USSSA Pride's Future In NPF Uncertain
The final out was recorded, the lights turned off and the fireworks began. The USSSA Pride stood at the pitching circle and looked up with arms wrapped around one another.
Three minutes later, the fireworks stopped, the lights came back on and everyone went in different directions. There was a sense of uncertainty coming from the players on the team in post-game interviews, but even more importantly, that energy was coming from the Pride's front office members.
After capturing the organization's fifth Cowles Cup with a victory over the Chicago Bandits on Saturday, USSSA’s executive director and CEO Donny DeDonatis addressed the future of the Pride as a National Pro Fastpitch franchise.
DeDonatis confirmed with Softball America that there have been conversations within the organization about the Pride potentially leaving the NPF.
“Our franchise agreement is up,” he said after Saturday's game. “I don’t know if it was 10 or eight years, but it’s up this year. So yeah, every year we have to evaluate and we’ve had a lot of change within our organization from the top down. I definitely have to talk to my board at the end of the day, that’s who makes the decisions based on my recommendation.”
According to NPF commissioner Cheri Kempf, the franchise agreement signed by both the NPF and Pride is a 10-year contract with an automatic renewal. The current term ends in November.
With that looming on the horizon, DeDonatis also confirmed that he recently held a meeting with members of the Pride to let them know about the uncertain future of the franchise in the NPF.
“I didn’t want them to be blindsided by the news if it happens,” he said.
USSSA just finished its 11th season in the NPF and has never missed a Championship Series in its tenure in the league. The team has consistently competed with the best programs in the world, as well. Earlier this summer, the Pride defeated the United States National Team, and in 2018, they competed against Japan in Palm Springs, Calif. at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic.
“It shows basically on the international level that this league here is superior to what’s out there,” said Pride general manager Don DeDonatis on the NPF pre-game show on Friday.
USSSA is scheduled to have a board meeting in the middle of September, and according to Donny, speaking about the franchise's future will be on the agenda.
“I don’t anticipate anything happening right away,” he added. “We want to soak this (championship) in a little bit before we start those conversations, but the NPF and Cheri over the years have given us a platform, a place to play and an opportunity to grow our fastpitch program within USSSA. From that standpoint, we’ve loved every minute of it. It was nice to come here and finish on a positive note.”
If the Pride does choose to leave the NPF, there is a two-year non-compete clause in place, which means they would not be able to play in another league, but they could become an independent team similar to Scrap Yard Fastpitch.
Regardless of what happens, Kempf is prepared for anything and trusts that the future of the NPF is still bright.
“I’m not going to tell you all of it right now, but I’m going to tell you this, there is a lot of excitement for this league,” she said in a video interview on Saturday. “There are some folks that I think are going to change the world and I think we are going to be able to give these players the opportunity that they deserve: to be elite professional athletes all the time.”