Chris Hogan has left lacrosse. One league has given him and others a way back.
In high school, Chris Hogan saw no way forward in lacrosse.
He played three years at Penn State, but as he approached his senior year he had a decision to make; try to continue playing lacrosse or pursue a career in football.
Hogan ended up with a professional football career spanning nearly a decade and two Super Bowls. At the end of his NFL run, an opportunity that didn’t exist when he was in college suddenly became an option.
The Premier Lacrosse League, a league operating under a touring model that plays in stadiums across North America, is barely entering its third season, but has already rocked the sport. After two seasons, including a bubble during the pandemic, the PLL absorbed the 20-year-old Major League Lacrosse this winter.
By becoming the only option for professional outdoor lacrosse, the PLL plans to build on the league tradition and history it has absorbed while focusing on its player-centric model for success. in a way that MLL never did.
This has made league and professional lacrosse an attractive option for professional athletes.
“Playing professional lacrosse was not on my radar,” said Hogan, now in the Cannons roster in his first season in the league. “PLL continues to grow as much as it is, guys are really going to start making that decision. This will make the decision difficult and that is a good thing.
Dalton Crossan had spent two years in the NFL at Colts and Buccaneers training camps before a stint in the Canadian Football League. As soon as he was ready to quit football, he knew the PLL was his next move.
Originally from Long Island, Crossan played lacrosse in high school and had several friends in the PLL who encouraged him to try for a team. He intended to create a list in 2020 before the pandemic took hold and decided to give it more time.
“When I made the decision, I went all-in,” he said. “I was away from football and missed playing competitively on the pitch. I started to think about it seriously and talked to my parents and family and thought it might be something that I wanted to try.
Crossan hadn’t played the sport competitively since high school. He went to play football at the University of New Hampshire and for years believed he had finished lacrosse.
Hogan followed a similar path, but with more success in the NFL. He didn’t expect to play lacrosse again at a high level after leaving Penn State, although he remained involved in the sport in other ways. He invested in the PLL when it was launched and started to think about trying it out on the pitch when he knew his football career was coming to an end.
“In the back of my mind a few years ago I thought this would be a great opportunity,” Hogan said. “I feel healthy physically, I feel good right now. I thought, why not go back to a sport that I haven’t done in a while, but still really love.
Lacrosse has long been a secondary passion for many elite athletes. NFL Hall of Fame Jim Brown dominated the sport in Syracuse, and Stanley Cup winner Joe Nieuwendyk and NHL legend Wayne Gretzky were strong in the indoor game.
Since the inception of professional sports, however, lacrosse has not been a viable option as a primary career path for athletes of two sports. Instead, athletes would pursue major league versions of other sports for higher wages.
PLL salaries are still not in the same neighborhood as the NHL, with an average of $ 35,000 for the 2021 season, according to the league. MLL’s average salary during his final season was $ 8,000. The PLL has attempted to entice potential players to join the league by offering league action and a player-focused platform, which is unusual in professional men’s sports.
The league was born out of labor disputes with Major League Lacrosse. League founder Paul Rabil – who still plays in the league – aimed to make professional lacrosse a legitimate platform in the sports world.
“In 2017, we were hoping to be able to invest in MLL, and it could be done in a number of ways,” said Rabil, who led the league merger in December. “We wanted to rebuild and deconstruct Major League Lacrosse, then decided to go down that more disruptive path that kicked off a competing league. “
The risk has paid off in a way that it usually isn’t. Almost every legacy league has swallowed up its competition; the NHL has beaten the World Hockey Association, the NBA has absorbed the American Basketball Association, even the old AFL and NFL and the American League and National Leagues have merged. This time, the PLL brand won.
The PLL held the media rights deal with NBC, which professional lacrosse never had. Its predecessor had sporadically streamed games to ESPN2 over the years, but most of its games over the past five years were behind online payment walls.
Accessibility to sport at the professional level changed the conversation, which took lacrosse to a new level of becoming a competitive sport, if not major, to attract the best athletes.
“If you are in a position where you decide, you are already one of the elite athletes in the world,” Hogan said. “I think the guys are going to really think about it. It will help the sport.
Years out of the competition, Hogan had no guarantee he would stand a chance at a team when he declared himself for the league this season. The league’s first event of the year took place at Gillette Stadium, Hogan’s former football home with the New England Patriots.
He and Crossan feel they can use the lessons they’ve learned from the professionalism of the NFL to raise the profile of the league.
“Much like a league, they’re incredibly impressive,” Crossan said. “I think the professionalism compares to all the major leagues. In my opinion, there has never been so much enthusiasm around lacrosse.
This does not mean that there are no challenges yet; Professional lacrosse has been around North America since the 1970s, but only the 2001-2020 MLL race was a successful outdoor option. Roadblocks existed in part because of a lack of resources, but growing pains also arose because the sport has not yet entered the mainstream.
Without the MLL as a competitive option and a divide in professional play, all the pressure is on the PLL to carry the weight of representing the whole sport. It’s only been two full seasons, including one that was heavily overrun by the coronavirus pandemic, which rocked many medium to small professional leagues that have been around much longer.
So far, the league has taken it in stride, raised its profile and swallowed the competition. Some of the top athletes from other sports who have applauded the success of lacrosse from afar have looked for ways to get involved, now also on the court.
They hope not only to be successful with their new teams, but also to help guide the league into a stronger traditional lacrosse era than it has ever existed.
“The caliber of players in this league are the best in the world,” said Hogan. “I think that’s what’s so exciting about this sport. Every team is filled with All-Americans, guys who won championships, guys who won indoors. The talent from top to bottom, competing with these guys is going to be amazing. “