Given the similar nature of lacrosse to hockey, it is common for newcomers to be curious about the legality of fighting in lacrosse. Since it’s allowed in hockey, it’s only rational to believe that it’s legal in lacrosse, right?
Fighting is not allowed at the youth, high school, and collegiate lacrosse levels. Fighting is allowed in professional box lacrosse (NLL) and professional field lacrosse (PLL). This rule change was enacted in a bid to attract new viewership to the sport and make games more exciting to watch.
This rule discrepancy between the various levels of lacrosse can be confusing to some people. We will analyze the exact rationale as to why this inconsistency exists and whether or not fights happen at the younger lacrosse levels in spite of the stringent rules in place.
The Controversial Topic of Fighting in Lacrosse
Fighting has certainly been a hot topic in recent years as the professional lacrosse leagues have started to move away from the traditional stance on fighting in an attempt to increase viewership. Although controversial, it’s still a crucial aspect of the game to know and analyze since it carries such weight in the sport.
Fact #1: Fighting is Illegal at the Youth, High School, and Collegiate Lacrosse Levels
As of now, fighting is largely considered illegal throughout most divisions of lacrosse by the NFHS and NCAA. As a reminder, the NFHS is the governing body at the youth and high school lacrosse level whereas the NCAA is the governing body at the collegiate lacrosse level.
Unlike the pros, viewership is not an issue at the youth and high school divisions. Although the NFHS does have a strong desire to the grow the sport in popularity, it’s hard to rationalize that fighting would be the appropriate course of action.
With younger players, the concern over safety far outweighs the need for the additional thrill of fights. Injury rates, particularly having to do with concussions, are already a major concern in lacrosse.
The NFHS has been doing their part to minimize injury rates by tightening up restrictions regarding physical contact and instituting new guidelines concerning protective equipment. It wouldn’t make sense for them to introduce an element to the game that further endangers players when they’ve been trying to make lacrosse a safer environment. The cost would far outweigh the benefits.
Plus, it would send the wrong message to youth and high school players that settling on-the-field issues with physical bouts is the answer. These players are still learning how to become young men. These players aren’t mature enough yet to handle the privilege of fighting on the field. If it were up to them, they would be standoffish with every petty confrontation on the field. This would only hurt the game of lacrosse, not help it.
At the collegiate level, it would make much more sense for fighting to be allowed because now the players have matured into grown men. They’re better able to handle the prospect of fighting on the field if it comes down to it.
The only problem is that fighting doesn’t necessarily align with the moral conduct of the NCAA. In fact, the NCAA has a Committee on Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct whose mission is “to improve the condition and ethical conduct in all aspects of college athletics by developing and implementing strategies that foster greater acceptance of the value of respect, fairness, civility, honesty and responsibility” (source).
Needless to say, legalizing fighting isn’t on their top priority list for promoting better sportsmanship, even if it would have the effect of increasing viewership.
Fact #2: Fighting Is Allowed in Professional Box Lacrosse (NLL)
Lacrosse is unique in that it has two popular versions of the sport: box lacrosse (meant as an indoor sport) and field lacrosse (meant as an outdoor sport). Box lacrosse is the most resemblant of hockey, given the similar style of the play, regulated boundaries of play, and identical number of players out on the playing floor (5 runners and 1 goalkeeper per team).
Due to all these similarities, it should come as no surprise that fighting is allowed in professional box lacrosse as well, just like professional hockey.
The most reputable professional lacrosse organization is the National Lacrosse League (NLL). This league was founded in 1986, but it’s still trying to gain a foothold in the professional sports community. As a result, they’re experimenting with unconventional rules and strategies to help propel box lacrosse into the spotlight.
One area where they have attempted to experiment is having a more lenient attitude toward fighting. Since the majority of ice hockey fans are a big proponent of fighting in their sport, the NLL rules committee felt it may attract hockey fan crossover if they also integrated fighting into their game.
Thus, fighting has emerged as yet another exciting element in professional box lacrosse. To see this madness for yourself, watch the fighting compilation below!
Although fighting is still allowed at the professional box level, it seems as though the NLL rules committee is taking a good hard look at revising this allowance for the future.
US Lacrosse has recently issued a new set of rule changes to box lacrosse. In this new set of rule changes, the controversial topic of fighting was specifically addressed. I provided the explicit statement by US lacrosse below:
The NLL is a close partner of US Lacrosse and has strongly advocated for this new set of rule changes. The NLL commissioner, Nick Sakiewicz, even went as far to say that “this is another step in the evolution of the sport of lacrosse” (source).
As far as what this means for the future of fighting in professional box lacrosse, it’s hard to say. In the seasons after US Lacrosse issued these rule changes, fighting has continued to persist at the professional box level. Though, it does appear that the NLL is continuing to crack down on fighting year after year.
Fact #3: Fighting is Allowed in Professional Field Lacrosse (PLL)
Another fact that you should know is that professional field lacrosse has recently made the bold move of permitting fighting to go on.
In years past, the sole proprietor of professional field lacrosse was Major League Lacrosse (MLL). However, a new professional field lacrosse league has burst onto the scene in 2018, called the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL)
The PLL was founded by Paul Rabil in an effort to make lacrosse more marketable to general sports fans. The PLL has instituted several revolutionary rules in order to increase viewership. These groundbreaking rule changes consist of the following (source):
- 52 second shot clock that starts upon possession
- Shortened lacrosse field (by 10 yards)
- 15 yard 2-point arc instead of a 16 yard 2-point arc
- Allowance of fighting
Obviously, the rule change that we’re the most concerned with is the one regarding the allowance of fighting. Unlike traditional lacrosse leagues, the PLL not only allows fighting, the league promotes it! I was perusing the Premier League Lacrosse YouTube channel the other day and I found that one of their most watched videos was not a highlight roll of actual gameplay, but a highlight roll of a fierce, aggressive fight.
If you want to see how the fight played out for yourself, watch the clip below!
Although these fights were penalized by the referees, the entire physical bout was still allowed to play out. This was no coincidence. It’s no secret that fights have been encouraged in the PLL, particularly by the league founder Paul Rabil (source).
As evidence of this encouragement, it’s important to note that this clip was not uploaded by another YouTube channel after the fact. This fight was promoted by the PLL themselves.
This goes to show that the PLL is trying to take lacrosse in an entirely different direction in the name of marketing. Whether or not this bold move will pay off is difficult to judge. Nonetheless, I think it’s safe to say that the element of fighting will only continue to grow and be more accepted in professional field lacrosse, not wither away.
Do Fights Ever Happen at the Youth, High School and Collegiate Level Despite the Heavy Restrictions?
In spite of the stringent regulations that forbid fighting at the youth, high school, and collegiate levels, it still happens every once in a while when tempers flare up.
Over the course of my lacrosse career, I’ve only ever seen one fight and every player involved was heavily penalized after the fact. The reality is that although the consequences of fighting do discourage the majority of fights from ever taking place, there are certain players out there that simply don’t care.
Of course, there are other factors involved as well. Referees that lose control over the game will inevitably fuel the fire leading up to the fight. Unfortunately, coaches can also fan the flames. By promoting dirty play when tempers are obviously flaring up, coaches send the wrong message to their players to settle their on-field issues by fighting rather than playing harder.
Moreover, fans can be just as provocative, if not more, than the players. Parents in the stands can be extremely passionate about watching their kids play, to the point where it disrupts the game and forces issues where otherwise there would have been none.
If all of these factors go south for a single game, it’s more than likely that a fight will result.
Typically, fights happen more often in box lacrosse than in field lacrosse. This is primarily due to the cross-over between ice hockey and box lacrosse. With box lacrosse players that are used to the “fighting culture” of hockey, this sect of lacrosse has seen an uptick in the amount of fighting that goes on. Nonetheless, these instances are few, paling in comparison to the amount of fights that take place in hockey.
In short, it’s possible for a fight to happen outside of professional lacrosse, but these occurrences are extremely rare.
Is Fighting a Good Thing for the Sport of Lacrosse?
There is no debate that the PLL has placed a greater emphasis on fighting in the world of lacrosse. As with any controversial move, there has been a lot of discussion regarding whether or not this was the right decision to make.
The Benefits of Fighting
On one end, there are several concrete benefits to this move. One glaring benefit to fighting is that it enlivens the crowd, providing a new spark of energy to reengage the fans.
PLL founder Paul Rabil has harped on exploring fresh ways to make lacrosse more appealing to fans. The only way to really do that is to break away from the norm and try new things.
I applaud the fact that he’s kept his word and that he’s genuinely willing to put himself out there and take the heat if need be. As mentioned earlier, one of the most viewed clips on the PLL YouTube channel was the fight between Riorden and Ossello. So even though lacrosse fans may not agree with Rabil’s decision, it has definitely attracted new eyes to the PLL.
Moreover, fighting reinvigorates the energy for the rest game. Teams will go at each other with a chip on their shoulder after witnessing their opponents physically go after their teammates. Sometimes, the best way to bring out that fiery edge of competition is to fan the flames.
At the end of the day, high intensity lacrosse games are what players and fans want to be a part of. And you know what happened after that fight with Riorden and Ossello? That game ended up being a hard fought battle that ended in an overtime thriller!
Coincidence? I think not.
The Drawbacks of Fighting
With the benefits also come the drawbacks. For years, lacrosse has held fighting to a minimum to foster a safer environment for lacrosse players. The recent prominence of fighting at the professional level has members of the lacrosse community concerned over what kind of precedent this may set for younger generations.
Growing up, I looked up to professional lacrosse players and did everything within my power to model my game after them. This “idolization effect” has only become more pronounced with the emergence of social media. If youth players see their favorite players duking it out during games, it’s not too far-fetched to say that these same youth players might try and do the same.
If the PLL plans to broaden its target audience to reach sports families, this may not have been the best move to do that. After all, fighting is not the most family friendly activity in the world.
Another major drawback is that fighting takes away from the actual gameplay itself. When people watch lacrosse, they do so for the entertainment of the game, not the sideshow antics. Personally, I’m afraid that these fights may overshadow the amazing feats that the pros are showcasing on the field.
For example, in the overtime thriller between Chaos and the Redwoods, the picturesque moment of the game was not dedicated to Byrne for scoring the OT winner. Instead, the main source of promotion was the fight between Riorden and Ossello (source).
As you can see, it’s tough to say whether fighting is a fit for lacrosse. Only time will tell whether all this trouble is worth it for the boost in viewership.
Will Fighting Ever Be Allowed Across All Levels?
I can say with confidence that fighting is not something that will be allowed in the near future.
US Lacrosse has established a firm stance against the prospect of fighting at all non-professional lacrosse levels. By issuing a statement that all box lacrosse players involved in fighting will be immediately disqualified from play, they left no ambiguity as to how they feel toward this controversial topic (source).
It would take a complete turnaround for US lacrosse to even reconsider modifying the rules surrounding fighting. The allowance of fighting goes against the narrative that US Lacrosse has been writing for years in an effort to change the public’s perception of the sport.
They don’t want people to see lacrosse as a bunch of simpletons running around whacking each other with metal sticks. The safer regulations they’ve instituted have helped to prove to the general public that lacrosse is much more than that.
Allowing fighting would take away from these efforts. In these next few years, it’s safe to say that fighting will not be coming to lacrosse anytime soon.
The Bottom Line
Fighting is allowed at the professional lacrosse levels only. All other lacrosse divisions have a strict policy against the allowance of fighting.
Up until this point, no one can say for certain whether fighting has helped to spread awareness for the sport or take away from it. The only way to see if fighting will hold up in lacrosse is to see if it withstands the test of time.