I don’t know what the future holds for the Premier Lacrosse League.
What I do know, is that after four weeks it has become appointment viewing television for me.
I played lacrosse in high school and for a club team in Tallahassee after that. I was also lucky enough to cover the Georgia Swarm of the National Lacrosse League (professional indoor lacrosse) while in Atlanta, so I was an easy sell.
I was excited and nervous about the possibilities when I heard Paul Rabil was starting his own league after Major League Lacrosse rebuked he and his brother Mike’s attempt to buy it out. Katie Baker of The Ringer did a great in-depth look at how the league came to be this week and how it’s fared thus far.
Certainly the spectacular crash and burn of the Alliance of American Football didn’t help people’s attitude toward new professional sports leagues. But with a TV deal from NBC Sports and a mission to make lacrosse a full-time profession rather than a side-hustle, Rabil was able to recruit some of the best players in the world.
Then the league settled on a few rule changes that it hoped would create a more exciting product.
The field is 100 yards long — at least 10 yard shorter than usual pro fields — there is a two-point shot 15 yards from the center goal-line and a 52-second shot clock. On face-offs wing players are allowed to dislodge the ball from the face-off specialists, even before possession is established.
The changes have had the desired results. Through four weeks there have been five overtime games and the average margin of victory is 1.8 goals. The games are also incredibly physical, especially when you consider they don’t wear shoulder pads.
“Anyone that has seen pro lacrosse for the last 20 years can agree, this game is faster,” Redwoods midfielder and PLL head of player relations, Kyle Harrison wrote for Sports Illustrated this week.
“A shorter field, closer two-point line and shorter shot clock help. With the new rules, talent level, and all the good goaltenders, scoring in transition is the way to build leads–and keep them–in this league.”
Through the first few weeks of the season I’ve found myself finding ways to make sure I’m home when the games are on TV (don’t tell my wife, she puts up with enough rescheduling of our lives due to sports). Two games have aired on NBC and the rest on NBC Sports or NBC Sports Gold subscription service.
The broadcasts feature in-game live interviews, often from an attackman right after they score, and a bevy of other mic’d up players and coaches that are shown live in the moment. It makes for incredible television that highlights the traveling road show of the PLL.
Rather than have its teams based in cities like the MLL – which is down to just six teams after Rabil’s rebellion – the PLL travels as a road show to a new city each weekend where all six teams play.
This weekend the circus comes to Atlanta, with a prime-time game on Friday night at 8 p.m. between the Atlas (Rabil’s team) and the Archers on NBC Sports. Saturday’s games are on NBC Sports Gold at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. between the Chaos and Chrome, followed by Redwoods and Whipsnakes.
Certainly without the regional alliances normally used to determine fan’s rooting interests, the six traveling clubs do make picking a favorite a little harder.
I’m leaning toward the Chaos, because they follow the golden rule of the more Thompson brothers the better, with Miles and Jeremy Thompson on the roster. While Lyle Thompson, arguably the best player in the world, opted to stay in the MLL after signing an extension through 2021, his brother Miles has put on a show in the PLL (the fourth Thompson brother Jerome Hiana plays with both Miles and Lyle for the Swarm in the NLL).
At least twice this year, Miles has scored behind-the-back goals like the one below that nearly made my head explode.
I’ve always thought pro lacrosse deserved a bigger stage and that if the indoor and outdoor leagues could work together (the PLL and NLL don’t overlap schedules like the MLL does) it could take hold as more than a niche sport in America and Canada.
The rest of the summer I know I’ll be watching, I just hope you take the time to catch the show as well.
(Photo: @PremierLacrosse Twitter Page)