By JIM WATERS; Thomson News Service - March 14th, 1974
TORONTO — Two essential ingredients, woefully missing from ventures that have gone before but failed, are found in the formula for success of the National Lacrosse League.
One is money, says Bruce Norris, who is fully familiar with the substance.
The other item is air-conditioning—a comfort unheard of in stifling hothouses where previous summer circuits played.
Those commodities comprise the backbone of an international enterprise conceived in February and due for delivery in midMay when Toronto Tomahawks play Les Quebecois in Montreal.
Pockets bulging and cool breezes behind them, the league backers boldly promise to once and for all “turn the last unexploited game into the next big league sport.”
Good grief, cry the purists. Nothing, not even the pastime devised by Huron Indians around Georgian Bay a few hundred years ago, is sacred to the “sportsman” who espies a turnstile standing idle throughout the summer.
The problem is those Tomahawks and Quebecois, as well as Wings and Arrows (of outrageous fortune?), require players to complement the cash and cool arenas. The league has already bought contracts of 300 players and a draft later this month will distribute about half among six teams.
A major factor in establishing the National Lacrosse League this season was the tremendous availability of player talent in Canada and the United States, said league president Spence Lyons, who served as vice-president of the National Lacrosse Association, a financial failure of 1968.
Lyons claims there are 250,000 lacrosse players in Canada and over 100,000 in the United States. He expects 30 percent of his league’s talent will come from American colleges. The rest will probably be from British Columbia and Ontario.
Jack Christie, director of the Ontario Lacrosse Association, immediately inquired about the league’s recruiting plans. He and the league governors reached a gentleman’s agreement that junior players would be left alone. “They’d be foolish if they did (sign juniors), for they’d be destroying the very foundation of future talent,” reasons Christie.
But senior players are open game and, as might be expected, club officials are reac ting with forecasts of doom and gloom should the amateurs be ordained as minor leagues by the NLL. Many rosters are now bare with the season just a few months away, as veterans pursue the $7,000-$10,000 salaries offered by the new league.
The owner of a Toronto senior team claims the NLL “is picking us clean.” Western Canada executives report desertions and fear the league’s scheduled tryout camps could hold the players’ interest long after the initial draft meetings.
The NLL will comprise, this season at least, Toronto, Montreal, Philadelphia Wings, Maryland Arrows and entries unnamed as yet in Syracuse and Rochester. Norris, Detroit Red Wings’ boss, owns the Toronto team. Kells is leaving a job as an Ontario cabinet assistant to coach the Rochester squad.
“We have a Phase Two program which includes Vancouver,” reports John Ferguson, former Montreal Canadien and an all-star with Nanaimo of the Western Lacrosse Association.
Co-owner and general manager of the Montreal team, Ferguson revealed future franchises will cost $1 million a piece. Expansion is a few years away, but the time will be spent rounding up investors.