When he first heard that brothers Mike and Paul Rabil planned to start their own lacrosse league, Josh Sims was drawn to their vision of what Premier League Lacrosse could mean for the future of the sport.
Sims, an Annapolis native, Severn School graduate and a two-time NCAA champion with Princeton in the 1990s, had played lacrosse his entire life. When he joined the PLL as its head of lacrosse, he knew it would be a challenge, but the potential to finally transform the sport into a national brand was too enticing.
“I saw the opportunity to get involved with something that I knew I could never pull off on my own and there was a great group of people that were aligned in terms of what we wanted to accomplish,” Sims said on PLL Weekly July 16. “A lot of the changes and things that had frustrated me with the game and the potential of it and not quite realizing that potential — I felt like it could be realized with PLL.”
As head of lacrosse, Sims is responsible for “the product on the field” as he calls it: the players, coaches, officials, medical staff, equipment and anything else on the field or sidelines during games.
The league is unique in that there are no “home” teams. Instead, all six teams travel together to a new city each week to play each other.
“We are setting up our league in a new destination every weekend,” Sims said. “When you say it like that, it does sound kind of daunting and it’s certainly challenging with moving six teams around the country versus one team visiting one team’s home. However, there are also some great economies of scale when you do that in terms of how you leverage resources and how we can put on three games in a weekend and create an enormous environment for fans.”
“There are ways that we benefit from it for sure but there are some ways that are some certain challenges,” he added.
Since the league kicked off in June, Sims has been pleased with not only the lacrosse on the field but the entire PLL operation.
“I think we are our hardest critics, but I think we are still pleased with where we are. I like to listen to our players and what they’re giving in terms of feedback and I like to listen to our audience and our fans,” Sims said. “From our players’ perspective, they have been giving incredible feedback about how energized they are to play, how intense the games are and how competitive they are and how some of the rules tweaks have made the games even more intense than in the past.”
Some of the rule changes PLL employs include a shorter field, a 2-point arc and altered faceoffs to improve the speed of the game.
“Former players that are watching now are watching it all and wish they could be a part of it,” Sims said. “And then you talk to a number of laypeople and fans that are not huge fans of lacrosse and they think we are doing a good job of making this catchy and engaging.”
Faceoffs, in particular, have become a topic of debate across the sport. Some have called for them to be abolished entirely. The PLL considered eliminating the faceoff but decided to change the setup of faceoffs to eliminate long tie-ups that kill the flow of play.
“I think we realize we don’t know what the eventual future of the faceoff will be but what we wanted to do, and I think we have made incredible progress toward, is making the faceoff a faster part of the game and a safer part of the game for athletes,” Sims said, pointing to changes in stick position and ball placement to address the issue.
“I was somebody that may have erred on the side of wondering [if] this isn’t great for the sport and how do we make this something that is not frustrating for somebody that doesn’t understand what the faceoff brings,” Sims continued. “The goal was to increase the pace of play, not to make the faceoff obsolete and right now I think we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the compromise.”
Halfway through the league’s 14-week inaugural season — the PLL All-Star Game was played July 21 in Los Angeles — several players, such as Dundalk, Md., native Kyle Hartzell, who plays for the Atlas, have made names for themselves.
“I am always surprised because it’s a big transition for guys no matter where they come from,” Sims said. “There have always been people that have come out and unexpectedly made impacts. So in that sense, it has become the norm.”
Sims said that while feedback has been positive about the burgeoning sports league, there is still work to be done to make it a mainstay in American sports.
“So far, I really feel like we have made great progress and there’s certainly a long way to go and a long road ahead,” Sims said, “but for getting things off the ground in any startup, it’s always a challenge. It’s just been a real thrill.”
For more from Sims, listen to the full interview here.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Premier Lacrosse League