In high school, Chris Hogan does not see a way forward in lacrosse.
He played three years at Penn State, but with his final year approaching, he made a decision; try to continue with lacrosse or to pursue a football career.
Hogan ends up with a nearly decade-long professional football career and two Super Bowls. At the end of his run in the NFL, an opportunity that did not exist when he was in college was suddenly an option.
The Premier Lacrosse League, a league that operates according to a touring model that plays in stadiums across North America, is just starting its third season, but has already shaken the sport. After two seasons, including a bubble during the pandemic, the PLL picked up the 20-year-old Major League Lacrosse this winter.
By becoming the only option for professional outside lacrosse, the PLL plans to build on the history and history of the league he has recorded, while focusing on his player-driven model to succeed in the way MLL never did did not.
This suddenly made the league and pro lacrosse an attractive option for professional athletes.
“Playing professional lacrosse was not on my radar,” said Hogan, who is now in the league on Cannons for the first season. ‘The PLL continues to grow as much as it is, guys are really going to make this decision. This is going to make it a difficult decision and that’s a good thing. ”
Dalton Crossan spent two years in the NFL at Colts and Buccaneers training camps before being in the Canadian Football League. Once he was ready to move on from football, he knew the PLL was his next step.
A Long Island resident, Crossan played lacrosse in high school and had several friends in the PLL who encouraged him to try a team. He planned to crack a timetable in 2020 before the pandemic took hold and decided to give it more time.
“When I make the decision, I go into everything,” he said. ‘I was away from football and missed playing competitively on the field. I seriously thought about it and talked to my parents and family and thought it might be something I want to try. ”
Crossan has not competed in the sport since high school. He went to play football at the University of New Hampshire and for years thought he was done in lacrosse.
Hogan has had a similar path, albeit with more NFL success. He did not expect to play lacrosse at a high level again after leaving Penn State, although he was involved in the sport in other ways. He invested in the PLL with the launch and thought about giving it on the field when he knew his football career was coming to an end.
“I thought in my mind a few years ago that this would be a great opportunity,” Hogan said. “I feel physically healthy, I feel good at the moment. I thought, why not go back to a sport I had not done for a while, but I still like it a lot. ‘
Lacrosse has long been a secondary passion for many elite athletes. NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown dominated the sport in Syracuse and Stanley Cup winner Joe Nieuwendyk and NHL legend Wayne Gretzky were strong in the indoor game.
However, since the advent of professional sports, lacrosse has not been a viable option as the main career for athletes with dual sports. Instead, athletes would practice the higher league versions of other sports for higher salaries.
PLL salaries are still not in the same range as those in the NHL, and are averaging $ 35,000 in the 2021 season. The average MLL salary in his last season was $ 8,000. The PLL has tried to attract prospective players to join the league by offering shares in the league, and a player-driven platform uncommon in men’s pro sports.
The league was originally born out of labor disputes with Major League Lacrosse. The founder of the league, Paul Rabil – who still plays in the league – aimed to make professional lacrosse a legal platform in the sports world.
“In 2017, we were hoping we could invest in MLL, and it could happen in different ways,” said Rabil, who led the merger of the leagues in December. “We wanted to rebuild and deconstruct Major League Lacrosse, and decided to go that route, which was more disruptive and launched a competitive league.”
The risk pays off in a way it usually does not. Almost every legacy league has engulfed its competition; the NHL knocked out the World Hockey Association, the NBA incorporated the American Basketball Association, even the old AFL and NFL and American League and National Leagues merged. This time, the PLL brand won.
The PLL owned the media rights deal with NBC, something it has never had pro lacrosse. Its predecessor has sporadically broadcast games on ESPN2 over the years, but most of its games over the past half-decade have been behind online paywalls.
Accessibility to the sport at the pro level has changed the conversation, enabling Lacrosse to take another step towards becoming a competitive, if not important, sport to attract top athletes.
“If you’re in a position where you decide, you’re already one of the elite athletes in the world,” Hogan said. ‘I think guys are really going to consider it. This is going to help the sport. ”
Hogan has not played competitively for years, and he had no guarantees that he would get a chance at a team when he declared for the league this season. The league’s first event of the year was at Gillette Stadium, Hogan’s former football home with the New England Patriots.
He and Crossan feel they can use the lessons they learned from NFL professionalism to enhance the league’s profile.
“Just as a league, they are incredibly impressive,” Crossan said. ‘I think the professionalism can be compared to all the major leagues. In my opinion, there has never been so much excitement around lacrosse. ”
This is not to say that there are no challenges ahead; pro lacrosse has existed in North America since the 1970s, but only MLL’s runs from 2001 to 2020 were a successful outdoor option. The barriers existed in part due to a lack of resources, but the growing pains also came because the sport had yet to break into the mainstream.
Without MLL as a competitive option and a break in the pro game, all pressure is on the PLL to carry the weight to represent the entire sport. It was just two full seasons left, including one that was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which has shaken many professional leagues that have been around for a long time.
So far, the league has launched it, improved its profile and engulfed the competition. Some of the top athletes in other sports who have encouraged the success of lacrosse from afar have been looking for ways to get involved, even now on the field.
They hope not only to succeed with their new teams, but also to help the league lead to a stronger era of mainstream lacrosse than has ever existed.
“The players of this league are the best in the world,” Hogan said. ‘I think it’s so exciting about this sport. Each team is filled with All-Americans, guys who have won championships, guys who have won inside. The talent from top to bottom, to compete with these guys, is going to be incredible. ”