March 1, 2010

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Mondays with Matt: Tension over New Stick Specs

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff (updated March 2, 2010)

Officials measure a stick using the new plastic template during a Feb. 19 game between Syracuse and Denver at the Carrier Dome. The template (see below left) doubles as a scorecard.

© Greg Wall

Three weeks into the college men’s lacrosse season, there’s been nary a peep about the new NCAA stick regulations that sent manufacturers into an uproar -- no crippling penalties or embarrassing Bill McGlone moments.

But according to several NCAA officials and coaches of STX-sponsored programs, one of the manufacturer’s 2010 models, the Professor, has turned up illegal.

“The STX Professor appears to be one-eighth of an inch too narrow between the bottom two measurements – at 1.25 and 3 inches above the base of the head,” said David Seidman, a veteran lacrosse official from Maple Glen, Pa.

The question of how to handle these heads has been raised to the NCAA Rules Committee.

“Their current instructions are to penalize all illegal sticks,” Seidman said. “The discussion is ongoing.”

Johns Hopkins and Delaware, both STX-sponsored Division I programs, managed to go the distance without an illegal equipment penalty in the No. 5-ranked Blue Jays 15-7 victory Tuesday over the No. 13-ranked Blue Hens. But coaches on both sides said they are aware of the borderline-legal stick heads.

“Some of these sticks are so close to the exact measurements, that they come out of the box like that,” said Delaware head coach Bob Shillinglaw. “You can’t let your guard down.”

The new specifications, which are meant to make dislodging the ball easier and encourage a more fluid passing game, require that all heads be a minimum of 3 inches wide at 1.25 and 3 inches above the base of the head, a minimum of 3.5 inches wide further up the head and a minimum of 6 inches wide at the top of the head.

Some heads that meet the specs dead-on have become illegal due to the tension created when they are strung or softening of the plastic after use.

“Every head that’s leaving our distribution facility is measuring in at spec or over spec,” said STX general manager Jason Goger, who contended that the company’s research does not bear out what he called rumors.

“We’ve had over 100 Division I games played so far this season and there has been one official game with infractions. There were two infractions at the Navy-VMI game Feb. 15, and I think that got everyone really jittery to start,” Goger said. “There’s a lot of angst and curiosity to begin the season, and the facts outweigh the rumors now in the stick infractions and how officials are interpreting the new rule.”

With multiple measurements now required, NCAA officials have begun using a hard plastic template that doubles as a scorecard. The template, designed by Lacrosse International, must fit inside the head for it to be legal. Coaches have been sent copies of the same template.

“There’s no fudge factor,” Seidman said.

Officials have singled out the STX Professor as the most notably non-compliant head. “The sidewalls actually curve inward slightly,” Seidman said, “and our measurement template doesn’t fit into the head.”

But the issue stems beyond make and model. Other manufacturers' heads have historically cut it close with regard to NCAA regulations.

“Most sticks are barely legal out of the box,” Johns Hopkins assistant coach Bobby Benson said. "It's always been like that. The only one that's not borderline is the new Xcalibur, the X10."

Benson said he did not know of any Blue Jays who use the Professor. Hopkins has not had an illegal stick in any of its three games, and Benson said all of the team's current STX models meet specs."We've had no issues with any of our sticks," he said.

Since plastic heads are hard, but malleable, questionable heads can be stretched to spec. It’s a far cry from pinching, the preferred form of stick alteration before the new specs surfaced, and much ado about nothing, if you ask Benson.

Asked if the new stick specs had any bearing on the field, Benson said, “It hasn’t made a difference. If they want to change the game and bring back checking, they need to get rid of offset heads.”

Tank the game’s most influential technological advancement in the last 20 years? Now that would be cause for an uproar.

TAKE FIVE

1. It was a pretty good weekend for coaches making debuts. Princeton gave Bill Tierney’s successor, Chris Bates, a win in a very un-Tierney-like shootout with Hofstra. Presbyterian notched an impressive win over the Big East’s Providence for new coach Mike Gongas. And Mike Murphy came close to a monumental upset in his first game as the head coach at Penn. The Quakers had No. 8 Duke on the ropes and led early in the fourth quarter before the Blue Devils pulled away for a 16-11 win.

My take: Bates isn’t looking for a shootout every game, but he had little choice being down two starting defensemen in Chad Wiedmaier (knee) and captain Jeremy Hirsch, who was injured during the game. Providence’s loss to Presbyterian, a perennial doormat in Division I, can’t bode well for the Friars’ foray into the Big East. They have a history of starting slow and playing close games, however. And what’s going on with Duke? Maybe living on the edge early in the season will translate to greater poise in May.

2. Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse coach Dave Pietramala called out his team Sunday on national TV after the Blue Jays survived a scare from Siena, thanks to Michael Kimmel’s game-winning goal with 48 seconds remaining. “We stunk,” Pietramala said. “They played harder than us. They played better than us.”

My take: Hopkins’ players should prepare for an earful of expletives and some gut wrenching this week as the Jays prepare for Princeton, whom they’ll meet as part of the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Saturday. Their offense never got untracked against a Siena team that a week earlier gave up 21 goals to Stony Brook. It doesn’t help that Chris Boland, the team’s leading scorer a year ago, has been benched for the first three games due to a violation of team rules. Petro won’t say what Boland did or when he’ll return, but Hopkins sure could use him.

3. Following a hard-fought win over Army, Syracuse held onto the spot in this week’s USILA Division I men’s lacrosse poll, setting up a No. 1-vs.-No. 2 showdown Sunday against Virginia in Charlottesville.

My take: There have been some barnburners these first three weeks, but nothing compares to an Orange-Wahoo slobber-knocker. When these teams pulled out of the Face-Off Classic after the event’s first two installments, UVA head coach Dom Starsia said he wanted to put this storied rivalry back on college campuses. In a refreshing bit of candor, he did not downplay its significance. “Some games get more attention than others. This one certainly will, and everyone involved in this rivalry understands that,” Starsia told LMO’s Bob Knuse. “This will be a fun week. In this game, early on in the season when neither one of us really knows our teams that well, there’s a tendency to be a little more wide open than it might be if we played them again in May.” In other words, strap on your seatbelts.

4. Will Yeatman scored three goals in the fourth quarter to spark a wild comeback in No. 6-ranked Maryland’s 15-13 win over No. 12-ranked Georgetown.

My take: With Barney Ehrmann blanketing Grant Catalino, Yeatman, the 6-foot-6 attackman who struggled at times last year after transferring from Notre Dame, answered the call. It was his first hat trick as a Terp. “Last year, we had him for two weeks,” Maryland coach Dave Cottle told LMO’s Joel Censer. Yeatman transferred in late December 2008. “This year, we had the whole fall.” The Terps need Yeatman to be a consistent threat, and not a liability, come May.

5. Navy senior attackman Tim Paul’s college career is over after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Midshipmen’s 8-7 loss to Loyola on Feb. 20.

My take: Paul played through several injuries the last four years, but after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), he leaves a gaping hole on Navy’s attack. The Mids are 1-2 after getting blown out by North Carolina, 11-4, on Thursday and begin conference play this week. With Paul’s injury, Bucknell has eclipsed Navy as the team to beat in the Patriot League.


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