You need to know an assortment of terms in the game of lacrosse in order to flourish. Otherwise, you may find yourself getting lost in the shuffle, by committing unnecessary penalties or failing to execute high IQ plays. One such lacrosse term that you should be intimately familiar with is the crease.
The crease is the circular lining that surrounds the lacrosse goal. It has a 9ft radius and designates the goalie’s area. Offensive players are forbidden from ever stepping foot into the crease, whether they have the ball or not. Only the goalie is permitted to possess the ball within the crease.
The crease has been instituted in the game of lacrosse to address a few potential problems that would occur in its absence. We will analyze how the crease is designed to do away with these problems, as well as the specialized crease rules that you should know prior to stepping out onto the field.
The Meaning of Crease in Lacrosse
To the casual spectator, the crease is hardly noticeable at first glance. Only a truly observant eye would be able to pick out the crease from a considerable distance away. Even players out on the field have trouble seeing the crease on occasion. Although difficult to see, the crease plays an integral role in how the game of lacrosse is played.
An Overview of What the Crease Is
To reiterate, the crease is found around both goals in every formal lacrosse game. The thin circle is either painted onto the field or is a physical, portable item. Of these two options, it is better to have the crease painted onto the field itself because it isn’t possible for the crease to move inadvertently. When players step onto a portable crease incidentally, it has a habit of moving around.
A legal crease is 18ft in diameter. Every point on the crease should have a 9ft radius from the center of goal line extended (GLE), the imaginary plane where the goal is front of the goal is positioned. In other words, all points should be equidistant to the face of the goal. It should not be noticeably lopsided.
It should be noted that the interior of the crease is unpainted. The crease is designed to be a circular lining, not a painted circle.
A picture of what a standard crease looks like is provided below:
The Crease: Who is Allowed to Enter and Who Isn’t?
The goalkeeper is settled within the crease for the majority of the lacrosse game. This is because their primary job is to make saves on opposing shots. This would be an extremely difficult task to accomplish if they weren’t positioned in the crease, directly blocking the face of the goal.
It is for this reason that the crease is frequently referenced as the goalie’s area. Keep in mind that other members of the defense are allowed to step foot in the crease, so long as they do not possess the ball. The crease is strictly off limits to opposing offensive players. Only the goalkeeper is allowed to maintain possession within the crease.
How to Interpret Common Crease References
Players and coaches commonly reference the crease as a marker on the lacrosse field. For example, coaches repetitively call out to offensive players, “Go to the crease!” Although it may sound like these coaches are commanding their players to step foot into the crease, they are not. Since offensive players are restricted from entering the crease, this would result in an immediate penalty. What they are telling them to do is hover around the area in front of the goal that is in close proximity to the crease.
This is an important difference to note, because one scenario results in turnover of possession while the other puts the offensive player in prime scoring position.
Team defenses also reference the crease often, especially when discussing defensive strategy. One of the most prevalent ways that the crease is alluded to in defensive strategy is when analyzing basic slide packages.
For those of you that do not know, a slide package is a basic defensive lacrosse strategy that dictates how the entire defense will rotate in the event that the ball carrier beats the on ball defender.
To learn more about the details of what a slide is, click over to my article What is a Slide in Lacrosse – Definition & Examples.
The most fundamental slide package is the crease slide. Coaches call it a crease slide because the supporting defender must shift from his position in front of the crease to the oncoming ball carrier. Keep in mind that the supporting defender is positioned in close proximity to the crease, not physically on the crease.
Again, this difference is key. In the situation where the defender is physically on the crease, they are not in position to make a proper crease slide. This leaves the entire defense in a vulnerable position. Only when the defender is appropriately positioned a few yards in front of the goal will they be able to provide adequate defensive support.
The Importance of the Crease to Lacrosse
Now that you know exactly what the basic gist of the crease is, it is necessary for you to understand its overall importance. The crease was not thrown into lacrosse at random. There are a few distinct reasons why the crease was introduced.
Promotes the Goalkeeper’s Safety
The primary reason why the crease was implemented was to promote the safety of the goalkeeper.
The goalie’s job is tough enough having to deal with 80 mile per hour shots rocketing toward them seemingly every other minute. If offensive players were not restricted by the crease, they would simply try and barrel over the goalkeeper and put the ball in the goal by brute force. This would lead to a great deal of unnecessary collisions, which is almost always accompanied by injury.
This is not an ideal situation in terms of player safety. Hence why the crease was born.
With the institution of the crease, goalies do not have to worry about offensive players running them over trying to ferry the ball into the goal. Furthermore, goalies have a bit of an extra cushion to have a real chance at protecting themselves by making a play on the ball. Absorbing the full force of a lacrosse shot hurts. Goalies will take every little edge they can to avoid taking the brunt of a hard lacrosse shot.
Levels the Playing Field Between Offense and Defense
Furthermore, the crease serves as an equalizer between the offense and defense.
In relation to the crease, if ball carriers were permitted to come and go as they pleased, there would be a lot of pressure on the defense to actively keep them away from the goal.
Ball carriers that managed to close in on the goal would bully their way to the cage time and time again if there were no crease present. This would completely alter strategic fundamentals of offense and change the very fabric of the game itself.
The presence of the crease forces ball carriers to rely on their finesse instead of brute physicality. Lacrosse games are not meant to be a show of barbaric clash. They are meant to be a dynamic display of tact and savviness. The crease reinforces this concept above all else.
Crease Rules that You Should Know
There are a couple of essential rules that every lacrosse player should know to adhere to proper crease play. It is in your best interest to avoid committing unnecessary fouls that may hurt your team’s chances of victory.
Crease Shots on Goal
As aforementioned, ball carriers are not allowed to enter the crease under any circumstances. This seems like a cut and dry rule. However, there are particular moments in the game where ball carriers walk the line of legality versus illegality in terms of crease shots.
For example, sometimes the momentum of an offensive player carries them into the crease after having scored a goal. This begs the question, “Does the goal count?”
The score only counts if the offensive player’s momentum carries them into the crease after the ball has entered the goal. In the event that the offensive player’s momentum carries them into the crease before the ball has entered the goal, the score does not count.
In addition, a score is taken off the board if an offensive player inadvertently steps onto the crease line, makes physical contact with the goal, or makes body to body contact with the goalkeeper.
At times, this can be hard for officials to monitor because of how fast and chaotic crease shots typically are. For this reason, there are times where officials must get together and come to a consensus on whether or not the goal that was just scored should be wiped off the board.
This rule relates to the topic of crease shots on goal, but it is such a controversial subject that it warrants its own discussion.
Crease diving is the act of ball carriers intentionally leaping into the crease to increase their shooting angle and thereby up their scoring chances. The lacrosse rules committee has gone back and forth as to the legality of this maneuver. On one end of the spectrum, the offensive player does not physically touch inside the crease until the ball has already entered the goal. But on the other hand, the offensive player does cross the imaginary plane of the crease in order to score, if such a thing should even be considered.
At first, the NCAA men’s lacrosse rules committee deemed this maneuver illegal and the NFHS quickly followed suit. However, NCAA men’s lacrosse rules once again reinstated the legality of crease diving. Even with the formal ruling, officials are still finding difficulty establishing the line between legal versus illegal crease diving.
One point of emphasis that the NCAA has repeated is that the offensive player must dive or jump away from the goal mouth. In other words, they cannot direct their momentum toward the face of the goal. Instead, they have to dive across the face of the goal (source). Since this ruling is rather vague, it is entirely up to the judgment of the officials to establish what qualifies as jumping toward the goal versus across the goal.
To see some thrilling, bone jarring crease dives for yourself, check out the video below!
As you can see, this is an extremely tough maneuver for officials to call. Right now, the crease dive is only legal at the collegiate and professional level. It remains to be seen whether youth and high school lacrosse will follow the lead of the NCAA.
Hopefully in the future, the rules regarding crease diving will be made more clear.
Goalkeeper’s Limited Possession Time in Crease
Moreover, the goalie is only allotted a set amount of time to possess the ball within the crease. Since offensive players are not allowed to contact the goalies while they have the ball in the crease, it is almost as if they are invincible when they retain possession in this area.
The four second rule is what is responsible for making this invincibility temporary. As soon as a goalkeeper gathers possession of the ball within the crease, by collecting a save or a loose ball, they can only stay within the crease area for a maximum of four seconds. Once these four seconds are up, the goalkeeper must vacate the crease if they still have the ball. Otherwise, possession will be forfeited to the other team.
It is important to note that once the four seconds have expired and the goalkeeper has vacated the crease, they cannot re-enter the crease within the same possession. The four second rule only renews once a change of possession has taken place.
There are extenuating circumstances where this rule may be labeled void. For example, sometimes the ball gets trapped within the netting. Although rare, it is likely the referees will provide some leeway, especially if it is a youth or high school lacrosse game.
Lastly, there are times where a goalie has both feet within the crease but extends their crosse outside of the crease to clamp onto a loose ball. There is a special rule that applies here called interference.
With interference, players are not allowed to impede the stick handling ability of the goalkeeper with defensive stick checks. Since the goalkeeper is firmly established in the crease, players are not allowed to contact the goalkeeper, even if their crosse has extended beyond the circular boundary.
Therefore, if a goalie clamps onto a loose ball outside the crease, the opposing players have to respect that the goalkeeper has established possession of the ball and leave him be. Any contact made with the goalie will warrant a play-on scenario or automatic possession awarded to the goalie’s team at the spot of the foul (source).
In conclusion, the crease is a lot more than just a circle around the goal. There is a considerable amount of strategy and rules that play into the presence of the crease. Learning how to best optimize crease play is highly beneficial, so absorb the information outlined above and apply it out on the lacrosse field.