NO WINNER: A Disappointing Finish to the 2012 NPF Championships
I can read it now. The record books will say, "The winner of the 2012 NPF Championship Series is... NO TEAM." After 3.10 days of National Professional Fastpitch Championship competition the end result was zilch. We have no winner. And it doesn't look like we'll ever get one.
Here's some background for those who may not have been following the tournament. There were potentially two games set for day #4 (finals). The first game of the day (USSSA Pride vs. Chicago Bandits) would have been the final if the Bandits won. If the USSSA Pride would have won, another game would have been played later in the evening to determine the championship winner. Now, I'm not an expert at tournament management, but this seemed wacky. Thinking as an athlete and then as a spectator, I would like to know what I'm playing/paying for. But, in any regard, that's how this tournament play was set up.
This first game was supposed to start at 2:30. A rain delay, and I believe some influence from ESPN for recording purposes, pushed the game off to 3:30 pm. It was then pushed off again until finally it was set for a 6 pm start. At 6:12 pm, about 4 minutes after Abbott threw the first pitch, the game was called for a rain delay that was expected to last until 7 pm. At 6:45 pm the big news hit: "The game has been canceled and there are no plans to have a make up game. Refer to the NPF website for more details."
These are just a few of the thoughts that ran through my head at that moment:
-Could there really be no make-up game?
-Are they really going to leave things hanging?
-A no-win tournament? Unheard of!
-Can't wait what the papers are going to say about this one?
-This is a huge bummer for women's sport.
-Wait, will the Bandits win because their record is the highest?
-Lord, what about the fans?
-Are they getting their money back?
-Shit, did this really just happen?!
As I drove home, I continually checked my inbox waiting for a press release to fill me in on the missing information here. It never arrived. Even this morning (Monday, August 27, 2012), I have nothing to report. All I can do is speculate. So instead of giving you the details straight from the NPF, I will give you thoughts straight from my head.
This whole weekend made me question things about the women's sports culture. It really felt like women's sports fans and, apparently some who run women's sporting events, have forgotten that sports is a business. It cannot sustain itself just on discussion of present inequalities or the hope that a league will survive. Although discussing issues relating to women's sports is vital for the overall culture to become positive, if we don't have butts in the seats and money in the league, there will be no culture to talk about or change.
Throughout the tournament I heard athletes allude to possibly not having a league around next year. I heard announcers point out that these athletes have to work other jobs throughout the year because playing in the NPF doesn't pay them enough to survive. I hear numerous announcements that foul balls must be returned (because the cost of losing them is too great). Everything points to the fragility of the NPF and, let's face it, most women's sports leagues.
A lot of talk within the women's sports world (myself very much included!) is about how unfortunate and unfair it is that women athletes don't get paid well, that there are so few teams in the league, that there aren't enough sponsors, that we don't get enough respect from the general public/traditional sports news, etc. But this weekend, I started to question these thoughts. This weekend proved that we as a group of women's sports fans could be doing much more to fix these problems. (I must mention the fans that were in attendance were fantastic!! However, there were plenty of open seats available).
I love women's sports. I love hardcore women's sports fans, many of which hop on this site to get their news (thank you). Unfortunately, I don't think many of us (myself included until this weekend) really understand how much business plays role in keeping women's sports alive. It is essential. It is something we sports fans need to make a priority.
The biggest problem for women's leagues is getting people to attend games.That's what makes the canceling of the championship game sting. They had people in the stands when the canceled it. Those fans paid for their ticket. They bought their popcorn and soda. They were there, financially helping the league survive. And, the NPF just sent them home.
The young girls in the stands left me hopeful, however. These girls had a glow about them because they knew they were just steps away from their idols. I remember that feeling. I felt hopeful that someday I could be in their shoes. These girls have similar goals. Unfortunately, the ending of this championship series does not make me confident for their sporting future.
The young girls in the stands this weekend probably don't know about Title IX or what goes on with the business of sports. All they know is that they got to come to the NPF Championships, the sporting-highlight of their summer (since there was no fastpitch in London) and that someday they want to be out there on the field rocking a Bandits, Akron, Diamonds or Pride jersey.
Their oblivion to the challenges faced by women's sports is a wonderful thing, in my opinion. I'd rather not let them know right now that there are no guarantees in women's sports. I'd rather not let them know that there's a chance the league won't be around long enough for them to play in it. I'd rather not let them know at this age that there's no guarantee they can make a decent living as a professional female athlete when they grow up. I'd rather they stay hopeful. Their norm now is to go to women's sports events and imagine their future in sports. That's why they were in the stands. If the norm for these young girls is to attend women's sporting events and imagine themselves in Abbot or Mendoza's spot, we shouldn't be doing anything to stop them.
Unfortunately, I think we put up a roadblock there. The canceling of this championship game sent these girls that very message. There are no guarantees.
Now, I don't think these girls are in deep analysis over the meaning of the canceled game. I do think, however, that the parents who brought their daughters (and sons) to these games are probably discussing it on the way home. I'm sure they are pissed that they spend money to go to a game and didn't get anything out of it, except a soaked tee and some disappointed kids. Without a doubt, these kids picked up on the conversation. And they knew it wasn't good.
I am truly truly sad that things had to end this way. I am so disappointmented for not only the fans but the athletes, who sacrifice to play the game. These athletes aren't getting big bucks to play in the league. Most probably have to take side jobs rather than establish a full-time, year-round career off of the field. Many athletes mentioned throughout the weekend that they are there because they love the sport. All of you reading who call yourself an athlete or a former athlete can probably empathize with what these athletes are going through right now, especially those that won't return in 2013. For some, it was their last time on the field, and they didn't even get to play to win! They don't have a period at the end of their career bio. They have a "...," or a question mark. Can things really end this way? Unfortunately, this has proven that anything is possible.
On a happier note, I'd like to congratulate the players of the NPF. You made my weekend great one to watch and report on. I hope to see many of you next year for the 2013 NPF Championships.
Finally, I have a plea for women's sports fans. This weekend was an eye opener. I saw these women so thankful to play. I saw them unsure of their future and disappointed about it. So, I urge sports fans to go and buy tickets to women's games (soccer, basketball, volleyball, rugby, track and field, baseball, roller derby, etc.). If we want things to survive it is going to cost us more than our time. If you can't attend a game, follow the it and donate money to help sustain them. Let's make it happen. Let's keep opportunities open for the next generation and eliminate the "no guarantee" women's sports philosophy.