“As of January 1, 2014, all lacrosse balls used for play MUST meet NOCSAE standards and include the words ‘Meets NOCSAE Standard'” (NOCSAE Ball Mandate).
For those of you unfamiliar, NOCSAE is the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (www.nocsae.org). In 1969 NOCSAE “was formed to commission research directed toward injury reduction.” The goal of this organization is to reduce injury through research and effective standards. Notice that their goal is not the elimination of sports injuries as that is impossible and unrealistic. However, good standards for equipment are similar to good rules governing proper body contact. When both are properly applied the risk of injury goes down.
I want to be very clear on what a legal ball is in 2014 and what an illegal ball is in 2014. The image below shows both:
The white ball on the left side of the image is a legal lacrosse ball. It has the “Meets NOCSAE Standard” imprint. It also says NFHS and NCAA, but those markings do not matter according to the rule. All that matters is that the ball is imprinted/stamped with the phrase “Meets NOCSAE Standard.” That imprint means the lacrosse ball meets NOCSAE Ball Standards (PDF).
The orange ball on the right side of the image is an illegal lacrosse ball. While it bears the NFHS and “Meets NCAA Approve Specs” stamp it does not have “Meets NOCSAE Standard” label. Therefore the ball on the right is illegal and cannot be used during play.
When this rule was first published I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Then I read: USL – “What’s in a Ball?, and heard the story again from the rules committee at the 2014 USL National Convention. The cliff notes version is that a player was struck with a ball in practice off a missed shot. He was wearing a top of the line helmet, but a CT scan revealed a ruptured artery causing blood to fill his brain cavity. Fortunately the player received emergency brain surgery and he was back on the field for his senior season. I am not writing this to scare anyone, but to explain the facts. The mother didn’t understand how her son could have sustained such a serious injury with his brand new NOCSAE-approved helmet. The balls from practice were tested and did not meet NOCSAE standards.
The balls were either too hard or didn’t compress according to standards, and the NOCSAE-approved helmet is only rated to protect players from being struck in the helmet by a NOCSAE-standard ball. Once this was discovered the rules committee moved quickly and established a new note in the rulebook:
USL/NFHS Boys’ Rulebook – Rule 1, Section 5
The ball shall be white, yellow, orange or lime green and meet the current NOCSAE lacrosse ball standard. White balls shall be used unless both coaches agree prior to or during the game to use a yellow, orange or lime green ball. Game balls shall be supplied by the home team.
NOTE: Beginning in 2014, all game balls must include labeling which states: “Meets NOCSAE Standard”.
This is a serious safety issue. Home teams and/or youth leagues are required to provide and use only NOCSAE-standard lacrosse balls for play. If there are no NOCSAE balls, the officials are supposed to ask the visiting team if they have NOCSAE balls. If the visiting team has NOCSAE balls then the game is played with those balls but the home team loses the first face off as it is their responsibility to provide legal balls for a contest. If there are no NOCSAE balls at the game then the game DOES NOT start! Treat this situation as if you did not have a legally equipped goalkeeper. It is a major safety issue to not have a legally equipped goalkeeper on the field, and it is a major safety issue to not play with balls that meet NOCSAE standards.
If during the course of play all the NOCSAE balls are lost in the woods then play is suspended until the NOCSAE balls are found. If no NOCSAE balls can be found then the game is canceled, the referees will file a report, and the league or state administration will handle how the game is restarted at a later date according to league or state rules.
If a goal is scored and the ball is found to not be a NOCSAE ball then the goal counts, the ball is removed from the game, and a face off is conducted.
I cannot stress how important having NOCSAE-standard balls are for 2014. I already had one youth game that I delayed until NOCSAE balls were found, and I explicitly told both coaches that there would be no game if those balls were not found. This is a major safety issue and it should be treated as such by the coaches of both teams, the officials at the game, and the league/site administrator.
Common questions about these standards can be found here: USL Ball Standards FAQ (PDF)