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May 21, 2016 — Technology vs. old-fashioned common sense

Today, the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse tournament begins with eight teams looking to punch their tickets to Chester, Pa. for the Final Four.

One of the teams not playing this weekend is Florida, the No. 2 seed in the tournament that had lost only one match all season, a 10-goal defeat against Maryland on March 19th.

But last weekend. Florida lost to Penn State 14-13 in overtime in a game which saw a controversial incident. The incident in question came in the final 15 seconds of play, when Florida’s Sydney Pirreca pinged the ball off the leg of Penn State goalie Emi Smith and the ball rolled toward the goal line. The goal could have conceivably been counted had the ball rolled all the way over the goal line, which might have happened had there not been a few units of reaction force present.

Have a look at the goal embedded in this story.

Reaction force (R), in physics, is a component of rolling resistance which comes from the lower surface on which an object of a certain weight (W) is being propelled by a force (F). There are other coefficients that can be used to determine reaction force, but what you need to know is that Dizney Stadium, where the game was played last weekend, is a grass surface.

Had this game been played at the University of Maryland’s Lacrosse & Field Hockey Complex, there would have been short-grain AstroTurf in that goal crease. Even a rubber-infill surface such as Homewood Field at Johns Hopkins University might have yielded a sure goal in the same situation.

There’s an over-arching question that some have asked in the wake of this game: is it time to institute a video referral system similar to what is in place in field hockey?

In truth, I don’t think it’s going to happen because of a knee-jerk reaction to the result of this game. Mainly, it’s because not every women’s lacrosse game is televised. Even if a portable referral system is devised for non-televised games is devised, there are significant design and logistical problems.

First of all, the goal cage is within the field of play in lacrosse. You might be able to get away with a “Hawkeye” sensor system as used in soccer and tennis, but if you design a camera system on a platform (which is often used for FIH matches for video referral), there’s almost no way to have cameras at the correct overhead angle to be able to determine the status of the ball in a situation similar to last weekend’s situation with Pirreca’s shot attempt because the goal line is so far on the field.

Second, the big complicating factor in video replay is the current design of the goal cage. The way the netting drapes downward towards the back of the cage has let to some controversial goal decisions in the past because the netting is so tight in the four inches where the netting is attached to the goal. It also prevents one from installing miniature TV cameras inside the goal cage without changing the design of the netting in the first place.

Ultimately, I think the calls for instant replay as an ultimate arbiter constitute an indictment of top-level women’s lacrosse umpiring in the United States. It’s a shame; most of the people who have entered the umpiring profession in the last few years are very fit and well-trained in the modern game that has evolved in the last dozen years.

The game is quicker, no doubt. But the rules that have evolved in the last few years having to do with crease violations, sideline possession, and shooting at the end of a period should have made it easier on umpiring crews.

But the kerfuffle over last week may be an indicator that this is not the case.

 

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