Professional outdoor lacrosse is coming to Annapolis later this month for a unique event shaped by the coronavirus pandemic.
Major League Lacrosse has scheduled a championship tournament to be held at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium July 18-26. A total of 150 players representing the six MLL teams will convene in Annapolis for 18 games over eight days.
Due to current Maryland guidelines governing large crowds, no fans will be allowed into Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium throughout the tournament. Mark Burdett, chief revenue officer for Major League Lacrosse, confirmed the plan and noted it has been approved by government officials in Maryland and Anne Arundel County.
Burdett, a lifelong Annapolis resident who also serves as president of the Chesapeake Bayhawks and Philadelphia Barrage, was pleased MLL was able to find a solution to competing during the pandemic.
“It’s exciting that we will be coming together to play lacrosse and crown a 2020 champion,” he said. “Everyone involved with MLL is happy this won’t be a lost season. We expect this tournament to feature a fun, collegial atmosphere. There will be a lot of positive energy.”
Burdett said MLL is implementing numerous safety precautions, beginning with having all players tested in advance of the tournament. All 150 players along with coaches and support personnel will stay at The Westin Hotel, which is located less than a mile from Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“We are bringing an eight-day professional lacrosse festival to Annapolis and the economic benefit to the city should be impactful,” Burdett said.
Players will dress at The Westin then bus to the stadium for games, going directly onto the field upon arrival. Following each game, both teams will bus separately back to the hotel. As a result, there will be no need to use the locker rooms at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“All the recommended safety protocols will be in place and we will have constant medical supervision,” Burdett said.
Burdett said a majority of the players will drive to Annapolis in their own vehicles. If a player shows symptoms of the coronavirus or tests positive, they will be quarantined.
There is a possibility the benches for each team will be on opposite sides of the stadium to promote social distancing. Normally in lacrosse, both teams are positioned along the same sideline and share a substitution box.
Cascade, a lacrosse equipment manufacturer and MLL sponsor, is creating helmets with visors to provide the face coverings recommended to combat the coronavirus. Coaches and support personnel on the sidelines will all wear masks.
The Premier Lacrosse League had previously announced a quarantined tournament that will begin July 25. A total of 20 games will be played over 16 days at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah.
“We feel good that we’re going to beat the PLL to the punch,” Burdett said.
ESPN has agreed to provide live coverage of the MLL Tournament with games being broadcast on the network’s platforms. Burdett has been told the championship game will be on either ESPN or ESPN2.
“This is a chance for Major League Lacrosse to get the support and promotion of ESPN, which is significant,” said Burdett, who expects most games to be televised on ESPN and ESPN2 or streamed on ESPN+.
“Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is a television-ready venue and that was a critical component. ESPN can come there, plug in and play. It was important to select a stadium that can accommodate the ESPN production requirements,” Burdett added.
MLL is also planning to put together a feature documentary that provides behind-the-scenes looks.
Players and coaches will begin a two-day training camp July 16-17 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Tournament action will get underway July 18 with a triple-header.
All six teams (Bayhawks, Barrage, Boston Cannons, Connecticut Hammerheads, Denver Outlaws and New York Lizards) will play five games during the round-robin portion, which will conclude July 24.
Two teams will be eliminated based on won-loss record with the semifinals being held July 25 and the championship game the next day.
MLL normally allows teams to travel 21 players and dress 19. For this tournament, teams will be allowed to travel 25 players and dress them all.
“Players had better be in tip-top shape because it is going to be a whirlwind,” Chesapeake Bayhawks general manager and head coach Tom Mariano said. “If you reach the championship, you are playing seven games in eight days. That’s a real grind. Fortunately, all six teams are on equal footing on that front.”
Mariano has stayed in touch with the players under contract with the Bayhawks and thinks they see the tournament format as a positive step. He says having the tournament in Annapolis is “icing on the cake.”
The Bayhawks have 47 players under contract. Mariano admitted it will be challenging to pare to the 25-man roster.
“Nailing down those last seven or eight spots will be brutal,” he said. “There will be some very tough decisions.”
Step one for Mariano and other general managers involves polling players to find out which ones can commit to spending 10 days in Annapolis. There are a couple Bayhawks players who have already stated they cannot participate.
“One interesting dynamic about this tournament is how players can make this work with their jobs and families,” Mariano admitted.
MLL players were involved in the decision making. Annapolis native Brian Phipps represents the Bayhawks on the MLL Player Council, which voted to support the plan.
“We’ve had an ongoing discussion with the commissioner since the middle of March. We expressed the various concerns of players and the MLL leadership addressed those,” Phipps said. “Once all the boxes were checked and Options A, B and C were presented, we agreed with making it work. It all came down to us wanting to play and have some sort of season.”
Phipps admits the format that calls for teams to play at least five games in six days is grueling and likened it to the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships.
“It’s definitely not ideal, but we’ll take what we can get. I think most of the guys just want to play some lacrosse,” said Phipps, a Severn School and Maryland product who was starting goalkeeper on Chesapeake’s 2019 championship team. “This will be something different and exciting. I’m all for it.”
Major League Lacrosse Tournament Schedule
(All games at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium)
Philadelphia Barrage vs. Chesapeake Bayhawks, noon
New York Lizards vs. Boston Cannons, 3 p.m.
Connecticut Hammerheads vs. Denver Outlaws, 6 p.m.
Chesapeake Bayhawks vs. New York Lizards, 3 p.m.
Denver Outlaws vs. Philadelphia Barrage, 6 p.m.
Boston Cannons vs. Chesapeake Bayhawks, 3 p.m.
Philadelphia Barrage vs. Connecticut Hammerheads, 6 p.m.
Philadelphia Barrage vs. Boston Cannons, 3 p.m.
Denver Outlaws vs. New York Lizards, 6 p.m.
Connecticut Hammerheads vs. New York Lizards, 3
Chesapeake Bayhawks vs. Denver Outlaws, 6
Boston Cannons vs. Connecticut Hammerheads, 3 p.m.
New York Lizards vs. Philadelphia Barrage, 6 p.m.
Connecticut Hammerheads vs. Chesapeake Bayhawks, 3 p.m.
Denver Outlaws vs. Boston Cannons, 6 p.m.
No. 4 seed vs. No. 1 seed, 3 p.m.
No. 3 seed vs. No. 2 seed, 6 p.m.
Semifinal winners, noon