In 1998, the NCAA controversially removed what some consider one of the most dynamic plays in the game of lacrosse, “The Dive.” In the two decades following the decision, countless fans have cried out in demand of the the dive shot to make a return. A staple of box lacrosse and commonplace in Major League Lacrosse, the maneuver has remained controversial at the collegiate level.
To get up to speed, the dive is fairly simple. Leave your feet (with the ball) outside the crease, launch yourself through the air (typically across the face of the net), shoot the ball around the goalie (without touching them), and land somewhere inside (or on) the cylinder after the ball breaks the plain of the goal.
The NCAA has made it clear, this is not how they want the game played. Rule 4-21 of the 2017/18 NCAA rulebook states:
“If an attacking player, in possession of the ball and outside the crease area, dives or jumps (becomes airborne of his own volition), prior to, during, or after the release of the shot and lands in the crease, the goal shall be disallowed.”
If he’s pushed, legally or illegally, the play continues. If he leaves his feet outside of the crease on his own, regardless of if he is pushed in the air, he must land outside of the crease without touching the line, or goaltender, for a goal to stand.
Bring Back The Dive!
You would think, after nearly twenty years, the topic would have blown over by now. Yet, every so often a big moment arises that could have been much different, with, or without, the dive.
After two highly controversial calls were made in the 2016 NCAA semifinal between Denver and Maryland, a fire was started in the lacrosse community. Rising star Colin Heacock made an incredible play for a last-minute insurance goal, but his path took him airborne across the crease. At first glance, the display of pure athleticism was surely commendable, sending his Terps one step closer to the title game.
Then, upon review, it was noticed by the officials that Heacock’s foot landed on the crease line, even after his body touched outside, disallowing the goal, regardless of ball location.
After the clear, on the opposite end of the field, we saw another version of the dive. Denver’s Collin Donahue left his feet and, much more obviously, landed right in the crease. Another disallowed goal, the second one after two athletes attempted to rise to the occasion and push their teams into the National Championship. Exciting plays, no doubt about it, but both ruled out by the powers at be long before these two players were even thinking about college lacrosse. The Terps went on to win the battle, but the two anticlimactic rulings knocked a lot of wind out of the game’s sails.
Fans and players have hung by the idea that the dive shot is going to make lacrosse more exciting. Who are we trying to make the game more exciting for? If it’s potential viewers, the MLL has allowed the move since the beginning and the League still isn’t on primetime television. If it’s for us, the engaged lacrosse enthusiasts, what are we even watching the games for in the first place?
If lacrosse is so boring that we are willing to sacrifice on player safety, just so the few attackmen in the country actually skilled enough to make the play can wow us, we might need to reevaluate our values. The guys in the pros aren’t any less vulnerable than NCAA athletes, while they are more experienced and the best at what they do. Those at the pinnacle of the game are used to the play, but it’s not keeping them any more safe.
Allow the dive in college ball and be sure that for every exciting example like the 2016 NCAA playoff games, there will less coordinated, bumbling attackmen taking a full-steam charge straight at the cage with no idea where he, the ball, or the goalie, will end up.
Picking a Side
Legendary minds like Denver coach Bill Tierney have weighed in favoring the action. Tierney was quoted during the semifinal post conference:
“Honestly, we need a shot clock in this game, and we need to let the dive be back in the game. They’ve taken away the two greatest parts of the game. It’s silly. It’s silly to see a kid make an effort. And their guy too, by the way, seconds before that. I’m not just saying our guy. To see young men work as hard as they do and make that kind of athletic effort and have some guy in stripes say, no, no, no. And it wasn’t his fault. We’ll see if he landed in the crease, then it was the right call. If he didn’t, it was the wrong call. But I just think our game is kind of silly right now without those two rules.”
That’s coming from a man that has led his teams to seven NCAA DI National Titles. On the other side, MLL All-Star and ESPN analyst Ryan Flanagan has been quite outspoken regarding the removal of the dive from pro ball and keeping it away from college lacrosse. It seems the New York Lizard is more than credible when speaking on the issue, tearing his ACL, MCL, and meniscus after a dive from Powell Pathfinder Mike Bocklet went awry.
In April 2016, Flanagan tweeted, “Please take the dive out of @MLL_Lacrosse @MLLCommish. At times, the fans entertainment comes at the expense of the players.” He followed up with, “Hearing about another @MLL_Lacrosse getting hurt on a crease dive this weekend. Get well quick @The_Real_Goose. Get rid of the dive!” nearly a year later. Flanagan is referring to former Le Moyne goaltender Austin Krawec snapping a bone in his leg in half… during training camp. Inside Lacrosse has done a fantastic job covering the issue, helping to tell Krawec’s tale http://www.insidelacrosse.com/article/the-other-side-of-the-dive/50257. His career essentially ended before it even began, thanks in part to the dive.
What is the Safety Issue?
Fans quick to demand the dive, typically follow their responses up with a lack of data on dive safety. It’s easy to think that the dive belongs in lacrosse, if you have never seen one result in injury. When online searches only turn up a few results, like Flanagan and Krawec, one might assume the action is safer than some make it out to be.
Injuries can happen in dozens of ways on the lacrosse field. We see torn ligaments and muscles constantly, not to mention the semi-occasional concussion. Could the injuries around the dive come as result of freak accidents, negligence, or both? One could argue that if focus was on the safety of the goaltender, we should pad them more. With his legs completely exposed, could have Krawec’s situation been different if he had hard protection on his lower body?
Without adequate studies focused on the dive, we can all only speculate. NCAA rules focused on the issue are guided by coach consensus, not data. It’s up to you to make up your mind here, if the dive belongs in high level lacrosse or not. If your opinion is that the game needs the excitement of the dive, we hope it’s because you believe there’s little correlation between the action and safety. Rules are often written to protect players from themselves. If the dive is risking the future and livelihood of our athletes, it’s the rulemakers’ duty to protect them.
No one can argue that the dive isn’t incredibly exciting. We all love to see guys make big plays, at big moments. Maybe, just maybe, part of that emotion comes from our conscious reminding us that this type of play could go awfully wrong.
We want to hear what you have to think. Does the dive belong in lacrosse, and at what levels? Let us know why, or why not, the maneuver is an important part of the game.
Photo: Mark Brown