Road Trip Dad – Another Look At the PLL
Dan Witmer | June 24, 2019
Last week, LaxAllStars.com ran a feature entitled “Premier League Fighting: A Look at the Dilemma,” followed a day later by another – “The PLL: Fighting for Viewers.”

Sometimes I struggle for topics to write about; other weeks, stuff just falls into my lap.

The PLL’s week #3 in Chicago got people’s attention. If you’ve followed the inaugural season of the upstart six-team league of homeless wanderers, you know that in the first game of the weekend, Redwoods LC vs. Chaos, there was (another) goalmouth scrum that got out of hand. Chaos goalie Blaze Riorden body-slammed Redwoods player Nick Ossella, which led to Ossella throwing a gloved haymaker at Riorden, hitting him square in the jaw (actually, the facemask, which is probably fortunate for all involved). There was more pushing and shoving, some hot tempers, and then the referees took longer than usual to sort it all out.

The result was, as best as I can tell, a one-minute non-releasable penalty on Riorden, while Ossella received a two-minute non-releasable penalty, plus a five-minute misconduct. I could be wrong, but I don’t think Riorden served his own penalty.

The next day, Chrome defender Joel White took exception to Atlas player Connor Buczek’s hit on Chrome goalie John Galloway, and threw him to the ground. There was more pushing and shoving. I think White served the only penalty called on the play.

All of this begs the question – at least for me – by what rules is the PLL playing?

I Googled “PLL rules” and got nothing, so just for kicks, I tried some other professional leagues. MLB rules… check. NHL rules… check. NBA rules… check.

Then I couldn’t resist; I typed in MLL rules and got a link. Then I tried NLL rules, and also got a link. I typed in NCAA men’s lacrosse rules and was given the opportunity to download all 104 pages.

Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill, but I think this is part of the problem – the PLL isn’t quite sure what it wants to look like (and I don’t think my RTD pieces constitute much of a mountain).

The LAS articles debate the pros and cons of fighting, but my mind’s already made up. As a coach, a referee, a parent, a former player, and a tournament director, there’s nothing to discuss. Fighting doesn’t belong on the lacrosse field.

Call me contradictory, but I am OK with fighting – and penalties – in the NHL and in the NLL (and minor leagues). In those sports, combatants square off – but not very frequently – and it’s been part of those games since they began.

But field lacrosse? No. Never.

When a fight occurs in a scholastic game, the guilty parties are ejected. In summer tournaments, the most common penalty is expulsion from the rest of the tournament. In NCAA contests, fighters are given a three-minute penalty, and kicked out of the game, and suspended for their next game.

In MLB, NFL, NBA, etc., pros who fight are hit with fines and suspensions – and kicked out the game. Yes, fights happen, but there are serious consequences.

Not so much in the PLL.

I don’t blame the players. Human nature usually lets us take as much as we can get away with. I mean, if there aren’t any serious repercussions, why not throw a punch, right?

But I’m concerned about player safety, and I think the pros of the PLL should be, too. Every game seems to be an adventure in officiating, as players swing their sticks and hit bodies that are not wearing shoulder pads or mouthpieces. Aren’t those required at all levels up through NCAA? Why eliminate that protection at the pro level?

My experience is that, in summer leagues, players love to go without shoulder pads; reversibles are the way to look good, and show off those tanned guns… and it isn’t long before the dodgers are yelling at refs because they get slashed. “Look at that mark on my arm!” I’ve heard it time after time.

Well, put on some pads, maybe wear a shirt under your pinney, and try passing the ball off once in a while.

Will shoulder pads solve all the PLL’s problems? Of course not, but they might help.

I wonder if there’s a PLL Players’ Safety Council, or even a Players’ Union. Seriously, maybe this professional, full-time salary thing looked good from a distance, but what about concussions, broken bones, and lost teeth? Many of the players mentioned in these particular scrums are familiar, local CNY heroes – shouldn’t we be concerned for their best interests?

The LAS articles also debated the fan base desired by the PLL. There were comparisons to the WWE. I wonder if that’s what the players had in mind when they agreed to sign their PLL contracts. In my way of thinking, the WWE is not on the same page as other professional sports. In fact, it’s not even in the same book, or on the same shelf.

If the mayhem continues in the PLL, I’m afraid that pushing and shoving, goal-mouth scrums, and retaliatory penalties will become more commonplace in college, scholastic, and even youth lacrosse. Why wouldn’t it? This is what we’re showing lacrosse fans on national TV; we’re being told that these are “the best players in the world.”

After a bench-clearing donnybrook between Loyola and Syracuse in the 1990 NCAA championship game, the NCAA passed rules to contain further incidents. If I’m not mistaken, players who stepped onto the field from the sideline would be ejected from the game, and players who were on the field were prohibited from crossing the midfield line to join an altercation, or they faced suspension, too. The emphasis was on controlling the chaos. To my knowledge, the rules did what they were intended to do, and fighting was generally removed from the game.

I don’t know when those rules were removed from the NCAA rule book, but when I looked for them this week, I couldn’t find any mention of that kind of game management. I always coached by those rules, and forbade my players from being tempted to join the fray.

Currently, NCAA Rule 5 Section 14 (on page 59) reads, “Fighting and Flagrant Misconduct. Fighting is defined as a player, substitute, nonplaying member of a squad, coach, or anyone officially connected with a team deliberately striking or attempting to strike anyone in a malicious manner, or leaving the bench or coaches area during an altercation. An individual participating in a fight or any other action deemed flagrant misconduct shall be charged with a three-minute non-releasable penalty, ejection from the game in which the violation occurred, and suspension from the team’s next regular-season intercollegiate game…”

At the scholastic level, similar definitions and penalties are described, but there’s currently nothing about sideline management or players joining in on the action, and with a two-man crew working so many scholastic games, I shudder to think how things could get out of hand in a heartbeat.

The bottom line is, I don’t know what rules the PLL has for fighting. It would be nice if fans (and players) could see something in black and white (if someone can point me to a helpful link, please feel free).

Admittedly, comparisons to the MLL are difficult for me. I haven’t watched as many games (because they haven’t had a lot of TV coverage) and I don’t recall many fights in the game I did watch. I don’t know who has fought or how (or if) they were punished.

But it looks like the PLL games on NBC and NBCSN are here to stay, at least for a while, and I’m going to keep watching. The games are exciting. The shortened field is a clever (genius?) way to produce transition, and I love it when a pole scores a two-pointer. I’m even starting to think I’ve got a favorite team.

But here are a couple more complaints:

Why play 48 minutes with a running clock? What’s the rush? Why would a pro game – with “the best players in the world,” remember – be shorter than high school JV game? Doesn’t make sense to me. The only answer I can think of is the two-hour TV time slot…

And why not provide complete box scores on the PLL website? As far as I can see, they provide only highlight videos and text recaps. If I could find a box score, I’d be able to say how many minutes so-and-so got for throwing a punch, or if my favorite player was suspended or just sent to the penalty box. Even D-III college games always have standardized STATCREW summaries available, and anyone can go on-line later to dissect all the action, compare man-up (not “power play”!) efficiency, ground balls, clearing percentages, etc. MLB has box scores, NBA has box scores (I imagine), and so does the NHL.

Sorry, folks, but I think the PLL still has a way to go.

Drive carefully, everyone!

- Dan Witmer daniel.witmer@oswego.edu

Dan Witmer is the author of two books.  The Best of Road Trip Dad – the Laker Lacrosse Collection  is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland.  ...and piles to go before I sleep - The Book of Wit  is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and at the river's end bookstore.