Donner’s National Lacrosse League and the MILL are seeking to form ‘super’ indoor league
BY STAFF WRITER
Steve Donner and his fellow National Lacrosse League co-founders are in Washington, D.C. today to meet with officials of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League.
The topic of their discussion: Merging the NLL and MILL to form one big indoor lacrosse league.
“I would say that we are definitely operating under the hope that we have some very strong basis for a potential merger,” Donner said yesterday.
“The bottom line is that we’ve gone at each other pretty hard. The realization from our standpoint has always been that it’s better to have one league, and they’ve come to that conclusion on their own as well.”
Merger talks actually began last week when Frank DuRoss, president of the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League and one of the NLL co-founders, met with MILL chairman and chief executive officer Chris Fritz in Buffalo.
Since Donner announced that he was breaking ties with the MILL and forming his own league, the MILL steadfastly refused to consider a merger and said it would continue to operate as normal, including running a team in Rochester which would play at the War Memorial.
However, when the powerful Buffalo Bandits—one of the MILL’s cornerstone franchises—decided to join Donner and Syracuse franchise owner Howard Dolgon, as did the MILL team in Boston, it became obvious that the MILL was not going to be able to continue normal operations.
The point was further hammered last week when Donner announced he had signed the two most famous indoor lacrosse players in the world—Paul and Gary Gait—to five-year NLL contracts.
Also, the MILL Players Association was clearly leaning toward signing a collective bargaining agreement with the NLL, so the MILL would have had great difficulty finding competent players to stock its teams’ rosters.
So, being the good businessmen that they are, the MILL owners—Fritz, Ross Cline and Bruce Lucker—began looking at a merger as a way to bail themselves out, so Fritz flew to Buffalo to talk to DuRoss.
“Hopefully together we can build some kind of super league,” said Fritz. “We came together. We’re looking at what makes the most sense for everybody and we’re excited about it.”
Which is what Donner has been hoping for all along.
“I think what is happening is that emotions are settling down, they’re seeing that being part of a bigger thing is better than being all of a smaller thing,” Donner said of Fritz, Cline and Lucker.
“At the same time, we respect the tremendous amount of time and experience they have in this business and we want to work with them.”
Donner said a merger is still not a lock. The meeting today is one of a few that could take place in the next 10 days as the two sides hammer out a working charter.
“We’re not setting a deadline of getting this done,” said Donner, who cancelled the press conference that was supposed to take place today that would have explained specifics about the NLL.
“If we go into our discussions as a new beginning, I’m very hopeful that it could lead to something exciting. Our informal goal is to have it done within 10 days or just go our own way. But we feel for the first time there is mutual interest in a merger.”
If the merger does occur, the old MILL teams—Rochester, Buffalo, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York are expected to keep their logos and nicknames, and the rosters should remain mostly intact.
In addition, there will be an expansion team in Syracuse and cities such as Ottawa, Montreal, Hamilton and Miami are also ready to begin operations either this year or next.
(Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, July 16, 1997)