Managing NCAA vs NFHS Rules Differences

In Connecticut, high school lacrosse is played under either NFHS rules or NCAA rules. Generally speaking, public school teams play using NFHS rules and private (prep) schools play using NCAA rules. There are some additional modifications, however, so it is important to fully familiarize yourself with the differences. Coaches tend to get upset when you make a call that is incorrect because you were applying the wrong set of rules.

The NFHS vs. NCAA rules differences document (hereafter known as RDD) produced by Harold Buck of the Upper Midwest Lacrosse Officials Association is a great tool to get you started. But don’t expect to have your initial look at the list the day of your first game and be prepared. As of March 2, 2016, there are 149 differences between the two sets of rules, but many are small differences or administrative in nature. Items which are shaded in gray background represent new differences for 2016. Note that a summary of the most important rules differences is listed at the end of the RDD. This is a good resource for a quick refresher.

I have found that it is best to study the differences before the season starts and then review throughout the season. I have also found it helpful to type up on a small piece of paper the most important and new differences between the rules and use them as a review during your pregame.   This list can be carried in your pocket to the field in case you want to review it at halftime. Other items that aren’t differences can also be added to your list. For example, I keep the dimension of the goalkeeper’s stick on my list in case a coach ever asks for a stick check of the opposing goalie. (I have actually had this happen.)

Here are some additional items you won’t find on the rules differences list.

  1.  If a school that uses NFHS rules plays a school that uses NCAA rules, usually the rules of the home team will apply to the contest. It is best to check with coaches and review major differences so there are no surprises during the game.
  2. Private school high school games have the same length periods as public school games: 12 minute quarters for varsity and 10 minute quarters for sub-varsity. Overtime periods are 4 minutes each.
  3. Private school games use the opposite of NCAA / NFHS rules regarding uniform color. That is, the home team typically wears a dark color and the visiting team wears a light color. (This can be an issue if a public school team plays a private school (home) team and both teams show up wearing dark blue.)

For those who have been officiating at least one year, pay particular attention to the section of the RDD related to rules differences which have been eliminated in recent years.

Finally, in your pregame, check with your partners as to which games they have been officiating lately. Some college officials will have been refereeing under NCAA rules for weeks before their first NFHS game, while some high school officials may have had many games using NFHS rules before their first prep school game (NCAA rules).

Try not to be intimidated by the number of differences. It may be helpful to watch videos or visualize situations that emphasize rules differences. Note that rules situations focused on rules differences will be discussed in meetings. When in doubt, ask questions in meetings and discuss issues as a crew when on the field.

Below is a link to the website which hosts the NFHS vs. NCAA rules differences document. The author has asked that we post a link to his website, as opposed to posting the document on our website. This is done, in part, because the document is updated on a ongoing basis. After you click on scroll down to Rules and then look for a link that looks like

NCAA vs. NFHS 2016 (updated month-day-date).

As of today, the latest version is from 2-18-16. You can download the document to your computer and print it out. I recommend printing double sided.

Please note a couple of small things that will be fixed in the next update. First, there are two items on the list numbered 106. Just change the second one to 107. Second, if you look at rules difference # 99 it states:

Player not in possession jumps or dives, gains pos- session, shoots, ball enters in goal, then player lands in crease NFHS Ruling:

No goal per February 2014 NFHS Bulletin

NCAA Ruling:

Goal is allowed since player was not in possession when he jumped or dove.

Please note that the same rulings would apply in the situation where a player not in possession jumps or dives, bats the ball into the goal, then the player lands in the crease. No goal under NFHS rules per the February 2014 Bulletin Note at bottom of page 1. Good goal under NCAA rules.

Good luck on a successful 2016 season.


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