By Maren Angus
National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) announced earlier this week that it has terminated its Houston-based franchise, Scrap Yard Dawgs, effective January 29, 2018. According to Wednesday’s press release, the franchise repeatedly violated the franchise agreement, which includes failure to make timely payments to players, to vendors and to the league. The press release also stated that the SYD communicated efforts to start its own league despite the other violations.
In her first public interview, Commissioner Cheri Kempf spoke with BTP Softball in detail about the past week’s news.
“This is the result of the actions of their team being consistently adverse to the positive operations of a franchise and team in our league,” Kempf said. “Up to this point, the league chose to take the high road. We chose not to air every infraction. We chose not to make a press release every time the team was reprimanded. We did not want it to come to this and I believe it’s time for us to make a statement based on facts that explain to everyone and provides the reasoning why it got to this point.”
Because of how the league has handled itself, the announcement came as a shock to many but internally there has been turmoil for months. In fact, the league suggested suspensions for SYD General Manager Connie May more than once dating back to the fall. The press release is “incredibly accurate” regarding pay, the release doesn’t say “every player” wasn’t paid on time, but “players”.
According to Kempf, franchises are required to sign an approximate 125-page contract when they enter the league. When SYD released it’s stance Sunday night and made it clear that the franchise would not participate in 2018, the league was left with no other choice than to terminate.
Front office staff of SYD participated in the NPF’s owners meeting in Nashville on January 24 and 25 with the league understanding that SYD would comply with league rules and correct its infractions.
“Three representatives, including the owner, sat through our entire meeting, complete addenda items, complete scheduling which took about two and half to three hours,” Kempf said. “They did all that, left around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday and dropped the press release on Sunday.”
The record shows that many issues were met with unanimous votes. However, there were times when one team would vote against certain addenda changes, but it was never SYD and according to Kempf, the records show that. There was no indication from SYD during the owner’s meetings that this was the direction the franchise was going.
“Our annual meetings are about developing the league, suggesting every owner and team can contribute an item or items to our agenda to discuss including our policies and procedures and changing those,” Kempf said. “They did not contribute any items to the agenda.”
The termination comes just days after the league’s oldest existing franchise, the Akron Racers, announced it would no longer exist and instead will have a Chinese contingent involved.
“International entities are investing in professional softball and the fact that they are doing in the NPF is big,” Kempf said. “We need people to do that in this country but we need those people to dig in and stay the course, to have a vision and support American players.”
When the league re-launched in 2004, teams played against ASA major teams and international competition from countries such as Australia, Canada, China, Russia and Venezuela until 2008.
Former General Manager of the Racers, Joey Arrietta, is known to be the frame of a league that has been a revolving door for franchises since it rebranded from the Women’s Professional Softball League in 2002. The Racers participated in the WPSL from 1999-2000 before being revived in 2004.
“Replacing a General Manager or leadership happens everyday. It’s business, it’s not personal,” Kempf said of Arrietta’s departure. “It was Craig Stout‘s (Akron Racers majority owner) decision to do that and one that he arrived at after consistent annual financial losses.”
Despite the run on bad news, the NPF is set to celebrate its 15th season.
“It’s something we are extremely proud of and we will be there,” Kempf said. “We will have more exposure than we ever have had for professional softball. It will be increased in this country and broader worldwide.”
Update (2:37 p.m.): The NPF confirmed with BTP that the Akron Racers will become the Cleveland Comets.