CCBLL eyes big picture aspirations following successful first season

Photo courtesy CCBLL

“10 years, the final will be on ESPN,” Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (CCBLL) Commissioner Niko Blankenship jokingly interjected during an interview with league founder and University of Denver men’s lacrosse offensive coordinator Matt Brown.

The CCBLL wrapped up its debut season, combining players with varying skill sets from across from DI, DI, DIII and club programs. No more than five players from an individual NCAA program were allowed to suit up for one team to abide by NCAA regulations.

“We wanted to create this league to give these guys some experience and some box exposure, we wanted collegiate players whether you’re DI, DII, DIII, or club guys, to have the opportunity get better during the summer months because right now our game doesn’t have those opportunities,” Brown said. “When you look at hockey players they travel to a home base or site in the summer months and work with a trainer or do camps because they’re pushing to increase their skills and abilities for the next season because they have something greater to in the NHL to shoot for. In lacrosse we don’t quite have that yet, I think we’re headed in that direction but we’re not quite there. So what better time to start a training platform, a development platform than here in Denver [the Lacrosse Capital of the West].”

The league’s four teams consisted of the Bighorns, Fighting Bison, Gold Miners, and the Stoneflies. The de facto championship game held on Monday, July 31, featured the Bighorns and the Fighting Bison battling for the Morrow Cup, named after Warrior founder and former Princeton defenseman Dave Morrow. The Bighorns and Fighting Bison clashed in a best-of-three series in which the Bighorns swept the Fighting Bison 11-8 and then 10-8 to claim the first-ever Morrow Cup title.

Brown modeled the league off of the Canadian box leagues he grew up with in Burnaby, British Columbia before he transitioned to field lacrosse during his collegiate career at DU. With the number of U.S. lacrosse participants nearing 14,000, Brown capitalized on a vision eight years in the making by redirecting the market.

Former Colorado Mammoth General Manager Steve Govett, who is also a Burnaby native and grew up with the same coaches as Brown, shared the same vision of a box league, but with an emphasis on a men’s league rather than a collegiate one. Brown adapted the model as a format to continue expanding the sport and help further the development of the players. The Denver culture was prime for the launch.

You don’t make these things happen unless you get everybody on board and that’s why this Denver lacrosse community is so special,” Brown said. “They want the opportunities, they want the experience, they want what’s best for the kids and they’ve been totally inclined to it and that’s why it’s going to continue to grow.”

The league, which restricted its player pool to Americans, held an initial combine with former National Lacrosse League (NLL) players demonstrating and assisting in the understanding of the rules and style of play. The following day the players were drafted to their respective teams. Box lacrosse features a distinctively quicker and more physical style of play than field lacrosse, so the players learned to adapt to the differences.

“Box develops so many skill sets that you can’t even really teach,” Brown said. “The game itself puts you in these situations that makes you figure it out. It’s like teaching your daughter how to ride a bicycle. At some point, you just have to take the training wheels off and tell her to figure it out and that’s kind of the box game.”

With year number one successfully completed, Brown’s future itinerary is quite simply expansion and education.

“Here in Denver, I think it’s realistic for us to get to six teams. I don’t think you’d ever want any bigger than that. You want to make it competitive so that it’s not a bad thing if a kid comes to the combine and doesn’t get selected. That legitimizes the league itself,” Brown said. “I think across the country it’s to expand into markets where you have people that are dedicated and committed to the division to putting in the hard work, to expand in the near future. To have this thing from coast-to-coast, in your own area, your own state for two months and the two winners come together for a collegiate national champion at the end of the summer. I think we’re a little ways away from that, but if year-one of this league is any indication of what’s to come then there is no question of that we’re going to be able to accomplish that as a long-term goal.” 

As for Blankenship’s 10 year ESPN-broadcasted final estimate? It’s definitely not an improbable outcome given the growth of the sport across the country combined with the passion and commitment of personnel like Brown and Blankenship himself.

“The most gratifying aspect has been the group of people that have surrounded this thing,” Brown said. “That have taken ownership and passion to ensure that it’s their vision, that the see the grandness of it and what we’re going to do in the future and how much fun the kids are having with it. That’s probably been the most rewarding part of it, it’s not just my vision anymore. Now there’s a whole group’s vision and league is going to become bigger and better, year-by-year and really change the landscape of our sport moving forward.” 

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