The Premier Lacrosse League had plans set for its second season of operation before COVID-19 forced leadership to think differently.
Like every other professional league, the PLL had to put its sport on hold. It announced on April 10 that it would be delaying the start of the season, which was slated to be May 29.
On Wednesday, league co-founder Paul Rabil announced on the Today Show plans for the Premier Lacrosse League's return: A fanless and quarantined 16-day tournament starting on July 25 in place of the second season.
The innovative solution is beneficial for a multitude of reasons.
From a league perspective, building off the momentum of the first season was imperative. But they needed to do so in a manner that prioritized the health of players in the face of a pandemic. Additionally, the games will air nationally on NBC's networks in place of the Olympics, which were moved to 2021. With sports fans craving live-action, lacrosse could be the sport to fill that void.
But because the PLL is in just its second season, and lacrosse is less familiar to some, here's a guide to the league and its players.
The PLL formed in 2018 and set its sights on a 2019 season. A wave of players ended up leaving Major League Lacrosse to explore the opportunities in the new league. In the announcement of the league, Rabil, who is also a player and one of the most renowned names in his sport, outlined the benefits.
He said there would be a better compensation package that's four times higher than the MLL, players would receive equity in the league, players would receive health benefits for the first time in a professional lacrosse league and there would be a national broadcast deal with NBC Sports Group.
What's unique about the league is that it's intended to be a tour-based model, meaning teams have no "home field." Instead, the league travels to locations and plays its games across a weekend slate. That was done to increase exposure and get the game to historic venues. Rabil said the league will return to this format in 2021.
The league also features a two-point arc for goals, a 52-second shot clock and a shorter field than what's standard to make for a faster game. The broadcast also includes unique features, as players wear microphones in their helmets to provide sound and the opportunity for broadcaster-to-player communication after goals or saves.
This year's Championship Series
With the pandemic changing the way the league operates in 2020, there will be a Championship Series instead of the standard 10-game season followed by the playoffs. The league's seven teams will head to a location, which is to be announced, and be quarantined for the duration of the tournament.
Rabil stated there will be a screening process before athletes and personnel enter the site and more testing throughout. The league estimated that the total number of people involved will be less than 300. That number includes players, coaches, medical staff and media production personnel.
The tournament will begin July 25 with a group play stage that requires each team to play four games to determine seeding. Then, there will be a single-elimination tournament starting on Aug. 4 that concludes with a championship game on Aug. 9.
The teams and players
The Archers were a middle-of-the-road team in the inaugural season of the PLL, finishing third in the regular season before losing its first-round game in the playoffs. But they do boast a lethal attack with the league's top-two goals scorers in 2019 in Marcus Holman (23) and Will Manny (22).
Atlas is the home to Rabil and a number of other former Johns Hopkins players, making this the team for Blue Jays fans. They also have a dominant faceoff man in Trevor Baptiste, who can allow the Atlas to play make it, take it when he's controlling that phase of the game.
Chaos finished first in the regular-season standings in 2019 before falling to the Whipsnakes in the first round of the playoffs. They're led by Connor Fields, who is a walking highlight reel with behind-the-back passes and insane shots that end up in the back of the net.
Chrome finished last in the regular season, winning just two of 10 games with a -10 goal differential. There's still talent and potential to control games behind their faceoff man Connor Farrell, who finished second in the league in winning percentage. Chrome will just need to capitalize on that success more often in 2020.
The Redwoods were the league's runner-up in the inaugural season, losing to the Whipsnakes in a wild championship game that ended in overtime. Jules Heningburg led the team in points (33) and goals (21) and finished fifth in the league in both categories.
The Waterdogs are the league's newest squad after the PLL expanded to a seventh team. The team selected Connor Kelly, a former Maryland player, No. 1 overall in the league's expansion draft. Kelly won a championship with the Whipsnakes in the first year of the league and possesses a wealth of talent as he showed during his time as a Terp.
The Whipsnakes won the league's first championship game with a roster littered with former Terps. That was done intentionally to create fan affiliation from the start. Matt Rambo, the league's MVP, led the team with 42 points (goals plus assists) and scored the game-winning overtime goal in the championship game.