To continue to exist, the league will need to develop and maintain the best players possible. Pay will be a huge factor; salaries will need to shoot up drastically from the $13,000 average in order to keep players interested. Phase 1 addressed the league's finances, but the door is still open for other creative solutions.
Although the leagues currently compete against each other, partnering with the National Lacrosse League is a surefire way to build up professional lacrosse salaries. Some may scoff at this idea, but one only needs to look at the Toronto Rock and its extensive promotion of the recently announced Toronto Nationals team to see that a collaboration is possible. Angela Batinovich, the owner of the Portland LumberJax, has been trying to land a MLL team and even hosted the Philadelphia Barrage during their nationwide tour last year. This type of cooperation and/or co-ownership should be the standard rather than the exception in professional lacrosse.
My vision is that the MLL and NLL schedules do not overlap at all. In fact, there should be at least a month between the championship of one league and the opening games of the other. All rostered MLL players would be encouraged to play in the NLL. Ideally, the NLL would have two or three regional teams per MLL team so players could remain in one area. This would cut travel costs and anchor the player as a member of the local sports community. Players could hone their abilities in the indoor league and apply them to the outdoor game. The NLL experience would allow more players the chance to play professional lacrosse and increase the scouting of players from outside of the NCAA for the field game. That is not to say that the NLL would be a minor or developmental league at all; it would continue to serve as the indoor professional league.
Along with keeping players active in the NLL, adding a minor and developmental league system could be a good move for the MLL. At first this would be a smaller venture which focuses more on the developmental side than the true "minor league" concept. I envision it being constructed similar to the American soccer pyramid. Smaller and emerging lacrosse markets would field teams of MCLA, NCAA DII & DIII, and amateur players with a focus on improving their abilities in the "Developmental Lacrosse League." The coaches would be paid professionals and the players would receive the same benefits as their peers in soccer's Premier Development League. They are not paid to play and retain their college eligibility. Age restrictions would be enforced as they are in the PDL. DLL rosters would be comprised of regional players as much as possible but would include restrictions on the number of players per college program allowed on the roster (three players per school on a 20 player roster).
The DLL is not designed to replace the various amateur men's leagues around the nation. Its relationship with the current adult leagues would be similar to the relationship between the United States Adult Soccer Association and the PDL. The PDL sits higher than the USASA on the pyramid due to the professional coaching available to the experienced players with professional aspirations. Just as some PDL clubs are maintained by Major League Soccer and United Soccer Leagues teams, DLL teams could be maintained by MLL and NLL teams (although professional and contracted players would not be eligible for DLL play).
A few years down the road (as lacrosse participation in general grows - think 2025), the next step would be the implementation of a "Lacrosse Minor League." Unlike Minor League Baseball and the American Hockey League, the LML would not serve as a direct feeder to affiliated teams in the MLL with players going back and forth between the teams. Instead it would function like the Arena Football 2 and USL which contract their players for full seasons (the USL can loan or sell players to MLS clubs on specified dates, but players cannot go between the leagues regularly). This allows players on NLL rosters to continue to develop their field skills for a shot at joining the MLL in future seasons as well as to increase their playing time in the NLL. It also provides a chance for skilled players to continue playing the field game semi-professionally once they no longer meet the DLL criteria. Like most minor leagues, players would receive significantly smaller salaries than their MLL counterparts. Potentially, the LML could field twice as many teams as the MLL.
Establishing multiple levels of adult lacrosse means that a pyramid system would need to be devised (although the NLL and other box lacrosse leagues would be separate). It also provides for an cup competition open to teams from all levels of play, similar to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup in soccer. Such a competition could boost participation and interest on a grand scale. MLL and possibly LML teams would have some automatic qualifications while DLL and the regional amateur leagues would have qualification tournaments. The cup would take place over the summer season and finish a week before the MLL playoffs. Unlike the LHUSOC, the lacrosse cup would be open to US, Canadian, and Iroquois teams, as would the various leagues.
Proposed North American Lacrosse Pyramid
1. Major League Lacrosse
2. Lacrosse Minor League
4. Developmental Lacrosse League
5. Regional Adult Amateur Lacrosse Leagues