Major League Lacrosse commissioner Sandy Brown knew he needed to get creative.
When the COVID-19 pandemic took centerstage in the United States in March, the MLL quickly realized there was little chance it would be able to start the season May 30, as scheduled. And beyond that, Brown accepted it was likely going to be very difficult to have a season that resembled anything the league has done before.
And this was a milestone year for the MLL — the league’s 20th anniversary season. No one involved wanted to see it completely eliminated. And Brown didn’t want to become egotistical. He was open to new ideas.
After working with players, doctors, coaches, other sports commissioners and seeing what worked in leagues around the world, the MLL decided on a one-week season. It would be short in time, but an action-packed schedule.
“I think there’s a lot of people in the world who would like to see 2020 in the rearview mirror, but there’s always something unique — whether it’s us or the NBA or any sport,” Brown told Newsday in a phone interview. “ The MLS, NWSL, you name it. This year, there will be an asterisk next to it.”
All six teams in the league, including the New York Lizards, traveled to Annapolis, Maryland, to play at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium starting July 18. The top four teams advance to a single-elimination playoff July 25, with the championship July 26 on ESPN at 2 p.m. All 18 games are being shown on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPN+.
Each team plays five regular-season games over seven days before the playoffs. (The Lizards have lost their first two games.) All players, coaches and staff had to pass a COVID-19 test before traveling to Annapolis. They are tested every day, stay at The Westin hotel, wear a mask and can only leave for games and runs.
With the NBA and NHL on the verge of starting games within their bubbles, the MLL wanted to get its season in with limited competition.
“When you look at the other leagues that are coming back and returning to play and finding the television windows, this proved to be optimal for us,” Brown said. “And I think it was absolutely the right call.”
Brown said the return has run smoothly thus far. Players agree. But it hasn’t necessarily been easy. Players have dealt with the condensed schedule, heat that can reach up to 120 degrees on turf and working full-time jobs from their hotel room. But the desire to play is at the forefront. Back in March, Lizards attack Andrew Pettit was unsure if he’d be playing lacrosse this year. So he doesn’t mind.
“I think there were a lot of uncertainties with the virus in general and sports were obviously a big one,” he said. “The league’s been able to put out something that seemed safe enough to pull off and I think the MLL’s done a great job putting this together. I certainly feel safe here.”
Pettit also has no issues with the bubble-based lifestyle.
“If you’ve been taking any precautions the whole time with your normal daily life, this is really no different,” he said. “We’re still wearing a mask around the hotel and trying to stay inside, so if you’ve been doing that the whole time, it’s really not that different. You just get to play lacrosse now.”
Dylan Molloy, a Lizards attack, Setauket native and 2013 graduate of St. Anthony’s High School, said he never had doubts about wanting to return to play.
“I was very excited about the new format,” said Molloy, a Newsday All-Long Island selection as a senior. “I was very excited to see this style and how the tournament style would go. It’s definitely been different, but it’s a very cool changeup to be able to be with the guys non-stop and extremely focused for the 10 days.”