BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) While the NBA, NHL, and MLB are still figuring out how they return to action in the wake of the Coronavirus, the Premier Lacrosse League this week became the first professional team sports league in North America to announce an official plan to resume play.
"I think everybody's kinda champing at the bit right now to play and just get out and also just social interaction with other people," said UVM men's lacrosse assistant and PLL Whipsnakes midfielder Jake Bernhardt.
"Trying to find a net to go shoot on and stuff now that we know we're playing so it's fun to have a goal to really work towards now," added 2018 UVM alumnus and member of the PLL's Archers, Ian MacKay.
If you are a casual observer of lacrosse and don't know much about the PLL, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for that. The League played it's inaugural season just last year, after lacrosse superstar Paul Rabil led a group of players that broke away from the more established Major League Lacrosse, and that group included the pair of familiar faces to those of us in Catamount Country.
"I was very fortunate to be able to play post-collegiately," Bernhardt, a Maryland alumnus, said. "The MLL was the only thing available at the time but that being said, you know guys are always looking for a little bit more and how we can make this thing better."
"Just the professionalism of the (PLL), when you're flying, when you show up that weekend, hotels, meals, equipment, whatever it is. It's been first class through and through," MacKay added.
It's not common for players to get to compete against their former coaches, but that its the case for MacKay and Bernhardt.
"Played against him in the World Games, in the MLL, and now in the PLL so there's been a few teams that we got to strap up against each other," MacKay said. "He's a pretty chirpy guy out there, he likes to get in your face and let you know when you mess up so it makes it fun."
"It's just a great opportunity to represent our school and showcase the ability that comes out of here," Bernhardt added.
Now when the PLL started last year, in addition to its national TV deal with NBC, it introduced an entirely new travel and scheduling model: rather than having individual teams placed in cities, all six of the league's teams travel to one location every week, never making more than 2 stops in the same city and perhaps generating a little more urgency for fans to come out and see the best players in the world.
"Me being a Canadian guy, it's cool to travel to all these different cities that I wouldn't have ever gone to otherwise," MacKay said.
"They're always trying to think outside the box and I think that's the most important thing and why basically the PLL was created," Bernhardt added.
Obviously with the coronavirus, a touring model isn't practical this year. So what the PLL will do instead is bring all of its players, coaches, medical personnel and the broadcast crew to one location, isolate them there, test regularly, and play 20 games total between July 25th and August 9th to crown their 2020 champion.
"There's gonna be 7 teams trying to beat each other up for three weeks straight all on the same campus so we'll have to be friends all for a little while but I'm really excited to have a set date and a plan of attack," MacKay said.
The league says they have been in communication with government officials to make sure they won't be taking tests away from the general public. It's still not an ideal situation, but MacKay and Bernhardt say it could be huge for the league and the sport to get their product on national television while more established leagues are still shut down.
"I think people are just craving for sports in general right now and I think the opportunity that we have in front of us is something and a window that we can't pass up," Bernhardt said.
Now there are still details to be hammered out: the PLL has not announced where this tournament will take place or what protocols players will be expected to follow before they show up. But in any event, it's an encouraging sign that the sports world may be starting to return to some semblance of normalcy after two months that have been anything but.