Premier League Lacrosse merges with Major League Lacrosse, leaving NY Lizards in holding pattern
The professional lacrosse wars are over.
The Premier Lacrosse League, established in 2019, will merge with Major League Lacrosse, established in 2001, to form one league under the existing Premier Lacrosse League, the leagues announced Wednesday.
The PLL has seven lacrosse clubs and will include the Boston Cannons as an eighth team. Now named Cannons Lacrosse Club, their roster will be selected via an expansion draft. The league also retains the rights to all former MLL teams for future expansion considerations.
So what does this mean for the New York Lizards?
Joe Spallina, who spent more than 10 years with the Lizards as an assistant coach, head coach and general manager, wasn’t a part of the Lizards franchise last season. But he said he thinks, although it won’t be next season, the Lizards will be a part of the PLL’s future.
"I think if we were not in the middle of a pandemic, I think there would be more than one team added," Spallina said. "But right now with the uncertainty and field availability uncertain, I think adding one team was the proper, safe move for a year."
The Lizards won the MLL's inaugural championship in 2001, added two more titles and reached the finals six times.
"This merger only benefits the future of the game, for it combines the history of professional lacrosse with an innovative approach that has already accelerated the game’s growth," MLL Commissioner Sandy Brown said in a news release. "Further, the major market commercial opportunities are at their infancy. The runway for a combined effort is robust."
The PLL did not have host cities for individual clubs last season but plans on playing games in some MLL markets in 2021. Spallina said he believes there will be games played on Long Island, which could provide the opportunity for an expansion team in the area.
"The nice thing with the merger is I think it leaves open the opportunity for the addition of the Lizards," Spallina said. "I personally think this will be a one-year hiatus for the Lizards before they reappear in the PLL."
Spallina, who is the head coach of the Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team, said he believes the merger is good news, but he preached patience. He hopes the merger doesn’t result in massive job loss for MLL employees, but thinks the unification of the two outdoor leagues is positive for the sport.
"I think it’s just a great sign for the sport that the sport’s not going to eat itself," he said. "We had two leagues battling each other. I think one of the great terms of lacrosse is ‘Grow the game.’ Get more eyes on the game, so to show unity on the highest level of the sport, to me, is really, really important to be able to grow the game in a positive manner."
Brothers Mike and Paul Rabil founded the PLL in 2019. The league grew a strong social media following and secured a media rights agreement with NBC Sports.
"The unification of PLL and MLL puts the game first by providing our athletes and fans a single destination for the best lacrosse in the world, across every medium, coming this Summer 2021 on NBC Sports," Mike Rabil said in a statement. "I can’t think of anything better and more exciting for the sport."
With the two leagues working together, Spallina thinks the sport’s popularity could take off nationally.
"It’s tremendous news for the future of pro lacrosse," Spallina said. "I don’t think lacrosse is a big enough sport yet to support two leagues yet, but to have one league come together is going to be a monumental step forward for the sport of lacrosse."