandating a Shot Clock is Bad Policy
NCAA Division I lacrosse is the flagship of the entire sport. There's really no argument about this. The two pro leagues, for all their hard-work and former D-I players, are nothing but novelties. The NLL has its box niche and the MLL has been altered to the point of being nearly unrecognizable to the traditional field game. The lower NCAA divisions, along with the club ranks, are all chasing the speed and the athleticism that the collegiate top dogs roll out on a yearly basis.
Everything begins and ends with Division I.
As such, those in involved in D-I should continuously examine the product they are putting on the field, but it shouldn't involve the addition of a shot clock. Why? There are a myriad of reasons, both big and small, but there are two key ones.
First, it's not the responsibility of college sports to massively tamper with its structure just to make it more pleasing for a television audience or paying fan base. Yes, the last two D-I national championship games have been rather dull if scoring is the only indicator for excitement, but by artificially creating more shots – and assumably more goals – simply to increase advertising or gate revenue is wrong-headed.
It might sound Pollyannaish in this era of big-time college sports, but institutions of higher education don't field athletic teams to fill seats (with the possible exception of football), and certainly not in lacrosse, where very few D-I programs manage to break even without massive fundraising efforts. Intercollegiate athletics are known as extra-curricular activities for a reason – they are meant to be used as a tool to round out the educational experience through teaching, mentorship and teamwork. If changing the complexion of a sport for the sole purpose of attracting more eyeballs was the mission of the NCAA, baseball would have a time limit instead of innings. And be played on ice skates.
Second, while the addition of a shot clock may be a short-term fix for the slogging nature of many Division I games, the D-I programs are not operating in a vacuum. While not technically beholden to the decisions of the D-I rules committee, the other two NCAA divisions, as well as non-varsity college teams and JuCos, are forced to adopt the same rules to maintain the same kind of perceived legitimacy. It's a historical fact: there has never been a rules change implemented by D-I that has not been adopted throughout the NCAA and the MCLA (with the small exception of a one-year delay by the MCLA regarding uniform specs).
From a numbers perspective, that means 11.6 percent (61) of collegiate programs (by last year's count) are driving the rules bus for the remaining 88.4 percent (463), and that latter percentage has managed to field an exciting product under the current structure. Further complicating the issue is the addition of a $2,000-3,000 shot clock and hiring a competent staff to run it is relatively easy for the D-I teams, but is far more prohibitive for the remaining schools.
D-II and D-III programs, especially at state schools, are already operating on shoestring budgets as it is, and don't have the revenue of big-time football to fill some of the fiscal holes. Forcing them to comply with a shot clock – something they have proven they don't need – simply to satisfy the whims of a small minority would be negligent on the part of the NCAA.
The impact would be even more severe on the 200 MCLA teams, which operate outside (or on the fringes) of athletic departments and produce much of their revenue from player dues. The non-varsity league is also already strained enough in the event management area that the league can't even satisfy the NCAA statistical formula for goals against average because keeping goalie minutes is too taxing on limited table staffs. A shot clock would be an impossibility in the MCLA (especially considering the large amount of neutral-field games), marginalizing a group that has worked extremely hard to build the game in all corners of this country, not to mention recently feeding the D-I program ranks.
I get why the NCAA rules committee tinkers with the regulations of the sport on a biannual basis, and some relatively minor recent rule changes have been positive. But none of those have been as invasive as adding a shot clock. That lacrosse has managed to be the fastest growing sport at just about every level – NCAA D-II and D-III are expanding rapidly – for the better part of the last decade is further proof that the push for a shot clock is unnecessary.
If the Division I coaches are so adamant about finding a way to improve their product, they need to start by looking in the mirror and asking themselves, 'Why are the current rules working for everyone but us?' They'll find the answer they seek, and do it without hamstringing the rest of college lacrosse with the ill-conceived shot clock panacea.