Tory Gardner and Bubba Westwood duke it out at Bear Mountain Arena during the 2012 WLA season.

Surprise fighting rule has strict implications for lacrosse

The Canadian Lacrosse Association started a task force in May to look at fighting in the sport and five months later it was voted out

Look away Don Cherry, you won’t want to see this.

Fighting, of the bare knuckle variety, took a hit on Tuesday (Dec. 11) as the Canadian Lacrosse Association made any intentional occurrence of fisticuffs an automatic ejection from the game, at all levels of box lacrosse.

It’s a nation wide rule change that affects local teams from the Western Lacrosse Association, B.C. Junior Lacrosse League, junior B and intermediate leagues.

Until Tuesday, any two willing combatants in a box lacrosse game could come together to trade punches, and serve a five-minute major for their effort, just enough time to catch their breath. And now the  barbaric one-on-one contests, which have magically existed outside the law, are being deemed a sideshow by the CLA.

Anyone who receives a fighting major also receives a game misconduct.

“After lengthy discussions and revisions the updated rule enforces that fighting is not tolerated,” says a CLA release.

The no-fighting decision is mostly based on a report presented to the CLA board in October. The presenters were an appointed committee which spent five months preparing their review.

Those at the heart of box lacrosse don’t believe this will end fighting, however, and some pressing questions remain. Among them is the fact that box lacrosse has a confusing set of rules and is a gladiator sport with stick work that could make a staff-wielding ninja think twice about standing in front of the net. Heavy cross checks, violent slashes and brutal interference, much of it away from the ball, happen without recourse on a nightly basis.

The biggest question for stakeholders of the game is why the CLA has moved to expel fighters but not suspend them. Fighting in youth lacrosse in B.C. brings automatic ejections and subsequent suspensions.

Without an automatic suspension tied to the fighting rule, the consensus is that fighting will continue in the WLA and BCJLL, predominantly at the end of games.

“Are we going to solve all the problems or issues from fighting in year one? No we’re not. We’ll see what issues arise, and deal with them as they come along. Our objective is somewhere down the road when a fight breaks out, it’s a rare occurrence, and people will say ‘Oh wow, a fight,’” said Ron McQuarrie, who is vice president of B.C. Lacrosse Association and was part of the committee to tasked with the fighting review.

“It’s a first step, an improvement, and people know that. Will there still be fighting? Probably, but there will be consequences. Fighting doesn’t play a part in sports, except (mixed martial arts).”

McQuarrie said the decision was heavily influenced by the ultimate safety of players, with the modern concussion epidemic a part of that.

“We felt people will recognize this is a good move. It’s where we want to take our box game,” McQuarrie said.

Despite early reports to the contrary, the WLA has said it will have to abide by the new rule, though consensus is the league doesn’t like it.

“My understanding is that it’s a compulsory ruling, and we’ll be examining that, but if that’s the case, then (the WLA) will be moving forward in that direction,” said WLA commissioner Casey Cook.

For years, junior and senior box lacrosse organizations in Canada simply defended its permission of fighting by pointing to its on-ice brother. That, too, is changing.

“The CLA decision is consistent with current values in society, given the discussions around (fighting and violence) in hockey and all sports,” Cook said.

Whether or not suspensions will be attached to the instigator penalty can still be determined prior to the season.

Until then, call it the vulnerability factor.

“On the surface it’s a great rule but it leaves some tough decisions to the referees,” said Victoria junior Shamrocks GM Rod Wood.

As it stands, a lesser-skilled player can challenge a skilled player into a fight with the potential reward of removing the “victim” from the game, Wood suggested.

McQuarrie, who is in a contradicting spot as assistant coach on Wood’s junior Shamrocks, said the CLA committee is aware of the vulnerability.

“We do expect that, if someone’s beating the living daylights out of you, you’re going to defend yourself. It’s up to the official to determine who the clear instigator is and that person gets tossed.”

WLA and junior box seasons begin in May.

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