The MLL is a great pro league and I find it fun to watch, but I have to be honest here, Major League Lacrosse is basically still the Ultimate Men’s Summer League. Now don’t get me wrong, that’s not necessarily a negative!
I actually love the MLL, and truly believe that some of the best lacrosse can be found on the fields of random summer league games.
As has been noted many times, most MLL teams are only able to practice once a week – and at times, many of the players aren’t even able to make the practice. It can be easy to see this as a knock against the league, as it leaves coaches and players scrambling to work out kinks in pre-game warm ups. And this can lead to sloppy lacrosse, which can surface from time to time in the MLL.
On the flip side of that, and because of this very limited practice times that the teams have – coaches often use a more loosely based, improvisational, free-flowing offense. Many tend to stay away from strict X’s and O’s and just let the players go out there and do their thing. I like this style of lacrosse – it’s my self-named “summer league” style, and it can be beautiful and pure to watch.
The MLL takes a big slice of this summer league mentality, feeds it energy drinks and protein shakes and jacks it up to give you some of the best lacrosse around. And although some people knock the league for that very reason, it is also the reason why the MLL stands alone from all other professional leagues.
Let’s start with the most obvious reason the MLL stands alone – you can’t make a living being a professional lacrosse player. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about the MLL. The article stated that the average salary for a MLL player was between $10,000 and $30,000 a year. I’m not sure where the Wall Street Journal got that statistic but I think $30,000 is too high.
Most guys I know or have spoken with do NOT make that kind of money, and either way, it’s not enough to live on. Obviously some of the best players in the league might make around that mark but there is no way that is the average. When it comes down to it, the MLL isn’t going to pay the bills. The majority of the players in the MLL have full time jobs aside from lacrosse.
Players work 40 hours a week then play on the weekends, and many don’t play in the same city as where they live – a reason why practices are a rarity in the MLL.
What I’m driving at here is that these players don’t have to give up their weekends to play – but they do anyway. They play for the love of the game. Players spend all week cooped up in their office but then for two hours each Summer weekend they get to go do what they love. They are playing for passion and because they WANT to. There is no other reason.
When you take money out of the equation, I believe you get a better quality game. You’ll never hear about a player in the MLL holding out for a higher salary or better contract. Nor will you hear about a player demanding to be traded to another team. These seem to be a repeating trend that is on the up-tick in several other professional leagues such as the NFL or NBA. Take the big money out of the equation and you will always get a better game as a result.
Of course when I talk about a “better game”, there are going to be those that say the MLL is not as good as college. My response to that is: the MLL is simply a different kind of lacrosse. In NCAA lacrosse, and leagues like the NFL and MLS, teams play on a weekly basis and have a whole week of practices to prepare for their match up, and they can change strategies and tactics.
The MLL also plays on a weekly basis but instead of having 4 or 5 practices between games, they only have one. This leads to players and coaches changing tactics on the fly. A more up and down game with the shot clock mixed with a “summer league” style and you get high scoring games – and everyone loves those.
If you have read any of my articles you should know that I am all in favor of just letting two teams go out and play. That is when you get the best lacrosse, and that is exactly what the MLL does. Yes, obviously coaches put in man-up plays and figure out personnel match ups… but when you really think about it – an MLL game is really just two teams going out to play. I’m not sure if you can say that about any other professional sports league.
With only one practice a week, it takes some teams longer to mesh than others. It takes longer for teams to develop chemistry. The MLL season begins before the end of the NCAA tournament – so you also have players coming off one season, and now joining teams a few games into the pro season. Whatever chemistry a team had before, just adding one player can change the whole mix!
This is unheard of in any other pro sports league. Imagine being an expansion franchise in the NFL and not getting your number 1 pick player until a quarter of the season was done! And yet, that is what the MLL deals with on a yearly basis. Some college players are able to join the ranks right away and pick up the game while others struggle. College players that find success more quickly are ones that have that “summer league” improvisational style.
Now I’m not saying that the MLL is good or bad – or that you have to choose between college lacrosse and MLL lacrosse. I’m just saying that the MLL is different, for better or worse.
For the record, I think it is different for the better. You won’t find players in any other professional sport doing what MLL players do, and you certainly won’t see MLL players refusing to play until they get more money. I tell my friends all the time that I HATE the NBA. I hate what the players do off the court for more money, and I hate how the game has changed for the worse on the court.
You won’t find that in the MLL. You have a good group of guys that will go out play their hardest all game, win or lose, and enjoy the sport for what it is. They’ll respect their opponent for execution of a difficult play but compete with such tenacity it may seem they want to rip their opponent to shreds.
The MLL has a firm grip on what matters most: playing for the love of the game.
So what do YOU think? Are you impressed with the MLL’s style of play? Or are you fully invested in the college game? What could the MLL do to pull you over?