The National Lacrosse League has confirmed to IL Indoor the details of the new playoff format that IL Indoor first announced in a story last week. Commissioner George Daniel has confirmed that the Minnesota Swarm will move to the East Division, that starting in 2014 only six teams instead of eight will make the playoffs, and that the division finals and the Champions Cup final will be two-game series with a 10-minute mini game tiebreaker if the two games are split.
Daniel said the league has received substantial feedback from players and fans on social media sites and via email and that the response has been mixed. He says players by and large prefer the idea of having fewer teams make the playoffs and having more playoff games. Most concerns are with the 10-minute tiebreaker game, which some feel is not an appropriate way to conclude a series for the league championship.
The problem with the most obvious alternative—a best of three series—is that being a weekend league makes it extremely difficult to manage such an arrangement. “It’s the travel, it’s the logistics,” Daniel said. “What’s going to happen the first time one semi-final is a sweep and the other goes to three games. Now you’ve got a team sitting out a week.” Trying to play two games at one site in one weekend, to avoid having to go to a third weekend, is also not viable because of logistical issues, Daniel added. So the league’s board of governors thought long and hard and decided that this was the best next step for the league.
“We’ve studied this for several years. This playoff format that we’ve put forth is not one that was just thought up with overnight. After much deliberation, looking at the status quo of the single elimination, at a best of three or a longer series even, the two-game series was the model which made the best sense for us right now,” Daniel said. “It would allow us to get beyond the single elimination. It would allow us to control and plan the logistics best because we’ll know there’s going to be a game in the arenas on these weekends. In a best of three format, you just don’t know. There’s too many contingencies.”
Daniel said the league had looked at a number of formats for the tiebreaker after the two games of a series are split. “We talked about sudden death, we talked about a number of things. We felt a 10-minute mini game was the best solution. It’s similar to what’s been used in professional soccer. Given that we’re a weekend league, we’re not aware of any other weekend league that uses a series beyond two games. Soccer is similar in that they’re a weekend league and they play a two-game series with some kind of tiebreaker. That seemed to be the best way for us to take this next step.”
“The feeling was that playing sudden death as a tiebreaker after two games wasn’t the fairest thing,” Daniel added. “Playing a specific time period would be better. It was felt 5 minutes was too short. Perhaps a full 15-minute quarter was a bit long given that the guys had just played a full game. So we settled on 10 minutes. If there’s a fluke goal, it would allow a team to come back and respond, so somebody doesn’t lose on a fluke goal in a sudden death format.”
The league didn’t like the idea of going to a shootout to decide a winner. “We felt that this is better than a shootout,” Daniel said. “I don’t think a shootout is indicative of the strengths of the teams. That’s like a skills competition. I know they have to do it in the World Cup of soccer, but when the World Cup ends in a shootout I just think it’s bizarre, because it’s not indicative of the strengths of the teams. But that’s something I guess soccer has to do because there’s not a lot of scoring in soccer.”
Daniel also addressed the issue of the season overlapping further with the Major League Lacrosse schedule. He pointed out that MLL used to begin its season after the NCAA final four had been held, not until early June. The field league gradually backed up its season so that it overlapped with the NLL’s playoffs and eventually its regular season. “There isn’t animosity towards the MLL in any way, shape or form. This isn’t a decision that was directed at them in any way,” Daniel said. “Both leagues are driven by ticket revenues. We both need to maximize those revenues and play at the optimum times. Unfortunately, there’s a bit of an overlap in achieving that.”
The net impact on the MLL will not be significantly different, Daniel said, since there will now be three rosters that are available to begin playing in the MLL at the conclusion of the NLL regular season, rather than one, and that another two rosters worth of players will be available after the first round of playoffs. Therefore, there will be five teams’ rosters no longer playing NLL after the first weekend of playoffs, just as there were last season.
Daniel added that starting the season any earlier than late December is not something that would work for the NLL at this time. “There are logistical and market-driven reasons that right now, for us to start the season any earlier than late December, right now we’re not prepared to do that. That’s not to say in the future we wouldn’t consider an earlier start.”
One final point that Daniel made is that the changes are contingent on the players’ association agreeing to them in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, although he didn’t anticipate that being a problem. “If for some reason we didn’t come to an agreement on these issues, we would most likely revert to the status quo. I think the players on the whole prefer this format, even with the flaws they think it has. This is a much preferred format for most of the players.”Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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