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Breaking down the PLL’s Championship Series

Live sports! And it’s not Korean baseball, it’s pro lacrosse! Rejoice!

By now we’ve all heard: the PLL won’t be touring during the summer of 2020, but instead they’ll be holding a quarantined tournament, featuring a borderline frantic 20 games in 16 days.

Teams will have a roster of 18 players for games and 22 players total. All seven teams will play four games in a “group” stage, similar to the World Cup, and then the playoffs will be seeded based on win/loss record and scoring differential. The one seed gets a bye, the other six teams battle in round one, and we play down to one champion.

The PLL will crown a 2020 champion using a 20-game, tournament-style format. (Photo courtesy of the PLL)

All 20 games will be on the NBC family of networks. Of course, there are all kinds of safeguards, including regular testing and health monitoring of all those on site during this quarantine to make sure everyone stays safe.

The news is great for fans itching for pro lacrosse, but it’s not without its fair share of challenges. So I took a look at the pros and cons of the PLL’s Championship Series.

The Great — We get pro lacrosse this summer

This should be at the top of everyone’s list. This isn’t a lost season for lacrosse fans. We’ll get pro lacrosse games on a top quality broadcast, and don’t have to wait until 2021 to see the world class players. Fans can exhale, relax and then get excited for once instead of anxious.

The Not So Great — No fans

It’s not like the PLL can do much about this. Per the league, they had input from medical doctors, disease experts and other personnel so that they could come up with a safe way to pull this off. That’s obviously the right thing to do. And fans at sporting events before the fall or winter still don’t look likely.

Depending on where they play, we’ll be watching PLL play in a venue that’s likely a big step down from places they played in 2020 and with no one in the stands, and that’s unfortunate. Again, pretty much out of the PLL control, but it’s a downer. No fans lacrosse is still better than no fans, no lacrosse though.

The Great — The format

This is going to be ridiculous to see. These players will be absolutely cramming as many as seven games into about two weeks. Group play is four games in eight days. This isn’t summer camp or a showcase, this is four PLL games.

When you consider that schedule with 18-player, active rosters, these guys will need to totally focus on lacrosse, then totally focus on rest and recovery. And with IMG in Florida as a possible venue, and that this is taking place in late July and early August, heat will likely be a major part of this as well.

We’re going to be watching pro lacrosse on TV every day for two weeks. That’s what this format allows. The science of recovery for these players, particularly some of the older players, is something I’m personally excited to try to see and understand. For coaches, they’ll absolutely be using all 22 guys, and trying to figure out who to rest when is a critical part of this as well.

The Not So Great — Small rosters

Rosters comprised of 18 active players and 22 total is a small group. What makes this not great is that if a team has a couple guys get hurt in game one, even something minor, a team could be down to just an active roster before the group stage ends, and that’s rough.

The challenge is, it’s not like they can just sign someone from the player pool. This whole thing is in a bubble, and flying in a couple players you signed because someone got hurt likely isn’t an option. Obviously the hope is this doesn’t come up, but holding this many games in this short time without injuries having an impact doesn’t seem likely.

The Great — The viewing options

The PLL is pretty much sliding into the times that NBC was supposed to be showing the Tokyo Olympics. There should be great viewing options, and games will be on network NBC, NBC Sports Network and of course via NBC Sports Gold. And you can watch every single one of them.

For me, thinking from a fan perspective, the best thing the PLL did for pro lacrosse in year one was deliver a broadcast that’s as good, or in some cases better, than the broadcast of any pro sport out there. It’s that good. Fans not having to give that up because of the nature of the tournament or issues with the pandemic is excellent news. As I noted above, two weeks with lacrosse every day on TV is outstanding.

The Not So Great — The players make less money

Per a story in Bloomberg, players will be able to opt out of playing in this tournament, but those that do play will get a pro-rated 2020 salary. Depending on games played, that could be a 50% salary cut. That sucks, but I’m not sure how the league combats that right now.

Coronavirus makes this kind of news a reality for just about every company out there, but it’s never good news to read that the players, the lifeblood of the league, will be seeing less money this summer. That said, the silver lining is that if this gets done well and captures new fans because of its placement on NBC and the hunger for sports out there right now, the PLL could be positioned for a major jump in merchandise and ticket sales come 2021. 

Dan Arestia is a lacrosse fanatic first, writer second. He is a frequent contributor to Lacrosse Playground and has been published on College Crosse and Inside Lacrosse.

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