If I were commissioner of college lacrosse (and I want to make it clear that if the position is available, I claim
as a reference), I'd be presenting a pretty good public face this week.
My national quarterfinals were fairly well attended, three of the games were overtime thrillers and the other was a highly entertaining affair in which in the teams combined for 35 goals. My final four is now set with a mix of blue bloods like Duke and Virginia, my reigning national champion (Yale) and a major program making their first appearance (Penn State) that will interest local fans in Philadelphia during Memorial Day weekend. On top of that, some of my sport's biggest stars are still alive in the tournament (Penn State's Grant Ament, Yale's TD Ierlan to name a couple).
Heck, I wouldn't even need to be as talented and good looking as presumed top candidate Glenn Clark to be able to do the job of college lacrosse commissioner today. The job would largely do itself.
But if I were commissioner of college lacrosse, there might also be a couple of things I'd want to try to take care of this week.
The first is of lesser concern. I'd need to talk to all of my partners and make sure we were all in agreement that if a network partner were to ever have technical issues like ESPNU did during the Loyola-Penn State broadcast May 19, we would NEVER continue to play the game without it being on the air.
It probably isn't the sport's fault that ESPN's broadcast went out late in the second quarter (after going out previously for a short time earlier in the half) and didn't return until midway through the third quarter. I guess it is possible that perhaps a cable or connection the NCAA is responsible for went out, but it's more likely the fault of the network or most likely the fault of spotty technology or some act of God. These things happen, although typically not during national quarterfinals types of broadcasts.
The problem is that for some inexplicable reason, the game continued while the broadcast remained unavailable. In 2019. So as Loyola began a comeback that would turn a seven-goal deficit into a two-goal contest, no one was seeing it. On one of the most important weekends of the year for an entire sport and right in the middle of the game that featured the top two candidates (Ament and Loyola's Pat Spencer) for the Tewaaraton Award, the game simply didn't exist for anyone not in the stadium.
Look, if something like that ever happens again, I pledge as future commissioner of college lacrosse that I will make sure the game is paused until the broadcast reconnects. That should be a pretty simple conclusion in those circumstances. If ESPN had a technical difficulty in the middle of a national football semifinal, no one would let Trevor Lawrence throw for four touchdowns before the game was back on the air.
The other issue is of course much more significant.
This is a tough one because you have to say it the right way in order to make sure you don't offend the Virginia fans in your life. But the following scenarios are all equally true:
A. The game-tying goal Virginia's Michael Kraus scored with a little more than a minute remaining against Maryland May 18 was not only not a goal, it was one of the most stunning, awful calls I've ever seen in lacrosse.
B. There had been other missed calls during the course of the game, including a goal by Maryland's Jared Bernhardt that was allowed despite it appearing as though his foot was on the crease circle.
C. That play alone wasn't the reason Maryland lost, and since Virginia was going to get the ball back had the play continued, it is reasonable to think they might have scored an equalizer in the final minute anyway.
But ultimately, one of the biggest games of the year in the sport was marred by an unthinkably bad call that would have been so easily fixed via review. As the clear-cut favorite to be commissioner of college lacrosse, that's absolutely unacceptable.
Truthfully, this has been a tremendous season. The addition of the 80-second shot clock hasn't just improved the game, it has improved it to a level we could have perhaps never imagined. Take for example the end of the Maryland-Towson game during the first weekend of the tournament.
In the past, if a team with a one-goal lead gained possession with two minutes left in the fourth, the game was all but over. It merely needed to play pitch and catch for awhile or prove it had its cardio up enough to run around with a ball in order to finish off a win.
Instead, a shot-clock violation by Towson meant Maryland got one more chance and came up with the dramatic tying goal. The additional offense has also been incredible. In 16 NCAA Tournament games last year, there were 13 occasions where one of the two teams scored 10 goals or fewer. In 13 NCAA Tournament games so far this year, there have been only five such occurrences.
Similarly, the return of "the dive" has created incredible moments and highlights throughout the year. Heroic efforts on goal have been rewarded and turned into popular social-media fodder. These have been great steps.
And while an argument against instant replay might be that not every game is televised equally (and they aren't), that doesn't ultimately hold water when it comes to trying to make sure you get the calls right. Nearly every NCAA lacrosse game includes some sort of broadcast, be it TV or streaming. The biggest conferences have television broadcasts for every game. Every NCAA Tournament game except the play-in contest is on television as well. There's no excuse for letting something like this happen.
The answer is "add replay." And ultimately the answer is "add replay as much and as reasonably as possible." The NFL has probably gone too far by making pass interference reviewable. I think it might be too much for lacrosse to make, say, backup calls reviewable. It's so impossible to tell EXACTLY where a player is in relation to EXACTLY where the ball went out of bounds that I'd likely just keep that at the officials' discretion.
But goals? That's far too important. Whether a shot got off before the shot clock expired, whether a ball bounced down off the crossbar and hit behind the goal line and ABSOLUTELY whether a ball just went off the bar altogether and only confused a ref because it was shot so hard it rattled the cage a bit and made the net move (not that I can think of any specific examples of that) are the types of things the sport has to make sure it gets right, particularly in the biggest moments of the biggest games.
And since I've officially declared myself the commissioner of college lacrosse (that's how this works, right?), I'm on it.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox