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The National Lacrosse League (NLL) is the league of men's indoor lacrosse in North America. It currently has 11 teams; three in Canadamarker and eight in the United Statesmarker. Unlike other lacrosse leagues which play in the summer, the NLL plays its games in the winter. Each year, the playoff teams battle for the Champion's Cup.

Lacrosse is popular in Canadamarker, mainly in Southern Ontario and British Columbiamarker; lacrosse is Canada's official summer sport. The sport also has a reasonable profile in the Northeastern United States, primarily for historic reasons or due to high profile college programs. Elsewhere in North America, though, lacrosse is still considered a marginal sport at best; consequently, franchise foldings and relocations have been common in the NLL.


The version of lacrosse played in the NLL is indoor lacrosse. This is slightly different from box lacrosse, which is played on a hard floor, usually in the summer, and has 3 periods instead of four. The NLL plays four quarters of fifteen minutes each, with two-minute breaks between the first and second quarters and between the third and fourth quarters, and a twelve-minute break between the second and third (called half-time). The clock does not run when play is stopped.

The team that has scored the most goals at the end of regulation time is declared the winner. If the game is tied after four quarters have been played, the teams begin sudden death overtime; the team that scores first wins the game. Overtime period are fifteen minutes long, with two-minute breaks between overtime periods. Prior to the 2005 NLL season, overtime periods were 5 minutes each.

Each team dresses eighteen players, of whom two are goaltenders; the remaining sixteen are called runners, and may be either forwards or defensemen. There are also players, frequently defensemen, who specialize in the transition from defense to offense.

The team in possession of the ball has ten seconds to move the ball over the center line, and thirty seconds to take a shot on net. If either of these time periods expires, the whistle is blown, and the opposing team is given possession. In the NLL, the shot clock runs while a team that is killing a penalty has possession of the ball; this is not the case in all box lacrosse leagues (eg. Major Series Lacrosse, Western Lacrosse Association).

Season and playoffs

Each team in the NLL plays sixteen games during the regular season, eight at home and eight away. The teams are divided into two divisions, the Eastern division and the Western division. Each team plays at least twelve of its sixteen regular season games against division opponents.

The regular season begins in late December and ends in April. At the end the regular season, the top four teams in each division make the playoffs, which consist of three single-game elimination rounds. In the first round (the Division Semi-finals), each division winner hosts the fourth-place team in its division, and the second-place team hosts the third-place team. In the second round (the Division Finals), the two remaining teams in each division play; the higher-seeded team hosts the game. Two weeks after the Division Finals, the division winners face off for the Champion's Cup.

All NLL games are played on weekends, save for the occasional Thursday night game. Most NLL players have full-time jobs off the floor; notable examples include Toronto's Dan Ladouceur, a Durham Regionmarker police officer, and Buffalo's John Tavares, a high school teacher in Mississauga, Ontariomarker.


Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League

The rebirth of major professional box lacrosse in the United States came on March 13, 1986, with the formation of the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League (EPBLL), which was incorporated by Russ Cline and Chris Fritz. As background, in 1985 box lacrosse sponsored an event played at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The USA/Canada Superseries was an eight-game series, seen as a pre-cursor to the Major Indoor Lacrosse League. The league began play for the 1987 season, opening with two games on January 10, 1987: the Philadelphia Wings at the New Jersey Saints and the Washington Wave hosting the Baltimore Thunder. Those four teams contested a six-game regular season before a postseason which saw all four teams qualify for a single knockout tournament, which ended with the Baltimore Thunder crowned the EPBLL's first champion.

Those same four teams played in the second season of the EPBLL. The teams expanded to an eight-game schedule, and set up a three-team playoff with the regular season winner claiming a bye to the title game.

Major Indoor Lacrosse League

MILL logo
Immediately following the 1988 season, the league rebranded itself as the Major Indoor Lacrosse League (MILL) and announced that the Detroit Turbos and New England Blazers (based in Worcester, Massachusettsmarker) would begin play for the 1989 season. Meanwhile, the New Jersey Saints moved to Long Islandmarker and were renamed the New York Saints.

Like many young professional leagues, the MILL had its share of franchise instability. After the 1989 season, the Washington Wave folded and the MILL granted the expansion Pittsburgh Bulls a franchise to remain at 6 teams for the 1990 season. 1991 saw no franchise changes, but the league expanded the schedule again to 10 games, and introduced two divisions. The American Division consisted of the Baltimore Thunder, Philadelphia Wings, and New York Saints, while the National Division was to be contested between the Detroit Turbos, Pittsburgh Bulls, and New England Blazers. The 1991 postseason consisted solely of a championship game, between the winners of the two divisions.

National Lacrosse League Progression
Year Teams Games Played
1987 4 teams 6 games
1988 8 games
1989 6 teams
1991 10 games
1992 7 teams 8 games
1994 6 teams
1996 7 teams 10 games
1997 6 teams
1998 7 teams 12 games
2000 8 teams
2001 9 teams 14 games
2002 13 teams 16 games
2003 12 teams
2004 10 teams
2006 11 teams
2007 13 teams
2008 12 teams
2010 11 teams

1992 brought another franchise move, as New England relocated to Bostonmarker and became the Boston Blazers . In what would ultimately prove to be the first of the successful expansions, the Buffalo Bandits joined the American division. The Bandits dropped their first three games of the season, but then went on a record 22 game winning streak to claim both the 1992 and 1993 titles. The 1992 and 1993 seasons ended the 10 game schedule, shrinking it back to 8 games, while expanding the playoffs so that 6 of the 7 teams would qualify.

1994 would mark the first time the league would contract, as the Pittsburgh Bulls folded while no new teams were added. The league remained with the 2 division format with just 6 teams, but would abandon that for a single division in 1995, which also saw the folding of the Detroit Turbos and the introduction of the Rochester Knighthawks. The Knighthawks had immediate success as an expansion team, going all the way to the championship game before falling to the Philadelphia Wings in overtime. 1996 brought the ill-fated Charlotte Cobras to the league to expand back to seven. The team from North Carolinamarker(GM Coleman Hynes) went 0-10, and quickly folded camp after the season. At the same time, the league went back to a 10 game season.

The 1997 season went back to the same 6 franchises as the 1995 season had seen, but any sort of stability was only an illusion. After the 1997 season, a rival league named the National Lacrosse League was formed, which was to be based on the franchise model traditional in major American sports leagues, instead of the MILL "single entity ownership" model. After a short battle between the two competitors, the two leagues merged and the 6 MILL franchises joined two NLL franchises, the Syracuse Smash and the Ontario Raiders (based in Hamilton, Ontariomarker), under the NLL umbrella and league structure. The league suffered a setback quickly, as the Boston Blazers suspended operations for one year for the 1998 season, but never returned to play. The NLL went to a double round robin schedule for the 1998 season, so the 7 teams played a 12 game season.

National Lacrosse League

The franchise turmoil didn't change with the new league structure, as the Ontario Raiders packed up and moved to Torontomarker after one season, becoming the Toronto Rock. The Rock quickly became a major success both on the field and in the box office, selling out Maple Leaf Gardensmarker and claiming the 1999 and 2000 NLL titles. 2000 saw one of the original four teams move, as the Baltimore Thunder went to Pittsburgh to become the Pittsburgh CrosseFire. The NLL also expanded to 8 teams, introducing the Albany Attack to play in New York's capital.

In 2001, the league continued to grow to 14 games and introduced its 9th team, the Columbus Landsharks. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Crossefire continued to search for a place to call home, as they moved to the US capital to become the Washington Power. The Syracuse Smash became the second team to play north of the border, as they moved to become the Ottawa Rebel.

Despite all the turmoil, the league continued to expand to new markets, and 2002 was a major part of their nationwide expansion aspirations. For the first time, the league moved out of the Eastern time zone, adding the Vancouver Ravens and Calgary Roughnecks, as well as adding the Montreal Express and New Jersey Storm. The expansion to 13 teams necessitated dividing the league up into divisions for the first time since 1994, as the Central, Eastern, and Northern Divisions were born. The league also expanded the schedule to 16 games, where it still stands today. While the 2002 expansion ultimately proved unsuccessful (3 of the 4 teams have since folded), it did set the stage for the league to grow to a national scope. It also marked the only time the higher seeded team did not host an NLL playoff game, as the Washington Power surrendered the quarterfinal game against Philadelphia to the Wings for financial reasons.

2003 saw the Montreal franchise suspend operations, becoming the second team in league history to be in existence for only one season. The Power, who had struggled to draw fans in Washington, made their 3rd move in 4 season to Denvermarker to become the Colorado Mammoth. This move was finally successful, as the Mammoth have become one of the flagship franchises in the league.

In 2004, for the first time since 1990, the league lost one of the original franchises as the New York Saints went dark. Contraction from the 2002 high of 13 teams continued, as the Storm moved across the country to Anaheimmarker, becoming the Anaheim Storm, while the Ottawa Rebel folded. The Albany Attack and Columbus Landsharks followed the Storm westward, settling in as the San Jose Stealth and Arizona Sting respectively. The league consolidated into a 4 team Eastern Division (Philadelphia, Buffalo, Rochester, and Toronto) and a 6 team Western Division (Colorado, Arizona, San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary, and Anaheim).

2005 then saw the Vancouver Ravens folded due to lease and ownership issues, while the Montreal franchise rights were bought by the NHL's Minnesota Wild to create the Minnesota Swarm in the Eastern Division. This type of transaction, where an expansion franchise is formed using the rights of a team that had suspended operations, would be used again in the NLL for the next few years, as a glut of teams that were suspended would make those franchise rights more affordable than the league expansion fee of several million dollars.

2006 saw the Anaheim Storm suspend operations, while an ownership group led by Angela Batinovich bought an expansion franchise called the Portland LumberJax, and Bruce Urban bought the rights to the suspended Ottawa franchise to form a team in Edmontonmarker named the Rush. 2007 saw the league finally get back to its 2002 size of thirteen teams, with the addition of the New York Titans and the Chicago Shamrox, while all of the 11 teams from 2006 stayed in place, a first since the 2002 expansion.

The 2008 season was scheduled to see yet another expansion team, as the NLL was scheduled to return to Bostonmarker. However, things took a turn in October 2007, more than two months before the scheduled start of the 2008 season, that would delay the NLL's return to Boston. On October 16, 2007, the Associated Press reported that Commissioner Jim Jennings sent an email to players announcing the cancellation of the 2008 NLL season, after the NLL and The Professional Lacrosse Players' Association failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. The previous deal expired on July 31, 2007. Later that day the league made its official announcement to cancel the season. However, the negotiations continued, and on October 25, the league announced that a new seven-year agreement had been reached, and that the season would be played. A new schedule was announced on November 2, 2007, but only included 12 of the expected 14 teams. According to the news release, "the Arizona and Boston franchises have opted not to play in the 2008 due to a number of business issues. Both franchises will resume operations in 2009."

The 2009 season would have seen the league return to fourteen teams. But while the Boston Blazers joined the league as expected, the Arizona Sting instead ceased operations and its players were dispersed in a draft. A few weeks before the season started, the Chicago Shamrox announced that they were also suspending operations, and yet another dispersal draft was held.

End of the Jennings era

Just a week into the 2009 season, commissioner Jim Jennings announced that he was stepping down as commissioner after eight years in the role. Jennings said "I feel that I have accomplished all the goals I set out to do at the NLL. I want to spend some time with my family before pursuing other opportunities and taking on the next challenge." During Jennings term as commissioner, the league grew from 8 teams in the east to 12 teams across Canada and the US, and increased franchise values from $250,000 to $5.6 million. NLL Deputy Commissioner and COO George Daniel was named Interim Commissioner upon Jennings resignation, and was named as the new full-time Commissioner on June 30.

On May 4, 2009, two days after losing in the playoffs, the Portland LumberJax ceased operations, citing the poor economic climate in which the team, among other things, saw a $300,000 decrease in corporate sponsorship. A dispersal draft was held July 7, 2009 for the former LumberJax players.

The end of the season resulted in two major moves: in mid-July, the San Jose Stealth moves to Everett, Washingtonmarker to become the Washington Stealth; and in August 2009, the New York Titans announced their move to Orlando, Floridamarker to become the Orlando Titans.

Championship history

Team Championships
Philadelphia Wings 6
Toronto Rock 5
Buffalo Bandits 4
Calgary Roughnecks 2
Rochester Knighthawks 2
Baltimore Thunder/Colorado Mammoth 2
Detroit Turbos 1
New Jersey Saints 1


Commissioner Years
Darrel Russell 1987-1997
John Livsey Jr 1997-2000
Jim Jennings 2000-2009
George Daniel 2009-present

Current league structure

The National Lacrosse League currently plays a 16 game regular season, with 4 teams from each division qualifying for postseason play. The 1st and 4th seed in each division meet in a divisional semifinal game, while the 2nd and 3rd seeds meet in the other. The next round are the Eastern Division and Western Division champions. The divisional champions then meet in the Champions Cup final for the league title.

Each year, the league holds a mid-season All Star Game between two teams representing the Eastern and Western divisions.

Current teams

Expansion and Relocation

NLL commissioner Jim Jennings' ambitious plan for expansion includes 24 teams and possibly a 20-game schedule by 2011. He says that Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipegmarker "are the front-runners for expansion in Canada."

In July 2007, the Vancouver Ravens were conditionally approved for a 2008 return; the conditions included selling at least 2,500 season tickets and finding a suitable arena lease by July 19, 2007. On July 16, 2007, the Vancouver Ravens announced an agreement with Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment to make General Motors Placemarker the home venue of the Ravens, if they are able to meet the season ticket sales requirement. However, just a few days later, the NLL announced that the Ravens would not play in the 2008 season.

A number of cities and potential ownership groups have expressed interest in expansion franchises:

On June 17, 2009, the San Jose Stealth announced they were moving to Everett, Washingtonmarker for the 2010 season, where the newly-renamed Washington Stealth would play their home games at the Comcast Arena at Everettmarker.

On August 10, 2009, the New York Titans announced the teams move to Orlando to become the Orlando Titans.

Media coverage

In 2007, the NLL had a regularly scheduled "Game of the Week" on Versus, the network formerly known as OLN and home of the IRL Indycar Series, NHL, Tour de France, and PBR. For the 2008 season, due to dispute between the Professional Lacrosse Players' Association and the NLL owners in completing the collective bargaining agreement, the "Game of the Week" on Versus was cancelled. Previously, the NLL has had its All-Star Games and Championship games on National TV, with NBC in 2005 and ESPN2 in 2006. In the early 2000s, CNN Sports Illustrated aired NLL games regularly.

Also in 2007, the NLL signed an agreement with Sirius Satellite Radio, who has been named "Official Satellite Radio Partner". The pact includes a "Game of the Week" as well as weekly highlight show.

For the 2009 season, the NLL streamed every game live on the league and team websites for free.

Video games

In May 2001, Blast Lacrosse, a video game based on the NLL, was released. It was the first lacrosse video game ever and included all nine teams of their 15th season, including mascots.

On February 15, 2005, the NLL announced that Activision would produce a new video game. The game was slated to be released for the 2007 season. In an online chat held on with commissioner Jim Jennings, it was noted that the game will be out in 2009.

Player origin

Although 8 of the league's 11 teams are American, over 75% of the players are Canadianmarker. Approximately half of the league's players live within 75 miles (125 kilometres) of Toronto.

The remainder of the players are either Americanmarker or Iroquois, with a select few Europeans and Australians.


See also


External links

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