Trent Tucker Rule Could Help Women's Lacrosse


Northwestern's Sheila Nesselbush, here in a 2015 game at Maryland, inadvertently could inspire rule changes in women's lacrosse that better govern end-of-period shot attempts.

In two-tenths of a second, I can’t shoot a basketball, but I can shoot a lacrosse ball from 8 meters away and score the goal if the ball crosses the goal line?

That’s the first question I had upon watching the highlight package of last week’s Johns Hopkins-Northwestern women’s lacrosse game in Evanston, Ill.

Obviously, I’m not alone, nor is that the only question lacrosse enthusiasts have asked in the wake of the Wildcats’ controversial 10-9 overtime win over the Blue Jays.

By now, you likely know the particulars surrounding Sheila Nesselbush’s free-position shot with 0.2 left in the second half; her Northwestern squad trailing, 9-8. The ball went in. The goal was initially ruled to have come after the expiration of time. The three-person crew huddled and subsequently scored the goal. Overtime. The Wildcats scored less than a minute later to win.

Video replays showed the ball still in Nesselbush’s stick when the game clock hits 00.0, meaning the goal should not have been scored — rules require the ball to have entered the goal prior to a whistle or horn sounding. Rules do not permit officials to consult replay equipment.



Per Katherine Dunn of The Baltimore Sun, Johns Hopkins coach Janine Tucker has filed a protest with the Big Ten Conference.

A mess, no doubt.

But in much the same way Trent Tucker inadvertently inspired basketball rule-writers at all levels to help officials adjudicate end-of-period situations, I have hope Nesselbush’s shot will do the same in women’s lacrosse.

As a basketball official, by rule I cannot count a made basket if an out-of-bounds throw-in or free throw begins with 0.3 or less on the clock and the shot attempt includes any type of catch-and-shoot motion. I know this because the Trent Tucker Rule stipulates only a tap may score a basket in that narrow a time frame.

The impetus for the rule goes back to before Nesselbush was born, to Jan. 15, 1990, at Madison Square Garden in the midst of the first season NBA scoreboard clocks were required to display tenths of a second. With the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks tied at 106 and 0.1 left in the fourth quarter, Knicks inbounder Mark Jackson hoped to lob an “alley-oop” to Patrick Ewing, but the Bulls cut that off. He instead fed a circling Tucker, who caught the ball, performed his habitual shooting motion, and buried a three-pointer to give New York an improbable 109-106 victory in regulation.

The video below may be the best out there of Tucker’s shot. Fast forward to about the 1:55 mark.


Chicago later filed a protest. The league denied it, but prior to the next season passed a rule change eventually adopted over the years by FIBA, the NCAA and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). Based on timing studies that concluded it physically impossible to catch and shoot a basketball in 0.3 seconds (the NBA only has since changed it to 0.2), the rule has armed basketball crews by reducing what needs to be judged by the human eye in those fantastically small windows of time: a tap counts, a shot (or “throw” in the rule book) doesn’t.

With use of replay forbidden and no comparable rule on which to rely in women’s lacrosse, the crew in Evanston that night was left in an unenviable position.

Rules committees in the women’s game can better support officiating crews by taking a few steps.

  • Consider a rule change that scores a goal if the shot is out of the player’s stick before time expires. This would be easier for officials to see than trying to determine when a ball in flight crosses the goal line.

  • Commission timing studies after the season and subsequently pass a Sheila Nesselbush Rule to govern shot attempts during direct and indirect free-position plays in end-of-period situations.

  • Investigate if precision-timing systems, used by NBA and NCAA Division I basketball officials on the court to stop and start the clock, could be adapted to the timing rules of NCAA Division I lacrosse.

It’s long been popular to bash sports officials. Hopefully some adjustments to rules and mechanics in the offseason can give critics fewer opportunities to do so.

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