Throwing the Yellow Flag

Deciding whether to throw the challenge flag is a challenge for coaches. (Photo: Ward Laforme, Jr.)
Deciding whether to throw the challenge flag is a challenge for coaches. (Photo: Ward Laforme, Jr.)

Professional sports fans have come to expect instant replay. In a dynamic and fast pace sport such as indoor lacrosse it is nearly impossible to get every crease call correct the first time. Coaches feel empowered to challenge a close call that could affect the outcome of the game. Fans watch the replays eagerly and weigh in from their seats. Ultimately we all just want the score to accurately reflect the play of the game. Although the NLL Replay System is doing a good job to get it right, the system has not always been so fool proof.

Instant replay was introduced to the NLL at the beginning of the 2009 Season. At that time each coach had one flag per half and had to initiate the challenge before the faceoff following a goal and before the next reset of the shot clock in a play-on situation.

The following situations could be challenged.

  1. Determination of the ball crossing the goal line.
  2. Determination of the ball crossing the plane of the goal prior to the end of a quarter.(except at 2 minutes and under remaining in the fourth quarter and overtime – this is a challenge initiated by the officials only)
  3. Determination of a crease violation for only the following: shooter is in the crease prior to the ball crossing the goal line, non-shooter is in the crease prior to the ball crossing the goal line.

The 20 seconds gave coaches a chance to discuss the play with players or other coaches and even consult the replay on the jumbotron before tossing the hankie. Nowhere in the Instant Replay guidelines did it specify that a home team had to show post goal replays. So in Boston we instructed the jumbotron operator not to show Blazers’ goals that might be crease violations. We also asked him to put up any potential Boston goals that were missed by the officials.  I assumed that all other teams did the same.

On Friday February 20, 2009 the Blazers traveled to Minnesota and beat the Swarm 16-12 to improve to 5-3 on our inaugural season. The following day we flew to Calgary for a Sunday afternoon tilt against the first place Roughnecks (5-1). During a pretty even first half Calgary was awarded a goal while a Rigger teammate was lying in the crease.  Although the goal was reversed via the replay system I was forced to use my only flag of the half on what appeared to be an obvious crease call. Later in that same half another crease call was missed and there was nothing I could do about it.

In the second half I threw the flag after consulting the jumbotron on a play that I probably would not have challenged without the replay confirmation. This resulted in another Calgary goal coming off the board. We ended up winning the game 11 – 10 on a last second goal by Dan Dawson. A win that might never have happened if Calgary had not shown replays of their questionable goals.

Following the 2009 Season the Competition Committee took a closer look at the Replay Rules. As a result coaches were given the flexibility of using their 2 challenge flags at any time of the game and would get a third if they used 2 and got them both right. To prevent the potential home field advantage of picking and choosing what replays to show, coaches had to throw the flag within 10 seconds and no replays could be shown until after those 10 seconds elapsed. Coaches were also given the option to challenge whether the ball crosses the plane of the goal prior to the expiration of the 30 second shot clock.

The view from the bench is far from optimal. Often times there is an obstructed view.  Some times you are preoccupied with something else and don’t even get a great look. Trying to see whether a player’s toe is on the crease line from 120 feet away at game speed is extremely challenging even for the trained eye. Head coaches were left to guess more on when to challenge. Once again the Competition Committee tweaked the rule to allow more time. The bonus challenge was removed and once again coaches are given just 1 challenge per half.

Brian Lemon the NLL’s VP of Lacrosse Operations offered this explanation. “After review of the 2010 season, the ten second limit was determined that it did not truly give the Head Coach a significant amount of time to assess the play in question and then throw the flag. As well, changing the time limitation to the next faceoff on these game stoppage situations streamlined the officials’ mechanic to track the timing of the challenge flag.” It is easier for the refs to track the timing when the draw is the cut off point for throwing the flag. The only meaningful advantage to extra time in my mind is that it allows one to review the play on the jumbotron or possibly get advice from someone watching from a better angle.

This year I have seen at least 2 successful challenges come from visiting teams after watching the jumbotron replay.  The first took place in Calgary on January 12 with the Rock being the benefactor in an eventual 13-11 decision. The second was last Friday during the matinee game. Although the Wings lost handily, a Kevin Ross goal was erased in the 1st Quarter thanks to the jumbotron replay. I would guess there have been others.

Officially there is still no mandate that requires a home team to show all replays. It is commonly accepted that home teams don’t show replays that can help the visitors, adding to the home field advantage. As a Head Coach or GM I would make sure that questionable goals by my team are not played until after the subsequent draw. Granted the fans want to see replays, but I think any fan would trade a couple for a home win.

A nine-year NLL veteran and former GM and head coach of the Boston Blazers, Ryan also coached Team USA at the '07 WILC and will do so again in 2011 in Prague. To purchase Ryan's Stir It Up DVD click here.

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