Every season, USA Hockey strives for improvement in the game and its rules. Every four years we get to take steps toward making the rule changes official, thanks to the playing rule change process. We enter that period this season, with the final decision on prospective changes taking place at USA Hockey’s Annual Congress in June 2017. The new rules will go into effect for the 2017-18 through the 2020-21 season.
So how does the process work? In order to get a handle on what this rule change process entails, we caught up with USA Hockey’s Matt Leaf, director of the Officiating Education Program and staff liaison to the Playing Rules Committee. He helped us answer some need-to-know questions.
USA Hockey: Walk us through the process from when a proposal is received, to having it get into the official playing rules.
Matt Leaf: The first thing you need to know is that USA Hockey has a very diverse and experienced Playing Rules Committee that thoroughly reviews and considers each proposal. The committee is made of key USA Hockey volunteers that represent coaches, officials, players and administrators. Contrary to what some people believe, it is not one or two people sitting in an office deciding rule changes.
Playing rule change proposals are submitted to me as the staff liaison to the committee. Once received, I format them into a document that compares the current language to the proposed change for each proposal. The Playing Rules Committee meets early winter and will discuss and make a preliminary recommendation on each proposal. These recommendations are then forwarded on to the various councils/sections and committees and are also posted on USAHockey.com. The board of directors will review and make any amendments to the proposals during the Winter Meeting and they are again posted on USAHockey.com for all of our membership to see.
The Playing Rules Committee will meet once more during the Annual Congress in an open forum and will review each proposal, taking into consideration any feedback received from the respective councils/sections and committees. At this time, they will make a final recommendation on each proposal to be presented to the board of directors for adoption or defeat. The board can accept the recommendation of the Playing Rules Committee or can make its own determination. Once the board has voted and adopted the changes, work on editing the rulebook gets started right away so the new version can be ready at the start of the season.
USA Hockey: So a lot of people are involved. Who can submit playing rule change proposals and how can they do so?
Leaf: Any member of USA Hockey can submit a playing rule change proposal. According to our bylaws, they can be accepted until Nov. 1 prior to the Annual Congress when they get voted on. A formal proposal form can be found on USAHockey.com.
USA Hockey: What are the types of changes USA Hockey is looking for? Is there a certain philosophy that the Playing Rules Committee tries to follow?
Leaf: The Playing Rules Committee is looking for any change that will make the game better and/or will make the rules clearer and easier to understand without compromising the spirit and intent of the rules.
There are four main areas dealing with the game that the committee takes into consideration when reviewing possible changes:
In addition, there are five areas from a rules writing style standpoint that are taken into consideration. This includes making sure common rules are placed within the same rule or section (codification); minimizing exceptions to the rules; clear and precise language (brevity); use of clearly defined words and expressions relevant to the game (definitions); and use of fundamental statements that allow readers to understand and properly apply the rules without learning each rule verbatim (local organization).
USA Hockey: You are entering your 23rd year as staff liaison to the Playing Rules Committee, and you’ve probably seen nearly every type of proposal. Is there one that stands out in your mind that might be considered a little bit “out there?”
Leaf: There have certainly been a few submissions over the years that caused some head-shaking and gave members of the Rules Committee a reason to chuckle. A few that stand out include the creation of a two-point line where any goal scored from behind the designated line would be worth two points. The rationale was that it could boost scoring and give a team that was behind a better chance to catch up. The second memorable one was a proposal to add a section in the rules pertaining to goalkeepers that would allow for a “shooter tutor” to be used in an official game if one team did not have a goalkeeper present.
I’m sure there are a few others that I could dig up, but those are the two that immediately come to mind.
USA Hockey: Anything else you want to share with our readers?
Leaf: Yes. After being involved and working with this core group of volunteers who make up the Playing Rules Committee for so long, I can say they are an extremely knowledgeable and diligent bunch. They really do put the time and effort to consider every single proposal and are extremely thorough in discussing the impact the change would have while looking at the big picture of protecting the game. Regardless of whether you agree with every rule or decision they made, you have to respect the process and their determination to do what is best for the game. I am very proud to work with this group and our membership should be equally as proud to know the rules of the game are in very capable hands.
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