By Alfred Branch, Jr.

The owners of the 14-team indoor National Lacrosse League, the fast-paced sport also known as “boxed lacrosse,” have cancelled the upcoming season because the league and players’ union could not reach a consensus over a new collective bargaining agreement.

Both sides had been negotiating as recently as this past weekend, but after the executive committee of the Professional Lacrosse Players’ Association reportedly rejected the latest contract proposal by the league on Monday, league officials pulled the plug on the season that was scheduled to begin Dec. 27 and end in April of next year.

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This past season, the league averaged just over 10,200 fans per game, and games are played in converted hockey rinks. Teams averaged gross revenues of about $1.7 million, according to published reports, and player salaries are between $6,000 and $26,000 per season. Games are played on weekends, which allows most players to hold separate careers outside of the league.

The shut down is just the latest example of a league cancelling its season over labor issues. The National Hockey League cancelled its 2004-05 and 1994-95 seasons because owners and the players’ union couldn’t reach an agreement, and critics have said the league has never fully recovered.

“The plan is to take the season off and try to get with the union and negotiate a deal that works for both parties and get back playing in ’09,” NLL commissioner Jim Jennings was quoted as saying. “It’s devastating. We’re in a position right now where we’re just starting to build momentum with our fan base, our teams, with television and sponsors over the last four, five years. We’re not the NHL, not the NBA. … This is going to cause a lot of pain to a lot of people.”

The league has teams in Buffalo, Rochester and New York, NY; Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta; Toronto, ON; Chicago; Boston; Denver; Philadelphia; St. Paul, MN.; Phoenix; Portland, OR; and San Jose, CA. Its television contract with Versus expired at the end of last season.

Dave Succamore, vice president of the players’ association, believes ownership is playing games, partly because the NLL allegedly delayed handing over financial information and refused face-to-face talks since December. “They had no intention to get an agreement. I really think they’re trying to test the mettle of the players and break the union.”
NLL is separate from the eight-team outdoor Major League Lacrosse, which runs from May into August, although many players appear in both leagues.