NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee Misses Boat

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 13: Former referee Kerry Fraser skates out to boos during the Legends Classic Game at the Air Canada Centre on November 13, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Unlike other sports where rule changes are pondered just about any time, including the rare in-season tweaks, NCAA ice hockey works on a two-year cycle.

Because this is one of the years where changes can be made, there was anticipation ahead of this week's meetings of the NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee. The group was charged with making recommendations on changes for the next two years.

The usual suspects -- player safety and overtime -- were on the table. Nothing the committee decided regarding those issues is all that surprising. There will be more discussion and research done regarding a proposal to mandate 3/4 shields in college hockey.

Committee representatives will meet with the competitive-safeguards committee next week to review a wider package of potential enhancements that can be made to enhance student-athlete safety. The committee hopes that a partnership with the competitive-safeguards committee and other hockey organizations (for example, National Hockey League, USA Hockey, United States Hockey League) will lead to the use of visors.

A recent survey of 1,000 student-athletes showed that 83 percent would prefer to utilize a three-quarter shield if given the opportunity. The overwhelming majority of men’s coaches favor three-quarter visor use.

This is a sensible, prudent move, and an issue that certainly merits continued study. I'm not an expert on player safety, but it seems that people are leaning toward the idea that the full shields encourage reckless and dangerous play in college hockey. If that's the case, this move could be a good one.

As far as overtime, the committee has decided to leave it up to individual conferences. They can keep the current overtime format -- five minutes of five-on-five play, with no shootout -- or they can move to four-on-four play for five minutes. The Central Collegiate Hockey Association is the only men's league to take advantage of the option to include shootouts after overtimes, and there will be no leagues doing that when the CCHA dissolves after this coming season.

I've never had a huge issue with the committee leaving these decisions up to conferences. CCHA games that go to shootouts still count as ties when it comes time to look at the NCAA Tournament selections, so there's no harm done, and the league obviously likes doing it.

However, this is a bit different, because it involves changing the way overtime plays out. This type of change should probably be universal or not happen at all. Overtime wins are wins in the eyes of the NCAA, so leagues will be operating overtime under different formats if one or more passes this rule change. Four-on-four hockey is different from five-on-five (duh), and it's reasonable to suggest that a higher percentage of games will end with a winner under that format.

(Before you kill me on this, I don't have the numbers out of the NHL, so maybe this is a farce. I'd be interested to see how it played out in a college league, simply to give us some data involving amateurs playing for different stakes.)

The committee is recommending rule changes regarding pucks going into the net via a skate or while the net is dislodged.

The committee also adjusted its rules dealing with the goal cage becoming dislodged. The committee essentially moved to the NHL rule in this area, which allows some displacement of the goal as long as the posts remain in contact with the pegs or pins.

... Another proposed change by the committee is intended to enhance scoring and also make its rules more consistent. The committee approved a change that will allow most goals off of attacking player’s skates, with the exception of a distinct kicking motion. In recent years, the committee has attempted a variety of interpretations in this area.

Usually, the NCAA committee will be doing just fine when it moves toward an NHL or USA Hockey standard on a rule. Every once in a while, it concocts an idea that goes off the page. When it does this, the committee usually finds itself making little sense or doing something it really doesn't need to be doing.

Committee members proposed that all hand passes be made illegal, including in the defensive zone.

The referee will stop play on any hand pass, and the faceoff will be in the offending team’s defensive zone. Additionally, if the team commits the violation in its defensive zone, that team will not be able to change its players before the ensuing faceoff.

"This is a way to promote scoring and create more chances on offense," (committee chair Ed) McLaughlin said. "Not being able to make a line change can have a pretty big impact, and this takes away a rule that gave the defensive team an advantage."

Two years ago, the committee went off the chart for a change to "increase scoring." It decided that a team that scores on a delayed penalty would still get a power play after the goal. I called this the "double jeopardy" rule, because a team was being punished twice for the same minor penalty.

It was also put in as a way to increase offense, and it worked so well that the committee came back two years later with another idea to increase offense.

This one is likely to work as well as the one two years ago did.

At its worst, it's fixing a non-existent problem. At the best, it's trying to fix a broken keyboard with a sewing machine and a spool of thread.

In other words, the committee will probably be back in two years to try this again.

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