Once again the league will play with six franchises: Denver Outlaws, Chicago Machine, Long Island Lizards, Toronto Nationals, Washington Bayhawks, and Boston Cannons. However, the addition of two NCAA division one lacrosse programs in the next two years (Jacksonville 2010; Mercer 2011) and the major influx of NCAA division two and three programs suggests that the market may be able to support ten professional field teams once again in the near future. High school programs are popping up all over the place and interest in our local programs continues to grow. Increased talent in the MCLA ranks (see Martin, Connor) suggests that more and more MLL quality players will be available as well.
A recent discovery (thanks 412 Lax!) of the efforts being made to bring a MLL franchise to Pittsburgh got me thinking about the league renewing their expansion efforts. Since four (technically five) franchises were contracted last year, would those teams be relocated or reactivated? Would the "new" teams receive the history of the old? Where would these teams play - not just the city, but the field as well? Should high school grounds be sought out? What about small college stadiums? Professional soccer or football fields? How much growth would the league expect annually? How many teams would the league reach before stopping?
While I do not pretend to have all of the answers, here are my thoughts on bringing the MLL up to the standards of a true professional league (at least in regards to the number of teams). Sure there are other things to look at like ownership groups, player allocations, salaries, etc. But for the purposes of this blog I am focusing solely on where the league should expand. For a taste of that other stuff, check out this part of my "Fixing Lacrosse" series. In the meantime, have fun with my suggestions - some will have logos, most will not.
2011 - Eight Teams
1. LA Riptide - I was completely shocked when this franchise folded. Not only is LA a critical market (unless you are the NFL), but the team seemed fairly popular. Drawing from the strong Orange County and Los Angeles area lacrosse base, the team seemed poised to do great things. With California-transplant, Nike endorsee, and all around fan favorite Kyle Harrison on the roster, the Riptide seemed secure to return last season. AEG was probably the most high profile and stable of the league's owners; why they decided to close the doors is still beyond my comprehension. Perhaps it was the economy as many claim. Now that that mess is settling down, expect the Riptide to be among the first of the folded teams to return to duty. They will once again play at the Home Depot Center.
2. Pittsburgh Pride - New Jersey's departure was not nearly as shocking as its location. As big of a hotbed as that part of New Jersey may be, it is not an ideal location for a major league sports franchise. With a strong MCLA club at Pitt, a rising NCAA D1 program at Robert Morris, and a growing high school scene, a professional lax team makes sense.
The reborn Pride make the natural move to Steel City and make their debut at the Peterson Sports Complex Soccer Stadium. Additional seating will have to be temporarily added to accomodate the fans. When the Riverhounds' new soccer stadium is completed, the team would move there.
The Pride logo will only undergo slight modifications to better fit the city's strong sports heritage. Although not done to the example at left, the mane and eye would incorporate blue rather than red, and a more suitable gold would be used as trim. If I was smarter and/or had the appropriate program I would demonstrate...
The return of these franchises would bring the league back up to a suitable number of teams. They would split back into two divisions with the Riptide, Outlaws, Machine, and Pride in the West. The Lizards, Cannons, Nationals, and Bayhawks would represent the East. The top two teams from each division qualify for the playoffs; East #1 play West #2 and vice versa.