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Syracuse Lacrosse: How Do You Stop Ben Williams? Change the Rules

Syracuse face-off specialist Ben Williams is so good that he's re-igniting questions about the face-off procedure in college lacrosse.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes in life, when someone is so fantastic at what they do, the way that Syracuse lacrosse's Ben Williams is at taking and winning face-offs, the conversation about them begins to veer from how good they are to WHY exactly they are so good.

That is what happened in Syracuse University's Carrier Dome last Sunday evening, following a convincing 16-7 takedown of the #12 ranked Albany Great Danes. Ben Williams had just won 17 of 24 face-offs to help the Syracuse Orange control the pace of the game and dictate possession and shots. When Albany head coach Scott Marr sat down for his post game press conference, he offered up his opinion on face-offs in college lacrosse:

"I'm not a fan of the face-off. I don't think they should be able to clamp the ball the way they do. John (SU head coach John Desko) was (against it) too until he got a guy like that...I don't think that we should be able to pinch and clamp the ball. I think it should be waved at. I don't think it should be in a situation where a guy can put his stick on top of the ball, tilt his stick and pinch the ball in his stick. And that's withholding the ball, in my opinion".

The face-off is now and always has been a critical part of the game of lacrosse, so unless the majority of coaches or decision-makers start to agree with Scott Marr, it's unlikely to see any changes coming that will lessen their importance. As John Desko, a man who is no stranger to struggles at the face-off X, says, if the rules are not going to change, then it's his job to find and develop the best face-off men for his team.

"It's an extremely important position. Coaches have shown no interest in changing that. So, as the Syracuse coach, if that rule is going to stay in place, then it's our job to get a very good face-off man and make a very good face-off man and recruit one. Because it's going to continue, as far as I can see, being a very important part of the game".

The sport has made recent attempts to moderate the impact of face-off specialists. Just a couple years ago, the college rules were changed to prohibit face-off men from clamping down on the ball with the back of their stick heads and then taking more than one step before distributing the ball to a teammate.

In other words, players were no longer allowed to clamp down on the ball with the back of their sticks, lodge the ball in there, and run away with the ball still stuck in the back of their sticks. That was, I think appropriately, deemed an unfair advantage, because if a player could get the ball stuck in their stick like that and then run away, it was basically impossible for the other team to get it away from that player.

However, that is not what Ben Williams does. He will clamp down on the ball to start with, because his reactionary quickness will allow him to get down on it before his opponent, but then instead of lodging the ball in the back of his stick, he will pop it up either to himself or one of his wings. This is not an unfair advantage because when Ben pops the ball up after clamping down on it, it's still anyone's ball to take until it settles into the pocket of someone's stick.

This coming offseason will be the next opportunity for the NCAA to make rule changes, but I don't think I see any forth-coming for the face-off procedure. I think we simply need to take Scott Marr's post game comments for what they were: the opinion of a head coach whose team had just lost 20 of 27 face-offs in one game.

Despite the sour grapes, I do think Marr properly acknowledged one thing, when he said, "...the guys who have it, love it. The guys who don't, complain".

There you go, folks. Another case of the haves vs. the have-nots. If the NCAA isn't going to step in to slow down the domination of guys like Ben Williams or Denver's Trevor Baptiste, then the have-nots need to do a better job of following John Desko's advice to find and develop better face-off men.

If Scott Marr thought last week was rough, then I think Ben Williams has some bad news for him.

"I think last year there were times when I didn't really see my technique being that great. And I think this year we focused a lot more on some little things when it comes to clamping, and our footwork and stuff...So, that's been the small improvement I've seen so far this year, but we've got a long way to go. I think there's still a ton of room for improvement".

Dude, now you're just showing off.