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Confused by some of the calls in the NCAA Women's Title game? Here’s an explainer of what they are and why they need to change

Less game stoppage will lead to increased viewership for women's lacrosse

In last week's NCAA Women's Lacrosse Championship game between Syracuse and Boston, some thought that the referees were too involved, making the match less enjoyable for viewers.

All season long, referees seemed to be "letting the kids play," allowing more physical play and keeping the game moving.

In the title match, the officials called a tighter game with six yellow cards, two green cards and 39 total fouls called, disrupting the flow of the game frequently.

While the referees' main priority is keeping the players safe, I think the sport would be more engaging if they limited calling penalties whenever possible.

Did any of the fouls from this weekend's championship match confuse you?

Here are some of the major fouls that impacted the title game, explained.

1. If a player receives two yellow cards, they are out for the remainder of the game

In the NCAA Women's Lacrosse 2021 rule book, the rule states:

"A player receiving a red card or a second yellow card must enter the penalty area to serve the two-minute penalty. The player who receives the red card will serve the full two minutes. The player who receives a second yellow card will be released if the opposing team scores, unless the yellow card is the team’s fourth or subsequent yellow card. When the penalty is over, the player must return to the team bench area and may not re-enter the game. The team may substitute another player for the player who has been ejected/suspended."

One of the biggest storylines in the title game between Boston College and Syracuse was Emma Tyrrell being ejected from the game after receiving two yellow cards in the first half only one minute apart. 

With Syracuse already down Emily Hawryschuk, Megan Carney, and Vanessa Constantino, Tyrrell's ejection was the nail in the coffin for Syracuse's chances of winning the game.

I think there are a few ways this rule could be changed.

First, it could be changed from "ejection on the second yellow card" to "ejection on the third yellow card." "Three strikes and you're out" might be a better system.

Or, more feasibly, there could be changes to what constitutes as a yellow card.

Check out what currently constitutes as Mandatory Card Fouls in the 2021 NCAA Women's Lacrosse Rule Book (starts on page 62 of the 2021 rulebook):

a. Check to the Head: No player’s stick may hit or cause their opponent’s stick to hit the opponent’s head.

b. Dangerous Follow-Through: Following through with their stick in a dangerous or uncontrolled manner at any time.

c. Dangerous Propelling: Propelling the ball with their stick in a dangerous or uncontrolled manner at any time. For example, any shot directed at or taken without regard to the positioning of a field player.

d. Illegal Body Ball in Goal Circle (Red Card): If a player, excluding the goalkeeper, blatantly attempts to stop a shot on goal by playing the ball off of one’s body while inside the goal circle.

e. Misconduct: For example, excessively rough, dangerous or unsportsmanlike play, excessive dissent or abusive language...any type of behavior that, in the official’s opinion, amounts to misconduct.

f. Slash: Swinging the stick at an opponent with deliberate viciousness or recklessness.

g. Suspended Player Substitutes (yellow card is issued to the head coach) 1. If a player who receives two yellow cards enters the field of play. 2. If a player who receives a red card enters the field of play.

The two yellow cards that Tyrrell was responsible for appeared to be misconduct, followed by a check to the head. Additionally, among the remaining four yellow cards issued, there was one more check to the head, two more misconduct yellow cards, and one given for dangerous propelling.

Some of these yellow cards have to stay in the rules to ensure the safety of all players. For example, a check to the head is an action that warrants a yellow card.

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However, there are some yellow cards that I think could be tweaked or eliminated altogether

Dangerous Follow Through/Dangerous Propelling

The first yellow cards that are problematic (and go hand in hand) are "Dangerous Follow Through" and "Dangerous Propelling," which, as a reminder, are "Following through/propelling the ball with their stick in a dangerous or uncontrolled manner at any time."

An example of dangerous propelling would be "any shot directed at or taken without regard to the positioning of a field player."

The issue with these yellow cards are that they discourage women's lacrosse players from shooting outside, even though many of these athletes do have the range to shoot from the 8 meter. They are often hesitant to shoot the ball from this far out because there is usually an opponent in the way and they fear getting a yellow card.

In men's lacrosse, when an offensive player is shooting from the outside the defensive player will often purposely put his body in the way of the shot to block it. If it does hit the defender, then he saves the shot from going in. If it does not hit the defender, the shot may result in a goal. But either way, the offensive player felt comfortable to take the long range shot without the fear of being temporarily removed from the game.

I am not suggesting that women's lacrosse players shoot recklessly or with the intention of hitting another player. What I am suggesting is that these yellow cards be removed to encourage women's lacrosse players to shoot from further outside.

The other yellow card that could be tweaked is misconduct, for this reason. You'll see that I bolded one part of the definition above, which is "...any type of behavior that, in the official’s opinion, amounts to misconduct." While the rulebook does outline some specific examples of misconduct, I think that any time that a rule is left up to interpretation of subjectivity on the part of the referee, that is when problems arise.

2. Fouls/Cards Immediately Stop the Game

Another rule exposed as flawed in the championship game was how frequently the game stopped.

In an era of shrinking attention spans, lacrosse is not alone in having to think about how to keep newcomers engaged so they become lifelong fans. There were 39 total fouls in the women's lacrosse championship game. That's 39 times that the game was stopped in a moment of intense action.

In men's lacrosse, here's how they do it. When a foul occurs, lacrosse officials throw out a yellow flag onto the field to indicate that a penalty has occurred. But, the flag doesn’t automatically stop play. Play continues even after the flag has been thrown until a referees blows their whistle.

This is called the play-on scenario.

This "play-on" scenario allows the offense to still carry out the play and does not penalize them by stopping the play if the defense makes a mistake. It also further incentivizes defenses to avoid fouling because they could get hit with the double whammy- the other team scores and the defender who fouled still has to serve time.

Compare that to the women's game which stops play every time a foul is called. After analyzing the "play-on" scenario in the men's games, the women's rules make you wonder: "does stopping the game actually benefit the team who commits the foul?"

As a former goaltender at Colgate, I can remember countless times when a minor foul was committed while an offense I was playing against was in the midst of intense ball movement. By fouling an offensive player, the offense's momentum stifled.

Some people say they enjoy the men's game more than the women's game because it moves at a faster pace. The main reason for this perception is because of the drastic differences in rules for the men's game versus the women's game. The rules in the women's game are slowing it down drastically.

3. If the goalie commits a foul that warrants a free position shot, they get put behind the shooter

In the men's game, if there is a foul that is severe enough (slashing, illegal body check, etc.), the goalie will have to serve that penalty from the sideline and their team goes man down. However, the catch is that a backup goalie can be substituted in. The team is man down, but they don't have to go without a goalie.

In the women's game, if a goalie commits a foul that warrants a free position shot, a better and more fair trade would be that she has to come off the field, the team goes woman down, and a back up goalie is inserted for the penalty shot.

If not, then whenever a goalie gets a penalty, you can almost assure it is an automatic goal since the offensive player is shooting on an open net. Especially since it is also illegal in the women's game for field players to jump into the cage and try and block the shot if they are not wearing appropriate protective equipment.

Penalties stop the natural flow of a lacrosse game. In removing unnecessary penalties, women's lacrosse games can keep up their pace without losing any momentum.

Less fouls will lead to more engagement and viewership. At the end of the day, anyone who advocates for changes in women's lacrosse will tell you that the main priority is to grow the game.

Removing unnecessary fouls is one way we can do that.