Baker: Lacrosse Is a Sport Divided

Many of my friends ask me how I can compare the brief history of the MLL to other more established sports leagues.  Perhaps it is my love of lacrosse and their lack of familiarity with the sport that has us at such divergent views.  The “traditional” sports fan friends tell me that football, basketball, and baseball are American institutions while lacrosse is a sport reserved for boarding school cream puffs that cannot cut it athletically.

Football, baseball and basketball are contact sports played by blue collar men played for hundreds of years.  Lacrosse has Native American origins and was played as a substitute for war as well as an event to draw the community together.  French missionaries report the Iroquois playing the sport prior to the establishment of European settlements on the North American continent.  I do not even go into the theory of Vikings discovering North America and taking a version of the sport back to Scandinavia.  American football started in 1869 when Rutgers played Princeton.  Baseball’s start date is widely recognized as 1839 and while basketball is 1891.  Seems to me lacrosse has been around for quite a bit longer than the “traditional” American sports, but has not been able to come to a single league.

Going beyond the roots of these sports to the establishment of each sport’s professional league, MLL has definitely been around the least amount of time.  All of these leagues have had humble starts with players that loved their sport and grew it to a profession.  The NFL and NBA had to contend with competing leagues, but even in this area the MLL was slightly different.  The NFL and AFL dueled for players and television money.  The NFL and the sport of football won as the AFL merged with the older league and adopted some of its little brother’s wide open offense.  The NBA and ABA had a similar competition and merger.  My friends have educated me that Will Ferrell‘s movie, Semi Pro, is not a documentary of that era.  Will Ferrell is also not related to Ohio Machine defenseman Brian Farrell.  Good to know.

The MLL has to deal with two competing leagues; the NLL and the LXM Pro Tour.  The NLL is professional indoor lacrosse and maybe the second most popular sport in Canada.  Living in Hamilton for almost a year gave me a slight insight into our northern neighbor’s obsession with hockey.  Many Canadian hockey players play box lacrosse in the offseason.  The NLL pays more to players than the MLL and many of the field players are late reporting to their teams due to indoor commitments.  They need the income from both to sustain their lives.

We have all had some point where we needed a second source of income (unless you happen to have been born into a privileged income tax bracket… effeminate boarding school sport, right?).  Neither league seems to be willing to compromise by shortening the NLL season or pushing back the start of the MLL season.  There is no reason for them to do so at this point in time.  The players need the indoor income to pay bills and the talent pool in the MLL is getting so deep they can field teams until their regular players are done with their indoor season.  This stalemate will not last forever as more television and sponsor dollars get involved.  The old proverb that no man can serve two masters will come into play—it always does.  As the opportunity for more money increases, owners and coaches will not be willing to either wait on their stars to finish indoor or risk their indoor stars injuring themselves playing field.  It will be a painful transition, such things always are, and the stars will make more money.  The question is what will the rest of the team be getting paid?

The California based LXM Pro Tour was founded in 2009 and consisted of two teams, STX and Maverik United, traveling across America playing in a festival type atmosphere with club team tournaments and coaching clinics for young players.  Several college players drafted by the MLL opted to play for LXM.  Among them, Shamel and Rhamel Bratton, Sam Bradman, Peter Baum, and Tim Desko all chose the newer LXM.  Based on the west coast, LXM Pro filled the lacrosse void left when the L.A. Riptide and San Francisco Dragons of the MLL folded.  While LXM Pro played a more traditional version of lacrosse without a shot clock or two point shot it was literally a tour with only two teams playing each other in different cities.

After five years, the parent company of LXM Pro, Adrenaline Lacrosse, partnered with the MLL.  Adrenaline supplied the MLL with apparel.  This agreement also allowed LXM players and MLL players to play in each other’s events, after LXM moved their season to September through March.  In this instance, two competitors came together and worked for the best interest of lacrosse and each company’s bottom line.

The most impact was probably in the Ohio Machine where John Algie and Bear Davis combined into an amalgam of Dr. Frankenstein and Wile E. Coyote to bring in Kyle Harrison and Peter Baum, both former Tewaaraton winners, from the LXM Tour and match them with top draft pick Tom Schreiber of Princeton.  Overnight Ohio’s midfield went from anemic to one of the most potent in the MLL.  Coincidentally, Ohio went from the bottom of the league to the playoffs after a single season.

If traditional leagues like the NFL and NBA can merge with rival a league, perhaps the NLL and MLL can learn from this and work out an agreement.  MLL and LXM Pro made it work to the benefit of the sport, but with even more money involved in the indoor and outdoor conflict I do not expect the end to be soon or pretty.  Such conflicts ever are.  The best outcome is that it will not hurt the sport anymore than it already has.