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Sports column by Andy Kirkaldy: Extend equality of the sexes to the rules of the game

I have long enjoyed watching well-played women’s and girls’ lacrosse games, something we have been blessed with living in these parts. The sport is elegant, fast and graceful. It showcases teamwork and individual athleticism as well as wonderful hand-eye coordination.
Many of those games have been enhanced by excellent officiating. The Middlebury College team’s 9-6 win over Amherst earlier this spring comes to mind. Defenders were allowed to use appropriate levels of strength as well as positioning and footwork to ward off attackers, and officials didn’t needlessly stop play at midfield to call marginal infractions that didn’t affect play. I checked the stats afterward and saw the referees whistled only 23 fouls, maybe half the amount of a typical game.
Other games have left a different impression.
For instance, here’s a scenario from Saturday’s Mount Mansfield-Middlebury Union High School game. A Cougar player rolled to the front of the goal, drawing a foul on Middlebury, and then shot low, bouncing a shot into the Tiger net. Another flag was thrown.
Only in women’s lacrosse would the goal be disallowed (a shooting-space violation preceded the shot) and the Cougar player be sent off the field for two minutes (her shot was too dangerous, prompting the official to clutch her pearls and faint on a couch. OK, that’s unfair. I’m sure there was something technically wrong with it under the sport’s rules. Probably the shooter’s follow-through was too close to the Tiger goalie.)
Now, I hesitate to fuss too much about officiating. The men and women who carry whistles for merely supplemental income almost universally do so for no other reasons but for their love of sport and their desire to give athletes a chance to participate.
And the problem with women’s lacrosse really isn’t the officials, but the rules, how they are applied, and what I believe is the underlying justification for them — that young women are delicate creatures who need protection.
I ask, in all seriousness, would a male sport penalize an athlete for a “dangerous follow-through” that didn’t hit anybody?
Or assess a foul for a “dangerous shot” at a goalie wearing a helmet, chest protector and leg pads?
Or stop in his tracks a male offensive player running down the field because a defensive player’s stick came a little too close to his head while the defensive player tried to check the ball loose?
Or, worst of all, would a male sport take away a goal because a defensive player was near a shooting lane, thus penalizing the offense for a defensive foul? This is the “shooting-space” call, described above, intended to protect defenders from being hit by shots. If the ball is already in the net when the whistle blows, I’d say that horse has already fled the barn.
Those are all women’s lacrosse rules that penalize the offense in the name of player safety. And I would argue no governing body of a male sport would dream of adopting similar rules.
In a word, women’s lacrosse rules are sexist.
It’s time for changes:
•  Penalize dangerous follow-throughs only if they make contact or force opponents to duck out of the way.
•  Eliminate penalties for dangerous shots unless they are at field players.
•  Insist referees use “play-on” provisions for fouls for illegal checks (close to the head) if the offense would be disadvantaged. Currently, offensive players’ lose their speed because play stops; especially at midfield they are often moving quicker than defenders, and forcing everybody to stop in place for a foul favors the defense. If a team is consistently taking too many wild swings, halt play, assess a team-wide warning, and send off the next offender.
By the way, the women’s lacrosse rule book’s “philosophy” section states: “the game should flow as continuously as possible, not burdened by an inordinate number of rules requiring frequent stops during the game.”
•  Make all shooting-space violations a held whistle if the offensive player is in the act of shooting.
Of course, no rule is any good unless you have officials with common sense applying them. Fans of the Middlebury College program no doubt noticed the Panthers defeated York in Sunday’s NCAA Regional final at Gettysburg, Penn., not the host Gettysburg program.
York defeated Gettysburg on Saturday, 8-7, but not before a tying Gettysburg goal in the final seconds was disallowed. Here is the account from ncaa.com:
“Landry picked up the ground ball and put what looked like to be the game-tying goal home with 6.8 seconds remaining in regulation. After a lengthy conference between the officials, and eventually the head official and the coaches, the goal was waved off as multiple Gettysburg players dropped their sticks after the goal which negated the post-goal stick check and, therefore, the game-tying goal.”
The rule is that goal-scorers must make their stick available for referees to check to make sure it is legal, specifically that its pocket is not too deep. Officials said they could not find the right stick among the many there.
The rules state that if defenders threw their sticks in the mix, the goal stands because of their intent to muddy the issue. Only seven players are allowed into the attacking zone, so let’s assume that’s the maximum number of Gettysburg sticks.
And you’re telling me they couldn’t spend the time used for “a lengthy conference” just to check those seven sticks? The kids on that team busted their butts all season to get there.
For shame, NCAA, to let that happen. After all, the philosophy section of their rules states: “the outcome of the game should be determined by legal play by the players, not by the interpretations of the rules by the officials.” 

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