Chesapeake Bayhawks president Mark Burdett is confident Major League Lacrosse can start its season by the Fourth of July, and whenever games do start, he’s excited about how the players the team added through the recent MLL Draft will complement the championship core it has in place.
Last year, the Bayhawks began their season June 2, one week after the men’s and women’s national title games took place at the college level. This year, the coronavirus pandemic forced sports all over the globe to hit the pause button, and lacrosse was no different.
The Denver Outlaws have hosted a Fourth of July celebration each of the past 14 seasons that includes a game and fireworks show at Mile High Stadium. Last year, the Outlaws beat the Bayhawks, 14-13, in a game that drew 26,210 fans. Denver is currently scheduled to host the Philadelphia Barrage July 4, and though there’d be no fans in attendance for the game this year, Burdett thinks the holiday marks a logical date to start the season.
“We see it as he who gets to the gate first and gets out of the gate potentially can get an inordinate amount of exposure and eyeballs on their game, and we really need that,” Burdett said on Glenn Clark Radio May 5. “Our game’s great, just not enough people are actually consuming it. So if we’re there on Fourth of July weekend and we’re playing, and the folks like ESPN don’t have a whole lot else going on, we might be able … be right there in prime time and competing. Boy, that would be fun.”
Burdett is confident MLL will be able to hold up without fans because its business model doesn’t normally depend on huge crowds anyway. Burdett said the Bayhawks typically draw 3,000-5,000 fans per game at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, Md., which equates to a gate of about $100,000.
Burdett believes MLL can pull off what NASCAR recently announced it will do: compete without fans. NASCAR will return with three events (two Cup Series races and one Xfinity Series race) at Darlington Raceway May 17-20. The Cup Series event May 17 will be aired on Fox at 3:30 p.m.
“Can we survive without a gate? We can,” Burdett said. “So we can literally do what NASCAR’s doing and say out loud, ‘We’ll play without fans.’ We have one other advantage, and that is that our players and organizations are really nimble, meaning that our players are self-trained and they’re kind of self-packaged, meaning that they pack themselves, they travel themselves, they show up, they practice, they play and they go home to their other lives, other jobs, other scenarios.”
But can players and other essential personnel remain safe in the current environment? Assuming personnel can be tested regularly, the answer, according to Burdett, is yes. He explained that everyone at games will be under contract with the league, allowing MLL to put the proper testing protocols in place to ensure every game is safe. The league doesn’t have the authority to send home a fan who shows up to a game with a fever, Burdett explained.
Burdett says it takes about 100 people to put an MLL game, from players on down to equipment managers.
“That’s not overwhelming,” Burdett said. “We think that with the help of our medical partners, if you will — each team has a medical partner for their doctors and trainers — that they can accomplish that.”
Once play gets underway, Burdett is optimistic the Bayhawks can build off their 2019 MLL championship. Burdett said the bulk of the roster is set to return, including 2019 league MVP Lyle Thompson (46 goals, 27 assists in 2019), championship MVP Steele Stanwick (23 goals, 27 assists) and goalkeeper Brian Phipps (49.54 save percentage).
In addition, the 2020 MLL Draft was held May 4. The Bayhawks selected the following players:
- Yale midfielder Will Weitzel
- Bucknell attackman Will Yorke
- Boston long-stick midfielder Chase Levesque
- Hobart goalkeeper Sam Lucchesi
- Notre Dame long-stick midfielder Pat Aslanian
- Marquette faceoff specialist Luke Anderson
- Towson midfielder Grant Maloof
- Holy Cross attackman Kevin Kodzis
Maloof, a native of Davidsonville, Md., and graduate of South River High School, is the familiar name of the bunch for Baltimore-area lacrosse fans. He posted 47 goals and 17 assists during his Towson career.
“He ended up being the captain of the Tigers and somebody we’re really excited to have. I think they’ve done a great job with that Towson program,” Burdett said. “What we’re seeing coming out of Towson’s program are professional-ready players, and I think Grant represents kind of the hometown good story, if you will.”
Head coach Tom Mariano didn’t think Maloof would be available at the No. 42 pick, according to Burdett, but Mariano is glad he was and likes how the roster has shaped up as a whole.
“I think there is a tradition and a feeling in that locker room that’s unique. I think the guys really like each other and they play hard for each other, and it’s fun to watch,” Burdett said. “The game is so entertaining when you’re seeing [high-scoring games]. You just want to keep that firepower coming, and I think a guy like Grant’s going to add to that.”
For more from Burdett, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Chesapeake Bayhawks