NLL season in trouble

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:12 AM ET

The improbable success story of the Toronto Rock is on the verge of coming to a nasty end.

The National Lacrosse League announced yesterday it will cancel its 2004-05 season if a new collective bargaining agreement with its players is not signed by tonight at midnight.

PESSIMISTIC

Realistically, NLL commissioner Jim Jennings said, a cancelled season would be a "death blow," for the 11-team professional indoor box lacrosse league.

"I'm not optimistic at all," Jennings said last night. "I don't think we are going to have a season."

Professional Lacrosse Players' Association president Peter Schmitz met with player reps last night and was leaning toward sending two proposals to the league today. One would be a one-year deal, under primarily league terms, while the other would be a multi-year deal, under PLPA terms. The league's final proposal is a six-year deal.

"Am I concerned? The same way one might be if a terrorist put a gun to your head," Schmitz said. I think (the deadline) is a mistake, but we will continue to negotiate. Our intention is to get a deal done quickly, but we're not going to be held to an Oct. 1 deadline if it's a deal we can't recommend to our membership."

The NLL and the PLPA agree that the 10 teams last season lost an average of $300,000 US. Only three teams -- the Rock, Philadelphia Wings and Colorado Mammoth -- made money, Jennings said.

"You only can be as good as your weakest link," Rock president Brad Watters said. "If the other teams don't make any money, we're never going to be successful. It's like being the big fish in a small pond. The whole league has to be viable."

Last season, the league and the PLPA extended the old deal by one year to avert a labour stoppage. Revenue sharing is the top disagreement this time around, with the players demanding it and the owners saying no.

The NLL added well-respected one-time Rock general manager/coach Les Bartley to its bargaining committee this summer and the ex-General Motors union rep admitted it has been a frustrating process.

"I felt we've been close a number of times," he said. "The talks have been good and what do they do? They change their (position)."

Jennings has told NLL office staff members they will receive two-week severance packages if the season is scrapped.

The players, meanwhile are holding out hope.

"I think the tactics of the NLL are pretty typical of any negotiating process," Rock player rep Ryan Painter said.

"I think we are going to be playing this season."

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WHO WANTS WHAT

OWNERS ...

No revenue sharing

Long-term deal -- six years

6% salary increase

No per diem for home games

PLAYERS ...

Revenue sharing

Proposed four-year deal, with uncapped fifth year, or one-year deal

9-10% salary increase

Per diem for home games


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