Why Major League Lacrosse Got It Right With The Shot Clock

The Lacrosse Shot ClockIn my freshman year at Montclair State University, the 1993 men’s lacrosse program was in a rebuilding mode. I was one of two freshmen starters, both of us midfielders. The team was young, with a small core of veterans to lead us, and the overall expectations were mediocre at best.

But rather than stagger the other freshmen and I on middie lines with more experienced players to help carry us, my coach instead chose to put us both on the same line along with a sophomore forming middie line two, stacking middie line one with our three best and most experienced midfielders. The plan was to aggressively engage in a run and gun attack while middie line one was on the field, then dial it back to a ball control and ball movement offense when middie line two was on; thus enabling us to take time off the clock, to keep the ball out of the sticks of the other team’s offense, and rest middie line one. While middie line two was on the field, we were only to shoot if within point blank range (5 yards or closer) of the goal, with the shot being the closest to a sure thing as one could get in lacrosse. Case in point, I only registered 6 goals that season, with perhaps just over double that number in attempts.

My own personal stats notwithstanding, the strategy proved effective, turning what was supposed be a rebuilding year for Montclair State, into a 13-3 record, Knickbocker Conference Champs, as well Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) tournament champs. We accomplished all this while being the clearly less talented team on the field in at least half of our games. While my coach gave us our best opportunity to win that season, this strategy was hardly his brainchild. He merely borrowed from Bill Tierney’s strategy as he guided the Princeton Tigers to six Division I national titles. Ball control and clock management with only the highest percentage shots taken enabled Princeton to be one of the most successful Division I lacrosse programs in history without the benefit of luring the best blue chip recruits with scholarship offers (Ivy League schools are not permitted to offer athletic scholarships).

Bill Tierney was successful to be sure, but watching the Princeton Tigers offense (and Montclair State’s offense in 1993) was sometimes as entertaining as watching paint dry. It slowed the game and lulled the audience into a rhythmic monotony. Such drawn out ball and clock control led to lower scoring games, something that is not as fan friendly, as scoring is exciting…everybody loves a shoot-out no matter what the sport may be.

Enter the newly formed Major League Lacrosse in 2001 who, determined to draw in new fans, endeavored to make the game fast and furious by implementing a shot clock (among other changes meant to make the game more exciting). The 60 second shot clock (increased from 45 seconds to 60 seconds in 2005) begins ticking once the ball reaches the offensive half of the field. At first, its detractors and lacrosse purists thought this change would lead to careless shots and poorly organized offensive schemes given the limited time to set up an offense set. Quite the contrary, this innovation instead led to faster ball movement, adapting to quickly setting up offensive schemes, and a wonderful increase to the pace of the game. The fans loved it and continue to love it to this day.

Of course, talk of an NCAA shot clock and having one even at the high school level began shortly thereafter, following the success and popularity of the MLL shot clock. NCAA responded by implementing a “stall rule,” where an official may issue a stall warning to a team that is not showing enough intention to attack the goal. Once the stall warning is given, a team must shoot within 30 seconds or lose possession of the ball.

This was definitely a step in the right direction, but from my view, it leaves too much discretion to the officials. Intention to attack the goal may look very differently from one official to another, leading to an inevitable lack of consistency in implementing stall warnings. A proper shot clock like that of MLL would take all subjectivity out of the call, increase the integrity of the game, and increase the pace and excitement of NCAA lacrosse.

I would not just stop at NCAA shot clocks, but I would have them for high school lacrosse as well. Many would argue that high school lacrosse players are not ready for the pace that a shot clock would mandate. However, I counter with the same argument that was made when NCAA implemented the 10 second clearing rule. It took years for high school lacrosse to follow suit, but once implemented at that level, we learned that high school players were perfectly capable of clearing the ball in 10 seconds, so much so that the 10 second rule is even now implemented in many youth leagues.

The shot clock is the future of lacrosse and its sustained growth as the fastest growing sport in the United States. The sooner we embrace it, the sooner we will reap its benefits for the sake of the game.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality through a number of tpics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.

2 comments on “Why Major League Lacrosse Got It Right With The Shot Clock
  1. Dan O'Halloran says:

    Nice article Roger. You are TRUELY a LAX BRO!

    • Dr Lax says:

      Dan’O, you understand the lax addiction as well as anyone. Awesome complement coming from a lacrosse legend like you! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

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