Road Trip Dad – PLL First Impressions
Dan Witmer | June 3, 2019
The saying goes that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Paul Rabil, are you listening?

I was out of town all weekend and DVR-ed yesterday’s coverage of the PLL’s Chaos vs. Redwoods game, televised nationally on NBCSports. It was about 8 PM when I finally got to see what this new league has to offer.

I was not impressed.

Each team went off-sides the first time they cleared the ball. C’mon, pros – count to three.

This new league has its own shot clock, set at – yes – exactly 52 seconds. Makes you wonder what numbers they rejected. 54? 49? It’s almost like they’re making fun of the concept. For the record, NCAA used an 80-second clock this spring; the MLL has used 60. Box lacrosse usually has a 30-second shot clock, with some variances.

Other than two push calls, I think the only other penalties I saw were unsportsmanlike calls for goalmouth tussles. There was some face-washing, some facemask-grabbing, and some pretty NHL-like post-whistle pushing and shoving. I love pro hockey, but I don’t want to see lacrosse go in that direction. Clean it up, boys – kids are watching.

And I’m curious – are those unsportsmanlike penalties non-releasable? Could they be? Should they be?

I also saw a head shot that took a player’s helmet off – and no penalty was called. Point A – buckle up, pros (again, kids are watching!). Point B – I suggest you call the games a little tighter; we don’t want to see head shots, targeting, concussions, and careers ended.

The mic-ed up players was something new and different, but asking a player sitting in the penalty box for his version of what just happened on the field is silly. You’re just going to get stupid answers. And putting your on-field interviewer on the field seconds before a face-off to talk to an attackman who just scored a goal is no better. When the camera cut away, you could see the interviewer and camera- man running off the field while the officials set up the face-off. I can’t think of too many instances in other sports where the shortstop is mic-ed up, or the point guard, or the running back. Gimmicks don’t impress me.

Look, it’s lacrosse, and therefore I’m probably going to watch it. And so are you. But I know I saw a better product on TV last weekend from Philadelphia. Virginia and Coach Tiffany showed us all how to play the game. The defensemen – and team defense – I watched last night looked like high school lacrosse compared to the NCAA championship.

And shooting? To steal an old Bill Chadwick (aka The Big Whistle) NHL quote, those Chaos and Redwoods players couldn’t hit water if they were standing on a dock! Were they rushed because of the 52-second shot clock?

It will take a few weeks, but we’ll all figure out who our favorite team is and start to cheer for them, but who’s going to actually go to the games? I haven’t seen attendance figures, but I heard they were around 4,000 on Saturday for the double-header and about 1200 for the Sunday game. Has Gillette Stadium ever seen a smaller crowd – for any event?

The whole six-team geography-free structure is puzzling. Let’s say that Boston and New England lacrosse fans showed up at Foxborough this past weekend – are they going to go to another PLL game all summer? They’d have to travel to New York, or Philadelphia, or Baltimore, so I’m guessing they’re not going again. According to my sources, the PLL is hitting 13 cities over a stretch of 14 out of 17 weekends, with stops in Boston, NYC (New Jersey, really), Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Denver, San Jose, Hamilton (Ontario, I’ll assume), Albany, Columbus, NYC (NJ again), and Philadelphia.

Great, the league is going coast-to-coast. I just don’t see the fan support… but we’ll see. I mean, last weekend, before ESPN’s coverage of the NCAA championship, my TV guide said that they were broadcasting corn-hole competitions.

ESPN also shows E-sports.

And drone racing.

And boys’ lacrosse U-12 national championships.

So who knows what will work. I’m certainly no business analyst; I’m just a (very) seasoned lacrosse fan. I think if the PLL wants to improve their televised product, they should try to steal some of the college announcers. ESPN has some good ones, and so does the Big Ten Network and CBS Sports. Sunday’s play-by-play guy mentioned a “long-range shot” that was taken from inside the 2-point arc. He also seemed confused at times, calling a one-goal lead a two-goal difference, and incorrectly identifying players.

I know, I know – cut them some slack. It was their first game, their first broadcast. The players have probably had but a few practices. Maybe next week we’ll see better lacrosse, and a better lacrosse production on the TV screen.

But I’m hoping to see some MLL games, too. ESPN is going to televise games on ESPN+ this summer, and the July 27 All-Star Game and the October semi-finals and championship will be bumped up to ESPN2.

Competition between NBC and ESPN is a good thing, and – for now – the same goes for the two rival leagues. As I wrote back in the fall when Rabil first announced his PLL plans, the NFL had to evolve thanks to the AFL, and the NBA got stronger because of the ABA. The WHA brought new franchises to the NHL. Pro leagues have merged, improved, adapted, and adopted, and I think most would agree that they all came out better in the long run.

So, how long will these two leagues run head-to-head? Time will tell. Meanwhile, owners and investors will be scrambling to make ends meet. Can TV revenue support promises of “real” pro salaries, or will the leagues need fans in the seats? Is there a market for pro lacrosse during the summer, when lacrosse families are playing in tournaments and showcases every weekend? And when the NFL returns in September and MLB heads for the post-season, will anyone still be watching pro lacrosse?

Besides me?

OK, I like the field that is ten yards shorter – it seemed to create more transition opportunities and sped up the pace of the game.

I like the face-off rule changes, like prohibiting the FOGO from taking the next face-off if he commits illegal procedure violations. And wings can come in and poke-check the gladiators locked into a clamp.

But I still don’t like the team names. Is Chaos plural or singular? And what about Chrome? Atlas? (are we talking about the Greek Titan, or the collection of maps?). Sounds like someone watched some old episodes of American Gladiator. And exactly what will (or does) a Chaos mascot look like?

The names, the rules, the uniforms – it’s almost like someone sat down and tried to create a real-life video game, complete with customized, cool details…

“Let’s call one of the teams Chaos!”

“What about a 52-second shot clock?”

“We can make the refs look like UPS drivers!”

Let’s face it; this isn’t your father’s game of lacrosse.

Now, all of you – get off my lawn!

And please drive carefully.

- 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.