In about one week, the lacrosse World Championships will start in San Diego. The PLL has a built-in break in the season schedule for international play, but the impact may be felt a little sooner than expected. Over the last 24 hours, it's becoming a hot button issue for players and the league alike.
According to multiple sources, some PLL players who are members of national teams that will compete in San Diego have asked to step into back up roles or be given a week off their club’s active roster in order to recover and prepare, while also not risking injury, prior to next week’s World Championships. Some players have said sitting out would mean punishment from the league, though the PLL has denied this is the case.
A communication went out to national team players who sought to be backups or inactive for week three informing them of potential league consequences should they not play. Some players have considered forcing the league’s hand and resting anyway, daring the league to take action.
World Championship’s occur every four years (in this case, five years due to a COVID delay). While there is no PLL precedent for this situation, prior to the last World Championship in 2018, which took place in Netanya, some members of Team USA did take the week prior to competition off from their MLL clubs to get healthy and be fit for the tournament. The MLL as a league did not break for Netanya; MLL teams played their games without their national team players. The competition in San Diego is the best on the globe, and the fact that it occurs every four years means the window players have to compete is, in many cases, just one competition.
"This is the first time pro lacrosse has taken time off for the World Lacrosse Championship. The PLL entered into a partnership with World Lacrosse to adjust our schedule in the best interest of our players and the sport as a whole. In previous years, for example, MLL overlapped with the World Games, and historically the NHL and MLB have prohibited their players from international competition in-season.
The players are a core part of our mission and we have worked with them this off-season to ensure the appropriate rest, transportation and additional means that will satisfy their ability to play," said a PLL spokesperson.
From a player perspective, it’s the most special opportunity in the sport. Wearing the colors of their country, they battle to earn a spot on the most highly competitive rosters in the world and take home a gold medal, the pinnacle of competition. Jeopardizing that opportunity for a game early in the regular season is a difficult proposition. Should a player take the field and be hurt, even with an injury minor enough to sideline them for 10 days or so, or otherwise impact their ability to be 100% for the World Championships, they may lose their chance to compete at their best for their country in San Diego. Missing out on the chance for gold for a regular season injury that might ultimately even be minor means possibly the end of an international opportunity, which is tough to face. There is constant discussion about how much talent and how many stars the league has, perhaps let some of that talent shine for a week that might be in the shadow of bigger stars other weeks.
From the league perspective, these players are under contract. If they are healthy and able, they should be in the lineup. These are the very best of the best if they are headed to San Diego. They give their club the best chance to win when they are on the field. Moreover, a growing criticism of other leagues, particularly the NBA, has been on load management and healthy players resting or asking for days off. Fans buy tickets to see the stars play, and the stars not being in the lineup when they are healthy enough to play leads to unhappy fans. That compounds in a touring league where the stars are in town just one weekend each year. The league built in a break in the schedule for this already and it's been known for some time. Players are under contract, being paid much more than in the MLL days and the sport is in a much more elevated, professional place. Expecting healthy players to be on the field in Columbus, particularly when a break already was built into the schedule, isn't unreasonable.
As lineups come out this week, who is in and who is out will be something to watch, as will adjustments to the lineup as the week goes on.