Richly Deserved: Analyzing the stupidity of the National Lacrosse League and its players

The news shocked the sports world so much, that even in the cities with franchises, it barely made the sports flashes.

The National Lacrosse League has cancelled its 2008 season after failing to reach a collective bargaining agreement with its players.

Of course it failed after a long negotiating process that lasted all of two days.

Most observers aren’t surprised. After all the threat was there a few years ago prior to the last collective agreement.

Unlike other sports labor stoppages, the sides are more open on the fact that this is about money. Basically the talent (and if you’ve ever seen this sport, these guys are really talented), want to get paid more.

The NLL was born in 1998 from the ashes of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, a northeastern U.S. circuit owned by a couple of guys in Kansas City who controlled all the franchises and allocated the best players to cities that well, made the most money (Sorry Buffalo Bandits fans. I’m one of you. But that’s how they won the three titles in the ’90’s).

The league has had amazing success in, well, Toronto, relative stability in Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Rochester, and its share of busts in Ottawa, Montreal, Pittsburgh, and Washington to name a few.

The league would have been fine had it stayed true to its roots. Where is the college field game strong? New England, Upstate New York, and throughout the eastern seaboard. Travel and accommodation costs would not have been too bad and teams could afford to give the players more than the $25,000 they made last year (it’s a part-time vocation).

Some expansion has been good. Toronto is a natural fit as all of the tradition of the indoor or “box” game is Canadian. Calgary and Edmonton have done o.k. Surprisingly, Vancouver, despite a strong lacrosse following (New Westminster Salmonbellies, anyone?) didn’t fare so well.

Even Minnesota, which might as well hold duel citizenship with their love of hockey and curling, wasn’t a bad expansion choice.

But why Denver? Why Phoenix? Why Anaheim? Why San Jose? And do you think your minor sport would even get the slightest attention in New York or Chicago?

Like the NHL a few years ago, the league is sinking in its own self-perceived success. Unlike the NHL, which had cities with a loyal base of season-ticket holders, your league won’t be as lucky.

There are a small group of serious, passionate lacrosse fans. But most of the crowd is made up of young people who are there to drink beer, cheer the hits, drink beer, cheer the fights (and for my money, lacrosse fights are way better than hockey fights), drink beer, and cheer if their team wins and not care if they don’t.

Trust me on this. Those fans will find other places to drink beer.

The worst part of all this, is that the NLL opened the eyes of youngsters and inspired some to take up the game. Minor lacrosse is considerably bigger. Even the summer leagues have received more attention.

Without the NLL, and there’s little chance we’ll ever see it in its current form again, lacrosse will once again go back to being a fringe game seen by few, cared by less.

And that’s too bad.

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