Shot Clock Surveys Shed Light on Potential Implementation in 2019


For decades, talk of a shot clock has been at the forefront of men’s lacrosse.

A certain type of shot clock is already in existence – a 30-second period that stops and starts on an official’s whistle when the official feels the offense is stalling.

Section 11 of the 2017-18 NCAA men’s lacrosse rulebook states that “it shall be the responsibility of the team in possession to initiate and create a scoring opportunity.” If a team is considered to be stalling, the official will issue a stall warning, indicated by a visual “shot clock,” which then requires the team to take a shot within 30 seconds.

This “timer on” shot clock has been implemented since 2013, and visually since 2015, but this past fall an experimental shot clock based on possession was allowed with the intent to gather hard data and feedback from coaches and officials.

“People may not think we do, but we have a shot clock now, but it’s administered differently than an all-possession shot clock,” Willie Scroggs, NCAA men’s lacrosse secretary-rules editor, said. “I think there are a number of coaches that don’t like how the officials determine when the shot clock is going to be instituted. … Once you go to an all-possession shot clock, it changes a lot. It changes how the game is played.”

The NCAA presented two options, both with a 60-second period, to head coaches as methods to implement the shot clock in fall practices and scrimmages:

  1. Once possession was gained, the shot clock started and the team with the ball had 30 seconds to clear into its offensive zone and the remaining time represented how long it had to shoot.

  2. Once possession was gained, the officials handled the 30-second clearing count per usual and the shot clock started once entering the attacking area. The team with possession then had 60 seconds to take a valid shot.

“Most are saying what we’re looking at in fall isn’t what we’ll see if we go to it,” Tom Abbott, national coordinator of men’s lacrosse officiating, said. “The purpose was to get teams thinking about it and get coaches thinking about it. The idea came up in the rules meeting last August. … It served its purpose really well.”

Abbott attended several HEADstrong fall ball events, including at Hofstra, which used 30 seconds to clear and 60 seconds to shoot. He observed Hofstra and Penn State taking 28 seconds to clear, using nearly the entire time to substitute players, and then ran one minute of offense.

Similar to Major League Lacrosse, which implements a 60-second shot clock, the “unwritten law,” according to Abbott, is every team takes about a minute to generate some offense. Though he made an important distinction that “MLL is a different animal” given the lack of practice time.

Ty Halpin of the NCAA’s playing rules administration, as well as Denver coach Bill Tierney who is the IMLCA representative to the NCAA rules committee, then sent out separate surveys to gather feedback.

Halpin surveyed Division I, II and III head coaches, as well as officials, with a response rate of 74 percent or higher. At least 45 percent of those surveyed used the shot clock experimental rule in the fall.

When asked if the game needs a shot clock, 57 percent of Division I head coaches, 56 percent of Division II head coaches, 50 percent of Division III head coaches and 76 percent of game officials said yes.

Five options were presented in the survey for the type of desired shot clock:

  1. 60-second shot clock upon possession including 30 seconds to clear,

  2. 30 seconds to clear with a 60-second shot clock,

  3. 30 seconds to clear with a 60-second shot clock and a two-point arc,

  4. 90-second shot clock, or

  5. Other.

Of surveyed coaches across all divisions, 32 percent preferred a straight 90-second clock, though 42 percent of officials supported a 30-second clearing clock followed by a 60-second shot clock.

The NCAA survey included a wide range of opinions from those adamantly for or against a shot clock in general, or for or against specific times associated with the shot clock. Among some of the anonymous responses regarding experiences with it are:

"Positive, better than I thought."

"It was too quick to play effective offense. There was a lot of 'dump-in-the-corner' offense, which is terrible for the game."

"I liked the 30 seconds to clear, then 60-second shot clock. I think it kept the game moving quickly, took pressure off the officials for when to administer the shot clock, and didn't change the game drastically from what it currently is."

"Resulted in poor shots on cage. If the NCAA goes to a shot clock for men's lacrosse, it needs to be reset on shots, not shots on cage. This will ruin the quality of lacrosse at non-Division I levels. It will also increase the number of lopsided contests."

Read more responses here

Tierney’s survey, which only went to coaches across all divisions, showcased a more favorable response. Eighty percent of those surveyed wanted a shot clock.

When Tierney presented three options for time limits – 60 seconds, 75 seconds or 90 seconds with a variety of clearing times – 60- and 90-second clocks were favored with a 20- or 30-second clearing clock.

“It’s potentially overwhelming in favor of the shot clock,” Tierney said. “I was actually surprised when [Stevensen coach] Paul Cantabene told me how supportive the Division III coaches were of it. If I had to guess, there’s a good chance it’s going to happen. What it looks like, all of the what ifs, have to be decided.”

Based on experimentation this past fall, Abbott and Tierney made a few observations that could affect the decision:

  1. The cost and ability to have a shot clock with various times that can be run by trained individuals,

  2. Teams stopping outside the box to substitute instead of pushing the pace and playing the game,

  3. Different interpretations of a clear possession, similar to football with clear completions,

  4. Potential increase of zone defenses and the thought that a two-point line should go hand-in-hand with a shot clock, and

  5. Options for the reset time when a shot hits a pipe or when the offense regains possession, for example.

The rules, safety and cost committees will vote on a shot clock this August. Tierney thinks it could be implemented by the 2019 season.

“Do I favor the shot clock? I would say yes,” Tierney said. “I made that statement loud and clear last year. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the game. Honestly, the game is really good right now, even with the timer on. The only problem right now that we see is the arbitrary adjudication of the timer on. … This issue has been bantered around for years and years. It’s important enough to make the change.”

Also among those in favor of the shot clock are Marquette coach Joe Amplo and Syracuse coach John Desko, noting it could increase speed and entertainment and eliminate different interpretations by officiating crews.

Towson coach Shawn Nadelen sits on the other side of the debate, not knowing the “exact science” behind a successful shot clock when he thinks the game is good as it stands today with its parity and pace of play.

“I don’t have a crystal ball right now, but I think it might hurt the parity more than it could help it right now,” Nadelen said. “But coaches adapt and adjust to be successful.”

However, if the time came to make a decision, Nadelen prefers 30 seconds to clear, 60 seconds in the offensive zone and 60 seconds on the reset.

Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, chair of the Division I advisory committee, agreed with Nadelen’s time preference, while also noting a straight 90 seconds as his second choice.

“I’m not saying I’m in favor of the shot clock, but I do think it’s inevitable, and quite frankly, I’m maybe more in favor of it now than ever before,” Pietramala said. “I just think we put so much on the officials’ plates to determine what’s a shot. ... I think we need to take more off their plates than give them more. A shot clock would make their jobs a little bit easier and allow them to focus on what they need to focus – officiating rules of the game and not being clock and timekeepers.”

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