The NLL rules

(Thanks to my son Nicky for the title of this article. I asked him for a good title for an article about the NLL rule book and he said “The NLL rules. And it does.” Clever kid.)

The Official 2013 NLL Rule Book is available on the NLL’s web site, and it’s a bit of an interesting read. There are 127 pages of rules, including pictures of the ref signals for various penalties (apparently if a ref calls head butting or “spearing with head” he has to smack himself in the face), the 2013 schedule, and the official dimensions of the floor and crease area. Did you know that the crease is 18’6″ wide and the goal line is 12′ from the back boards, also called the “dasher boards”? I did not.

NLLRulesThere are exactly 100 rules in the book, broken up in to the following categories:

  • 8 rules on The Arena
  • 7 rules on Time Factors
  • 7 rules on The Officials
  • 6 rules on Composition of Teams
  • 7 rules on Equipment
  • 8 rules on Penalty Definitions
  • 14 rules on Flow of the Game
  • 43 rules on Infractions

Most of the rule book is spent describing things players shouldn’t do and what the refs should do if they happen. While looking up a couple of rules, I happened across a weird one and thought I should write about it. Then I found another, and another, and…

These are in no particular order. Any emphasis is mine.


Rule 21.3: SHOT ON GOAL – When a shot hits a part of the goal post, does not go in and the ball continues in play, a shot on goal is awarded and a save is credited.

Said another way, the goalie gets a save if you beat him with a shot but hit the post. The assumption here is obviously that the goalie sees the ball coming, knows that it will hit the post and not go in, and therefore doesn’t bother moving to stop it.


Rule 20.1: PUBLIC ADDRESS ANNOUNCER’S DUTIES FOR AWARDED GOALS – The name of the scorer and any player entitled to an assist will be announced by the public address announce system. Public address announcers shall not communicate derogatory or disparaging comments towards any individual players on the opposing team and towards the officials. Failure to do so will result in a fine to the announcer by the League.

The PA announcer in Colorado, a guy named Willie B, continually pronounces Rhys Duch’s surname like “douche”. So obviously, one of the following three things must be true:

  1. Calling someone “douche” is not considered by the league to be derogatory or disparaging.
  2. The league believes him when he says he keeps forgetting how to say it properly and it’s an honest mistake. In every game. For five years.
  3. He pays a lot of money in fines.

Rule 80.6: SWEATER REMOVAL DURING A FIGHT – Shall be [assessed to] a player who deliberately removes his sweater prior to participating in a fight. A player who engages in a fight and whose sweater is removed (completely off his torso), other than through the actions of his opponent in the fight or through the actions of the referee, shall be assessed a minor unsportsmanlike penalty.

So if your sweater is pulled up in front of your face during a fight and you pull it off so you can see, you get a penalty. That said, I’ve never seen this happen. I’ve seen players’ jerseys removed during fights, but I’ve never seen a player take his own jersey off.


Rule 80.7: EQUIPMENT REMOVAL PRIOR TO OR DURING A FIGHT PENALTY ASSESSMENT – A player who removes his equipment prior to or during a fight on his own accord shall be assessed a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Any combination of the jersey removal and equipment removal will result in a minor penalty being assessed. This is in addition to other penalties to be assessed to the participants of a fight.

According to this, all fights should be done with full equipment on, including helmets and gloves. This is interesting, considering the next one:

Rule 80.8: INSTIGATOR WITH FACEMASK ON – Any player who instigates a fight with a face mask on against an opponent who already has his facemask off will be deemed an instigator.

So according to this rule, if you start a fight with your helmet on, you get a penalty. But according to the previous rule, if you remove your helmet before a fight, you get a penalty. Basically, every fight should result in seven minutes of penalties for one of the players involved – five for the fight, and two for either removing or not removing their helmet. There are plenty of fights where players drop gloves, helmets, sometimes even elbow pads. Never seen them get penalized for that.

But even ignoring the apparent contradiction here, this rule is irrelevant. Read the beginning: “Any player who instigates a fight…” Regardless of whether the helmets are on or off, if you “instigate” a fight, you’re an “instigator”.


Rule 91: HELMET LOST DURING PLAY – When a player in possession of the ball loses his helmet he must immediately release the ball by passing or shooting.

It’s happened a number of times in games I’ve seen – someone with the ball gets his helmet knocked off and immediately shoots and scores, and the fans around me start yelling that the goal shouldn’t count “because you’re not allowed to play without a helmet”. That is true, but as long as you shoot right away, the goal counts. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.


Rule 25.3 (also 95.12): CAPTAIN COMMUNICATION WITH OFFICIALS – A complaint about a penalty is NOT a matter “relating to the interpretation of the rules” and a minor penalty shall be imposed against any Captain or other player making such a complaint.

So every time you see a penalized player look at the ref and hold their arms out in a “what did I do” gesture, that player should be given an extra penalty. This is related to the next one:

Rule 95.4: DISPUTES CALL BY BANGING THE BOARDS – A misconduct penalty shall be imposed on any player or players who bang the boards with their sticks or other objects at any time, showing disrespect for an Official’s decision.

Obviously, the refs never look in the penalty box once the player has arrived there. It’s not uncommon at all for the player to get in the penalty box, slam the door, and then pound on the glass or throw a water bottle.


Rule 47.1: 8-SECOND COUNT PROCEDURE – The 8 second time shall be kept by the trailing referee on the floor by a chopping wave of the hand for each second.

The ref manually counts 8 seconds starting from when he waves his hand to tell the shot clock operator to restart the shot clock. This makes total sense, since we don’t have any sort of computerized time-keeping device nearby that could possibly be used for this. And this is totally fair because all refs count at exactly the same speed every time.


Rule 55.11: DIRECTED INTO NET – If the ball is loose in the crease a player may not direct the ball into the goal.

I’m sure I’ve seen players dive at a loose ball in the crease trying to simply poke it past the goalie, though I cannot say for sure that such goals have counted. But why would a player bother trying to do this if the rule book says it wouldn’t count?


Rule 63: ILLEGAL CROSS-CHECKING – A defender who cross-checks a player, who is in a stationary position and not in possession of the ball shall be assessed a penalty.

Yup, you never see this in a lacrosse game.


Here’s a “rule” only notable by its absence: There is nothing in the rule book that says what happens if a penalty is called on the defensive team and then a goal is scored. In practice, the penalty is simply waved off as if it never happened, but in my opinion the penalty should still be recorded. They can skip putting the offender in the penalty box because of the goal, but I think a record of the penalty and the offender should still be made.

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