Gap Between Contenders and Pretenders is Damaging Lacrosse in Canada
Photo: Coquitlam Adanacs Facebook] The Coquitlam Adanacs winning the B.C. Junior A championship again is an example of their dedication to excellence, but is this dominance in B.C. and other provinces good for the overall health of lacrosse?
Another summer of Canadian lacrosse has come down to the nitty-gritty as we get closer to crowning our champions.
Again we saw the flurry of activity just before the playoffs by teams with hierarchy shuffling their decks by raiding the rosters of their lesser competitors. At its highest levels, this is what Canadian lacrosse has become and the smoking gun is pointed directly at our own feet.
I have written about this before and I write about it again because Canadian lacrosse is eroding so we have to ask ourselves why?
Money grabs for poor or lesser teams “renting” their best players each year allows their apathy to go on and on. If they too are not willing to change then the problem remains. We in lacrosse need to get out of our own way!
Established players on some Senior lacrosse doormats are also looking for a payday their regular teams can’t supply so they move along as rental players for “transfer fees” and whatever else they can negotiate. Amateur lacrosse in Canada is a paradox in every sense.
I would like to see Senior A lacrosse return to an amateur level and become more of a place for up and comers to work out their games. This would make a level playing field and make everyone work toward a better existence. Additionally it would spur on localizing each team in Canadian Senior A and Junior A.
Canadian Junior A lacrosse mimics the Senior A system in the “pay to play” for the national championship model.
Organizations with available funds court players they can grab for the playoffs to bolster their rosters in hopes of winning the Minto Cup. What these Junior A teams don't realize is that they've sent a dangerous message to their own lacrosse community. The direct result of this yearly pattern has been an aggressive decline in registration over a decade.
I don't think anyone could've realized what would become of this spend-a-thon when the cash started flowing 20 or more years ago at the Junior A rank. I know some want to disagree. The reality is my thoughts are based in hard core reality. Those who disagree want to win for themselves at the cost of the sport.
Junior lacrosse is where the rules need to change first. Junior lacrosse is the only version of lacrosse that can save box lacrosse in Canada now.
The Junior A circuit covers the most lax communities and serves as the pillar for minor lacrosse associations. Junior players mature in their organization or come from smaller centers close by. From Pee Wee to Junior, these lacrosse communities could use a new blueprint for building better players and hopefully one day a better sport. That would take policing.
It was fashionable as far back as the 1950s for Eastern lacrosse players to come out West to play lacrosse, get set up in a job and enjoy themselves in a West Coast climate. The lure of jobs and free rent or other riches brought them West and often, these players put down roots and never returned East. That is still a trend today and may be impossible to limit.
In the early 1990s, the Six Nations Chiefs raided the roster of the Brampton Excelsiors through some technicality that allowed half their teams to switch sides. This created a “super-team” and there was money behind it.
Out West, a pipeline had developed between Peterborough and New Westminster that provided the Bellies several key players over the years. You can look to most Western success at the Senior “A” level and find eastern roots. The 2015 Victoria Shamrocks won the Mann Cup at home with approximately 65% imported players. Let’s not forget the Burnaby-Alberta brotherhood that helped the Jr. Lakers in their years of supremacy.
I'm not sure when all of the craziness started in Junior A but the landmark deal was when Peterborough made the Shawn Evans deal with the the Six Nations Arrows in the mid-2000s. Since then our junior teams have been going to the flea market every June in search of missing pieces to a Minto run.
The pattern here shows that teams with resources are investing to win while teams without are selling players to survive. The teams without resources are slowly killing themselves and the sport by not organizing and working to build themselves back up.
Lacrosse is mimicking other professional sports that have salary caps or rules in place to temper spending. I believe Canadian lacrosse has created an exclusive model that only those willing to spend can compete in.
Canadian lacrosse registration is at a lowest point that I have known since the mid-1980s in my community. The message that is being sent to our young players is that they don't matter.
The 15 years they gave to our local associations that feed our Junior A teams don't matter. Possibly the service that some of the parents of those players that built our local associations is also being disrespected and told it doesn't matter. One instance will breed discontent.
The truth is that buying players can only work for one team each year and the rest will fail. Several teams fall way short each year. The cost of these failures is more than what exchanges between buyer and seller. The trickle-down effect is hurting our associations and our game and it shows in our pitiful 2019 Canada wide box lacrosse registration numbers.
I remember watching the 1982 Minto Cup when the Peterborough James Gang played our Esquimalt Legion in front of a sold-out arena in a best-of-seven. The rink was packed to the rafters and the Legion were chalk full of local players. I see a direct correlation to community support and community players. Even in Six Nations I’ve been told the Junior “B” Rebels outdraw the Junior “A” Arrows and the Senior Chiefs. The Rebels are almost exclusively locals.
The governance of modern-day box lacrosse has the tool of hindsight to look and see that the game needs help. If winning is the apple of everyone's eye then it has to be attainable for all members with firm guidelines and rules for how players can be traded.
This piece isn't about winners and losers and the spending that is taking place to create them. It is about the morale of the troops. Without all the troops we don't have an army. The sport has not been all-inclusive for a long time. The war of attrition is biting us hard and we have to recruit an army to win the fight back.
In all walks of life we are seeing what happens when rules are continually bent to favour those who can afford to bend them. I'll give you Wall Street circa 2008 as a massive example that is no different than Canadian lacrosse. The reality is the poor associations are falling apart quickly and therefore are easily manipulated. Sometime soon the powerhouses won’t have much of a league to play in because whole associations will be gone. That has already started happening.
Lacrosse will never be able to sustain itself in the current model. Something has to change quickly. I’d like the people with the money to spend some time thinking about that.