When the coronavirus pandemic put the National Lacrosse League season on hold in March the San Diego Seals were arguably the hottest team in the league. Winners of five out of six games, the latest a 19-6 dismantling of Rochester, it looked like the Seals were on their way to a deep playoff run.
Alas that is not going to happen. In April the NLL canceled the rest of the regular season but hoped to return for the post-season. On Thursday the league announced that's not going to happen either, officially canceling any remaining games and shifting its focus to next season.
After weighing all the factors involved, including arena availability, bringing players back from other countries, and most importantly the health and safety of players and coaches, the NLL determined it is simply not feasible to try and finish the year.
"We talked about a 12 team playoff, we talked about an eight team playoff, we even talked about a four team playoff," says Seals President Steve Govett.
The league kicked about a multitude of ideas, including a scenario much like the NBA and NHL where all the teams gather in one spot and play without fans.
"We got two proposals, actually, from Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut where we could have housed our players and worked on it from that perspective. Also Las Vegas and MGM gave us a proposal and we talked about that," says Govett. "We talked about about concepts in Canada. The challenge continued to be the quarantine process and the ability to play the number of games we thought we needed to play."
More than half the players in the NLL are Canadian. With the borders closed other than essential work it simply became too much of a logistical dilemma to put a tournament together.
"(Our Canadian players) are on P1 Visas to work in the United States and Canada. We would be hard-pressed to explain that indoor lacrosse is essential," says Govett.
This will be the first time in the NLL's 34 seasons that it will not crown a champion. The good news is the league feels it's on solid financial footing and does not anticipate any franchises folding. In fact, they still have their eyes on growing.
"There's a lot of people that are knocking on our door, even in this particular scenario of COVID, and I know there are markets we're really excited about," sayd Govett. "We're at 13 teams today. We're well on our way to 16 teams and focused on 20 to 24 as the next step."
That is a testament to people like Seals owner Joseph Tsai showing a commitment to both the game and the city of San Diego. During the COVID-19 outbreak Tsai and the Seals have donated nearly $2 million-worth of personal protective equipment to San Diego area health care workers.
"We have a very committed owner with a long-term view of capital who loves this market, loves our game, who wants to continue to grow the game in the city of San Diego," says Govett. "We have a responsibility to this market because the team itself belongs to the fans."
The National Lacrosse League still plans to hold its amateur draft over the summer and welcome fans back to Pechanga Arena San Diego, whenever it's safe to do so.