2019-2020 NLL Rule Changes

Every season, the NLL tweaks their rule book. Some changes are significant (eg. when they changed the 10-second clock to 8 seconds a few years ago), while others are less so. This year, the rule changes have gone under the radar – I have seen precisely no mention of them anywhere. That’s probably because most of these changes are not all that impactful, quite honestly, but there are a couple that may affect play here and there. There is one, however, that might be a very big deal.

Here are the rule changes for 2019-2020 and what they mean.


The only people allowed on the benches are players in uniform, the head coach, and five “eligible” personnel, which presumably means assistant coaches, trainers, equipment manager, etc. The rule change now explicitly allows one “non-lacrosse individual” to be on the bench, “such as a team doctor or social media employee”. I would have thought a team doctor was already allowed.


This rule is the list of reasons a coach may challenge the call on the floor (i.e. by throwing the red flag). As of this year, coaches can now challenge whether a player violated rule 67.13 or 68.1. Rule 67.13 deals with a defender having possession of the ball in his own crease; in that case, you cannot check that defender. That rule was also changed this year – see below. Rule 68.1 deals with contacting the goalie in the crease. If either of those two things happen and a goal is either scored or waved off, the coaches can now challenge the goal/no-goal call. However the rule change explicitly says that the case where the shooter contacts the goalie while diving through the crease (Rule 69) is not reviewable.


Enough players are now wearing leggings that they’ve added a rule to deal with it. All players on a team who are wearing leggings must have the same colour leggings, and that colour must be either white or black. It does not say that players on different teams must wear different colour leggings.


The goalie must wear approved equipment. The change to this rule says that this “includes the 2018-19 arm and chest and the shins [sic] pads”. I’m not sure why these would have to be explicitly listed.

Update: I have been told the reason for this change. Goalies are required to wear pants that are measured to fit them, so you don’t have a guy with a 32″ waist wearing 3XL pants to give him extra bulk. Thus the 2019-2020 pants are the only ones that are allowed. However if you have 2018-2019 arm, chest, and shin pads, those are OK.

Photo credit unknown, came from NLL ref Todd LaBranche's twitter profile41.4 – REPEAT OFFENDER

This is the “very big deal” one and there are a number of changes to this rule, which relates to a player receiving multiple match penalties or Dangerous Contact to the Head penalties (combinations of either of those two apply here – I’ll just say “match penalty” from now on but it means both). The previous rule said that a player who gets a second match penalty within two years of his first one will get an additional five game suspension, “additional” meaning on top of whatever the actual penalty warranted. Remember that this was changed last year – the word “additional” was not there previously. A third match gets you an additional ten games.

The first rule change is that the third match now gets you an additional minimum of ten games, meaning that the league could decide to give you more. The second is that a fourth match gets you fifteen games, and subsequent match penalties go up in increments of five games. It’s hard to imagine we could have a player who serves five, ten, and fifteen game suspensions because of match penalties and manages to make his way back onto an NLL team, and it’s even harder to imagine that player doing it again, but you never know.

The third and fourth changes are big on their own but huge when applied together. First, the two-year time frame has been removed. So if you get a match penalty and then another one any time in your career, this rule applies and you get suspended. It’s even more important when combined with the other change, which is the first sentence: “Retroactive to the beginning of the 2017-18 season, the following shall apply:”

The following players received match penalties in 2017-18: Callum Crawford, Joel McCready, Brock Sorensen, Dane Dobbie, and Nick Chaykowsky. The two-year time frame would have expired for all of these by February 18 of this coming season. Now it won’t. Of course, whether two match penalties gets you a five-game suspension is up in the air anyway, thanks to the Callum Crawford situation from last year.


If the faceoff guy wins the ball cleanly, he’s allowed to pass it back over the centre line without it being an over-and-back call. That’s always been the case – the rule change is that more of a clarification: if this happens, the 8-second count starts when the ball crosses the centre line.


This rule is brand new. If an inadvertent whistle happens, play is stopped and no goal counts if the ball went in after the whistle.


When the non-shooter is illegally checked into the crease and a goal is scored, the goal counts. The rule used to say “When the attacker…” This happened in the Georgia/Rochester game during the first weekend of the season and everyone was impressed that the refs knew of and correctly applied this fairly obscure rule. I wonder if they were able to do that because they were all familiar with it thanks to this rule change.


If a non-goalie has possession of the ball while in the crease, you can’t check him. The previous rule wasn’t explicit on what the penalty was if this happened – the rule now explicitly says that this is a minor penalty, but can be more if warranted.


The penalty for getting involved in a second fight after the first fight used to be a match. Now it’s a game misconduct and a one-game suspension. The rule also says that at the discretion of the ref or the league, the game misconduct penalty can be waived for a player who was an unwilling combatant, if the opposing player was clearly the instigator. Oddly, it doesn’t say that the one-game suspension would also be waived.


The punishment for this penalty (which is basically diving or embellishing a hit to try and get an opposing player penalized) is a minor unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Now, the player also gets a warning on the first violation. Second and subsequent violations in the same season get the player a fine. There is no mention of how much the fine is.


2 thoughts on “2019-2020 NLL Rule Changes

  1. Thanks for this informative post! I am curious who makes the rule changes. Are the players involved, or is it just someone in the league office?


    • I believe there’s a “competition committee”, which includes both league and player representatives, that decides on rule changes. I’m not sure on the details though.


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