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BANDITS STAYING PUT IN NEW, BIGGER LACROSSE LEAGUE

There's peace in the world of professional indoor lacrosse at last.

After months of harsh words, the owners of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League and the new National Lacrosse League Tuesday announced a partnership for the 1998 season. That means the Buffalo Bandits will keep their nickname and continue to play in Marine Midland Arena.

The new league will be known as the National Lacrosse League and is hoping to set up its league office in Buffalo. One of the sites being considered is in the MMA.

It appeared as if the Bandits might leave the Arena when the MILL owners were told they wouldn't be welcomed back as a tenant. But with the MILL owners gaining ownership of half the teams in the NLL, the Bandits will be back in business at the Arena.

"We didn't want to be selfish," said Chris Fritz, who was the chairman and chief executive officer of the MILL. "A week or so ago I felt like Solomon. We were talking about cutting the baby in half and presenting half to each mother. We could have cut it (pro lacrosse) in half, but both sides would have ended up with a dead baby. Now we're going to have a thriving kid who will grow into a roaring teen-ager."

Fritz was referring to each league's previous intentions of playing the 1998 season as separate entities. But the groups began merger talks two weeks ago.

The Bandits' ownership group is Niagara Frontier Hockey, or the Buffalo Sabres. Other franchises and their ownership groups are Rochester (Steve Donner of the American Hockey League's Rochester Amerks), Syracuse (Howard Dolgon of the AHL's Crunch), New England (Frank DuRuss of the AHL Providence Bruins), Philadelphia (Russ Cline of the MILL), New York (Bruce Lucker of the MILL), Hamilton, Ont., (Fritz) and Baltimore/Washington (all three former MILL owners).

"We're 100 percent sure about the eight teams we'll have playing next year," Fritz said. "We may have another franchise or two or even four in the next few months but whether they'll be playing in 1998, I can't say."

The new league will feature:

A longer schedule. Last season, MILL teams played 10 regular-season games. The NLL is looking at a 14-game schedule.

A multigame championship series. The MILL always held a single championship game, the NLL is going to hold a best-of-three final series.

Home game sites to team with better records. For the past six years, the MILL based host playoff sites on regular-season home attendance.

The NLL plans to finalize all the details in the next few weeks. Fritz said the existing teams, like the Bandits, will have to submit a player protection list to the NLL of perhaps 15 to 18 names. The new Hamilton and Syracuse franchises will get to choose unprotected players to stock their rosters.

"I get a feeling that Hamilton could be as successful as Buffalo," said Fritz, whose franchise will play its home games at the 17,500-seat Copps Coliseum. "And it could creative a heck of a rivalry with Buffalo. If I'm half as successful in Hamilton as we were in Buffalo, I'll be very, very happy."

The Bandits are confident that having a team in Hamilton won't hurt their fan base.

"We certainly know we get fans from Southern Ontario," Bandits public relations director Bruce Wawrzyniak said. "And we appreciate their support. Hopefully, they'll stick with us, but having a team in Hamilton isn't the type of concern people have raised through the years concerning a Sabres/Hamilton situation in the NHL.

"Hopefully, large numbers of people will remain attracted to the sport price-wise and want to see games in both places."

NEW FACE OF PRO LACROSSE

New name: The National Lacrosse League. For the past 11 seasons, the Major Indoor Lacrosse League has operated the country's pro indoor lacrosse franchises.

Franchises: Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Hamilton (Ont.), Philadelphia, New York, New England and Baltimore/Washington for certain. Syracuse and Hamilton are new franchises, the former Boston Blazers franchise is now New England and the former Baltimore Thunder is now the Baltimore/Washington franchise. The Bandits nickname will remain; nicknames for the other teams will be announced soon.

Ownership: The Bandits will be owned and operated by the Buffalo Sabres. Syracuse, Rochester and New England will be owned and operated by the American Hockey League franchises in their respective cities, New England by the Providence (R.I.) Bruins. Philadelphia, Hamilton and New York will be run by the three former MILL owners. They will also run the Baltimore/Washington franchise until local ownership can be secured.

What's different for the Bandits fans: Two more regular-season home games (seven, up from five); the chance to see more teams; best-of-three championship series instead of a championship game. Season-ticket holders can expect official notification from the Bandits in the months ahead.

What's left to do: Negotiations with the former MILL Players Association to determine a pay scale. The collective bargaining agreement with the MILL expired last June 1. It probably won't be an easy process. More owners means more money and the players want their piece of the pie. . . . Secure additional franchises, though not necessarily for the 1998 season. Miami, Tampa, Montreal and Ottawa are considered candidates. The new markets are expected to be announced in the next 30 days. . . . Build coaching staffs. In the past, coaches were employed by the MILL and assigned to franchises. Now, they'll be employed by the individual teams. . . . Set up a league office. Buffalo appears to be the preferred site. . . . Stock the new teams and establish "freeze" lists for the existing franchises. There's plenty to be done in the three months before training camps begin.
-- TOM BORRELLI

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