MLL Commissioner Sandy Brown Sounds Off on League's Changes


Sandy Brown said "select teams" will relocate, but he could not comment on which ones.

An oft-repeated theme in the landscape of professional lacrosse is “change,” and Major League Lacrosse is no exception. For the second offseason in a row, the league is undergoing drastic changes.

After altering the schedule to rid itself of overlaps with the NLL and NCAA seasons, as well as the contraction of three teams prior to the 2019 season, the league announced a “unified ownership group” in a release last week. The announcement came after a Bill Wagner report in the Capital Gazzette that Brendan Kelly was ceding ownership of the Chesapeake Bayhawks back to MLL because the league is moving to a single-entity model, taking ownership of all six teams.

The news was the result of a meeting held Friday, Jan. 10, but MLL Commissioner Sandy Brown said there had previously been discussion about the possibility of a single-entity structure.

“We’ve been talking about it for a while,” Brown told US Lacrosse Magazine. “I think it streamlines what we’re trying to do going forward. Operationally, it makes it a lot easier under the current construct.”

According to Wagner’s story, Kelly said part of the reason he would no longer be the team’s owner under the new league structure was because it “turns me into an investor and board member as opposed to an owner, and that is just not in my competitive nature.” Inside Lacrosse reported that Atlanta Blaze owner Andre Gudger would also no longer be an owner in the league.

Despite the concerns about the structure from various individuals around the league, not everyone is opposed to the single-entity model. Owners of the Boston Cannons and New York Lizards support the move, according to Wagner, and that support is echoed by Boston Cannons head coach Sean Quirk.

“It took some time for me to understand it and hear from my front office what that meant, not just for today or tomorrow or this season, but what the MLL has in store for the next years,” Quirk said. “It makes a lot of sense to me, what their business plan is and being sustainable. It makes a lot of sense in the long term. They’re not just thinking about this season. They’re thinking big plan and big picture. That’s exciting.”

The Dallas Rattlers and Denver Outlaws also have ownership situations that are up-in-the-air. In October, it was reported that Jim Davis stepped down as owner of the Rattlers,l and the team shut down all front office operations; there were rumors the league was looking into new ownership for the team, but no news was ever confirmed. As for the Outlaws, the Capital Gazette reported the Bowlen family was restructuring its sports holdings. Brown said he could not comment on what the roles of front office officials from other teams would look like under the new model.

The MLL press release also indicated the league’s plan was to relocate “select teams.” Brown said he could not give any information on which teams would be relocated or to where, but it appears the Blaze are one of those teams. Head coach Liam Banks announced on social media that he was stepping down as the team’s coach. In that message, he wrote, “As the Blaze moves to a new city I hope the fans in their new home realize what a special team they have coming.”

Chris Jastrzembski of College Crosse reported on Twitter that the Blaze would move to Philadelphia.

Banks isn’t the only coach on his way out. The Bayhawks announced Dave Cottle was stepping down as both head coach and general manager of the team. Chesapeake assistant Tom Mariano was named the team’s head coach. MLL Director of Marketing Carrie Gamper said the league was not ready to announce who would replace Cottle as the general manager. That leaves Quirk, at five seasons, as the longest tenured head coach in the league.

“A lot of these guys have been in the league for a long time, particularly Coach Cottle,” Quirk said. “Guys like him, Tony Seaman, Joe Spallina was in New York for a long time. With anything, change comes. When I first got into the league, I was the new guy. This is my fifth year, and I’m one of the more tenured coaches. It is interesting to see. Coach Cottle, he is a great friend of mine and a guy I’ve learned a great deal from, and I will miss competing against him.”

Quirk is remaining with the Cannons, and he said Hale is, too. He also said the Cannons would continue to play at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Quincy, Mass. With a seemingly stable situation, Quirk said it helps keep his players positive and optimistic. He said he has communicated with the Boston players, and they were fired up for the 2020 season.

“Especially after this season, we had a really tight group, a great group,” Quirk said. “These guys are so invested, and they care. I can’t speak about the other teams, but there’s no turmoil or animosity or doubt with our guys. They’re asking when training camp is and if there are any new guys. It’s been really positive.”

As for when the season starts, MLL announced its 20th season would start May 30. Brown said the league received positive feedback regarding the later start date, but the number of bye weeks wasn’t ideal. He said the schedule would be “tighter than last year.”

Inside Lacrosse first reported the 2020 season would be 10 weeks long, and Quirk said he would be glad to not have a schedule similar to 2019 when the Cannons played the Blaze in back-to-back weekends, three times in four weekends, and four times overall.

“What I gather is we’ll do a home and away,” he said. “I think the way the schedule is set up is phenomenal. There will be fewer games and because it is condensed, it will be ultra-competitive to get that last playoff spot.”

After Florida, Ohio, and Charlotte ceased operations prior to the 2019 season, the message was that the league wanted to have one owner per team. Now, the league will own the teams. The schedule will look vastly different for the third consecutive season, and teams will be on the move (the Blaze had played only four seasons in Atlanta and had just moved to a new stadium last season).

With numerous changes in professional lacrosse, however, Brown said it was important for the league to continue to evolve.

“To paraphrase my late former boss, [former NBA commissioner] David Stern, we’re always learning,” Brown said. “We have a 20-year legacy and are operating with a series of a very loyal fan bases and the communities which we serve. Our focus is to continue building that. Our ambitions are to be in a number of different markets. The interest level and participation growth warrants that.”

“We’ve made some very big changes for our league and players, and we’re going to continue to do that,” Brown added. “We have to be smart about how we manage our business.”

Brown said the league was working “24-7” to get the 2020 season up and running, and while he could not give specifics, he said more news would follow, including protected rosters and an upcoming supplemental draft.

“There’s going to be a lot more announcements going forward as we move things in the right direction,” he said. “They will be positive announcements. There’s a lot of busy work to get a season up and running. That’s what we’re doing.”

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