Editor’s Note: Connor Wilson loves an opinionated think piece, and he loves a good conversation or argument even better. So when CW wrote that College Lacrosse was better than Pro Lacrosse, Mitch Belisle of the Boston Cannons, Minnesota Swarm, Trilogy Lacrosse and a Cornell lax alum answered with the opposite. And he answered with vigor! Check out Mitch’s opinion below and then let us know where you stand! College OR Pro? Or are you different but equal kind of fan?
We’re really excited that Mitch responded, and it’s ALWAYS good to hear from someone who has actually played D1 and in the MLL!
Connor, I typically LOVE what you write, but have to strongly disagree on many of these points. I am a huge proponent of both the MLL and the NCAA game and have now played almost twice as many seasons in the MLL/NLL than I did at Cornell (in terms of actual playing time), so I have seen both sides of the coin.
Yes, being around your team 24-7 makes a huge difference both in terms of chemistry on the field and dedication off it. Yes, practicing every day allows you to work on the things you need the most help on, and game plan week in and week out until you have each system down to perfection. And yes, individual match-ups play a much bigger role in the pro game than the college game (just like the NBA or NFL). But to use the comparison above (Denver Outlaws vs Denver Pioneers) as the basis for the overall play is unfair. No knock to the team assembled or the Pioneers resulting ‘victory’, but it was NOT the Denver Outlaws you would see on an MLL game day.
The 4 teams that made it to the MLL Championship featured some of the best players in the world, with at least 1 starter per team holding a position on the Team USA squad that dismantled Duke later in the Fall season. The overall speed, athleticism and skill required at the MLL level (especially with only 6 teams!) forces only the best of the best to be able to play at that level.
The other thing this contracted pool means is that players have to keep themselves in the best shape possible just to maintain their roster spot. While people may joke about players being part-time or not “real pro athletes”, the guys that have success on the field are the same guys that are working as hard or harder than they did in college. I know for me personally, my recent successes are a direct result of amping up my workouts and training, which has allowed me to get in as good or better shape then I was in the past.
As far as team play, you are right on the fact that we don’t practice a lot. But most teams do host LEGITIMATE practices Friday night, and training camp is similar to college practices. Communication and knowing your personnel are what make chemistry – at the MLL level, when you have players who have been in the league for several years leading both O and D units and guys who can communicate, you will have team success and play as such. Games 1-6 did the Cannons look as “sharp” as an NCAA team? No. But towards the end of the season, I would argue that comparing game film of our offensive and defensive units to college counterparts would offer a similar look and feel, albeit the difference in game speed.
Which brings me to my final point and one that Ned Crotty hit on in his weekly blog in the Trilogy Lacrosse locker room. The speed of the game at the MLL level forces players to be better all around LACROSSE players. Less specialization means players need to be better at doing more, and thus, these Sportscenter highlights you mentioned aren’t just coming from the best known superstars (a la Jarrett Park and Drew Westervelt’s Top 10 moment from the MLL Playoffs).
So while I respect many of your points and do feel that the issues you bring up would certainly make for an EVEN BETTER pro game, I have to disagree with the overall assumption that NCAA lacrosse is played at the same level as MLL lacrosse. However, the healthy debate will always continue and I am eager to hear other responses.
Thanks for the counter-point, Mitch! Great stuff! Main photo courtesy Examiner.com’s article: