The news came somewhat out of the blue. George Daniel, who had served as the Commissioner of the National Lacrosse League since 2009, would be stepping down from that position.
Daniel will remain as the head of the league until a successor is found. Then he will slide over to the job as the league's counsel, as he is forming a law firm specializing in sports and entertainment issues.
"It has been a honor and pleasure serving as NLL Commissioner. I feel that this is the right time for a change for me personally and professionally to explore other opportunities," Daniel said. "The NLL is now in a great place and positioned for tremendous growth in the near future."
It would be easy to look at the NLL's recent history and conclude that Daniel's time didn't go so well. When he arrived in 2009, there were 12 teams. We're down to nine, and we just saw move of teams from Edmonton to Saskatoon and from Minnesota to suburban Atlanta - neither of which probably is a step forward in the grand scheme of things in indoor lacrosse.
But that's not really a fair assessment. The league expanded too quickly before Daniel arrived, and the different owners had a wide range of financial resources. That's a fancy way of saying that some teams had plenty of money, while others were bleeding it. It's difficult to make a set of rules to cover everyone in that sort of arrangement.
Daniel wisely decided that if the league was going to grow, it first was going to have to shrink to become stable. So some cities fell away in those years, and that hurt. We lost cities such as Philadelphia, Boston and Edmonton along the way. That wasn't the best path to major-league status, but it was the only one available. The alternative probably was folding.
Daniel negotiated a collective bargaining agreement that was more owner-friendly, and gives some teams a better chance at survival. That's also made the league in position to start thinking about expanding again. Nine teams is an extremely ugly number for a sports league that stretches from the Atlantic (New England) to the Pacific (Vancouver). Ten would be nice, 12 would be better.
The league hasn't been able to negotiate any sort of good, long-lasting American television deal under Daniel's watch. It certainly wasn't his fault. A nine-team league with four teams in Canada is a tough sell for U.S. networks, and it's also a complicated arrangement legally. Still, that has to be a top priority for the next commissioner.
It might be an oversimplification to say that Daniel saved the league, but not a large one. The NLL is still plugging along, held up by model franchises in places like Colorado, Buffalo and Calgary. If the current situation is handled correctly, the league could be ready to start to grow again. Daniel seemed to make the best of a difficult situation in getting the NLL out of reverse. Now the challenge is to find someone who is ready to take the league out of neutral and get it to move forward. Are there people out there who can do that? It's time to look.
Meanwhile, on a personal level, Daniel always came across as a good ambassador for the league. He was intelligent, approachable and friendly in interviews. George spent plenty of time on Twitter interacting with people during his tenure, and he often came up to the press box to say hello to the media whenever he visited Buffalo. The sport will miss his presence on a personal level, and it's a plus that he's maintaining a connection with the league.
-- Budd Bailey