Major League Lacrosse Merger Affects Local Athletes

New York Lizards goalkeeper Brian Corrigan, a 2013 Westhampton Beach graduate, will be looking to join a new team now that Major League Lacrosse has merged with the Premier Lacrosse League. COURTESY BRIAN CORRIGAN

Brian Corrigan’s lacrosse career hangs in the balance following a merger between Major League Lacrosse and the Premier Lacrosse League, but whatever the outcome, the East Quogue native is excited for the trajectory of the sport.

“I think the move to merge the two leagues will be beneficial in the long run,” the 2013 Westhampton Beach High School graduate and Marist College alumnus said. “We know there are going to be a number of coaches and players whose professional lacrosse careers will end due to the merger, but as a lacrosse fan, the merger has created the Premier Lacrosse League as the focal outdoor lacrosse league that all lacrosse fans can get behind and root for.”

As a result of the merger, which was announced December 16, the two leagues’ subsequent season operations and activities will exist solely under the Premier Lacrosse League, announced by both organizations in a statement. In the coming months, details will be announced regarding the 2021 expansion draft, as well as on how transitioning Major League Lacrosse players may enter the Premier Lacrosse League player pool.

This is information that Corrigan, who was a member of MLL’s New York Lizards, will be waiting for.

“Personally, the merger puts me in a position where my professional lacrosse career is in jeopardy, as well as a 100-plus other MLL players. As of now, the unanswered question for me is if there’s going to be an opportunity — training camps, showcases — for MLL players to make an impression to be signed to the PLL,” he said, adding that his position as a goalie will make the fight for a roster spot that much more difficult. “Most teams only carry two, so my position doesn’t have the luxury of a ton of extras signing PLL contracts.”

Boston Cannons defender Justin Pugal, an Eastport-South Manor graduate, raises the 2019 Major League Lacrosse championship trophy over his head in celebration. PHOTO COURTESY JUSTIN PUGAL

The PLL will also be immediately expanding to include the MLL’s Boston Cannons as the league’s eighth team, under the rebranded name Cannons Lacrosse Club. The roster will be selected entirely through a 2021 expansion draft. Additionally, the PLL will retain the rights to all former MLL teams for future expansion considerations.

Justin Pugal, a member of the 2019 Major League Lacrosse Championship-winning Cannons’ defense, who is a 2015 Eastport-South Manor graduate and Stony Brook University alumnus, said although he was shocked when he first heard the news, he’s “pumped” for what this merger means.

“The sport is moving in the right direction — both leagues had a great following, so for fans to be able to root on all their favorite players in one league, that’s a good sign,” he said. “The goal is to be as big as all the other sports leagues out there, and I think the merger is an important milestone in that.”

While Pugal said he’s thankful for the opportunities he’s had the last two seasons in what he called an “awesome city and atmosphere,” he said he hopes teams can one day find permanent homes, which he saw as one of the advantages of playing for Major League Lacrosse, which had home arenas, compared to the travel style of the Premier Lacrosse League.

“You need a home crowd. We sold out our stadium almost every single game and it was a great place to play,” he said. “But to be able to bring lacrosse all over the United States — to put on a show for people who don’t necessarily get to see lacrosse — is a great part of the PLL and I’m sure that sparks a lot of people’s interest in the sport. It’s just an all-around step in the right direction for lacrosse.”

Corrigan said he’s in awe of what Premier Lacrosse League co-founder Paul Rabil has done, but also finds the tour-based system “disappointing.”

“I think Paul Rabil and the PLL have done an awesome job streaming the games on TV and on other outlets,” he said of the Atlas Lacrosse Club lacrosse player and his organization. “But local lacrosse fans may only be able to attend one to two events for the whole summer, where the MLL was able to create an arena where a young lacrosse fan or player could attend six to eight games a year supporting a team they can affiliate with based off geographical location.”

“Merging the two organizations and removing some of the challenges that athletes, sponsors and fans faced will undoubtedly advance the game forward,” Rabil said in a statement. “This one’s particularly nostalgic for me and a number of PLL players given that we began our careers and played in championship games with MLL prior to the PLL’s launch. Today, and forever, we share in that history and continue to build the future of pro lacrosse together.”

His co-founder and brother, Mike, said the merger puts the game first, and said it will bring the game across every medium, adding that includes to NBC Sports next summer.
Pugal, who coaches the Eastport-South Manor varsity and Rebels Lacrosse Club 2027 teams, said no matter what happens, he’s personally going to continue to grow the sport in any way he can.

“I do my best here on Long Island to spread my knowledge and experience to youth through coaching and training,” he said. “I hope in just two years I inspired or helped younger boys and girls understand or improve their game of lacrosse while also understanding the meaning of the sport.”
The defender said he’s still heartbroken for those who will lose their jobs or the opportunity to play the game they love.

“I know from Boston’s point of view our whole crew worked restlessly to make sure we had enough content for the next year, made sure we shouted out youth teams and also tried to help fans get to know us a little bit better,” Pugal said.

“And for the players, I think it will make everyone just a bit more thirsty — working harder in order to find a spot on a roster — so the competition just got a whole lot better.”

In 2019, Pugal appeared in 13 games for the Cannons and recorded 26 ground balls. In 2020, he played in all five games, totaling seven ground balls and causing four turnovers.

“With eight teams, you can argue that the PLL will be the most concentrated pool of talent from top to bottom in all of sports,” Corrigan said. “Hopefully, as time progresses, more teams can be added with the growth of the game in college and across the country and at the youth and high school levels.”

Joe Spallina, the general manager and former head coach of the three-time Major League Lacrosse championship-winning Lizards, who also led Stony Brook University’s women’s lacrosse to seven America East Conference championships, seven NCAA Tournament second-round berths and two NCAA quarterfinal appearances, said generating revenue played a big part in the merger, and was “relieved” when the announcement was made, calling it “inevitable.”

“[We were] finally figuring out that these leagues had to stop eating each other if we want people from the outside to support the sport,” he said on The Laxworm & Coach Bear Show. “To have all the powers and all the resources working in one direction is something I think is incredible, especially when you have young kids and athletes that we are coaching aspiring to play at the highest level.”
Tom Mariano, general manager and head coach of the six-time Major League Lacrosse champion Chesapeake Bayhawks, and assistant athletic director at Pace University, said players in the original league “hadn’t gotten just deserves.”

“That’s why there is a PLL — players never felt appreciated,” he said on The Laxworm & Coach Bear Show. “There was never a Hall of Fame, no stories told, no individual marketing. Players left because of the vision. We’re here because mistakes were made.”

Corrigan said at the end of the day he’s going to make the best of the situation, and knows he has a long and successful career to look back on, whatever the outcome may be.

He is ranked seventh all-time in the NCAA with 557 total saves and finished with an .850 save percentage and was one of only four goaltenders named to the initial Tewaaraton Award watch list in 2018. The award is lacrosse’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, given to the most outstanding American college lacrosse men’s and women’s players since 2001. Corrigan set a Westhampton Beach career saves record with 476, while his .710 save percentage and 3.6 goals allowed per game as a junior were the best on Long Island.

“As of now, the only way to approach this situation is to be optimistic for the future and grateful for the opportunity to play in the MLL with a ton of great lacrosse players who I’ve become great friends with over the time I’ve spent in the league,” Corrigan said. “Whatever happens, to have the opportunity to continue my career an extra two years so far has been a blessing and the only thing I can do at this point is control what I can control. Regardless, I will say it’s an exciting time for lacrosse.”