If you follow the goings on of the NPSL like I do, you may have seen this petition at change.org circulating to replace Commissioner Hitchcock:
And while the petition raises a few important issues facing the NPSL, I thought I would take the time to work through the petition point by point - because, in my opinion, Commissioner Hitchcock and PMI have been good for the league and because I think its too early to determine the legacy they will leave after one season.
First and foremost, the petition is arranged by what “We do NOT stand for.” It would be helpful, I think, to note what such supporters DO stand for. PMI and NPSL is executing on a certain vision. It may not be the vision you or I would choose, but if we want to criticize it lets at least offer something in its place!
- Multiple teams in a single market (too many teams in Michigan and more planned for 2015, 3 teams in San Diego). This point may be partially valid, though I think it oversimplifies things a bit. There are currently only 3 teams in Michigan, and of these only 2 can geographically be considered the same market - though Detroit is certainly a big enough metro to host more than one team, especially at the NPSL level. Further, I think club aims are important to note here. Some clubs, like Detroit City, exist solely as an NPSL club. Others, like Greater Binghamton FC exist as a senior mens side to an existing youth club structure. Both clubs saw great success last season attendance wise, based on very different models. There seems to be no reason that we couldn’t see two different model NPSL clubs in the same greater metro, especially if both have different aims. And in reality, if clubs want to be successful they need to market to a community and build themselves an identity in a community - like Detroit City has done. As for the San Diego clubs, this is a more valid point - but again, San Diego is a big soccer community and it seems very reasonable to have multiple clubs there catering to different communities in the greater metro. It also makes for some great local rivalries and reduces travel costs - two things which I believe are important in a successful club at the NPSL level.
- The involvement of PMI in the NPSL. The NPSL, as member owned, realized they needed some hep forging a vision for their league. PMI brings a lot of soccer management expertise, and I believe is a great fit for helping the NPSL plot and execute a vision. Democratic organization and leadership is great, but can result in a lot of things getting dropped - especially when the member representatives are doing so on a part time and volunteer basis.
- Allowing the commissioner to buy an expansion team. It should be noted that the ‘the commissioner’ is not the sole owner of this team. If anything, PMI’s operating a team gives them a greater reason to want the NPSL to be successful as they are now shareholders in the league. Additionally, it is hard be against a club that is obviously well organized and has solid financial backing.
- Paying commissions and fees to PMI. PMI is a management and consulting firm. They don’t do this for free; collecting fees is what they do. And NPSL most definitely needs the help.
- Unstable teams being allowed to remain in the league. This is a point that I am in full agreement with. Clubs like the Las Vegas Stallions do the league no good. They result in embarrassing forfeits and when they do play, often end up as cannon fodder. The standards should be stricter, and clubs who can’t maintain them should be put on probation.
- Schedules being released months late. This is a faux issue. A schedule can’t be made if expansion clubs are still being announced. The real issue here is expansion.
- A lack of response from the commissioner to emails from supporters and fans. This is a real issue, as supporters and fan concerns need to be heard. That said, as a member owned league probably the best conduit for voicing concerns is via the local club. Most CEO level individuals don’t have the time to personally deal with every request. This might happen in an ideal world, but our reality is at least a little less than ideal.
- What we believe is reckless growth planned for 2015 and beyond. This may also be a legitimate point, and one that I have voiced on several occasions. As a corollary, while approximately 30 clubs are being added for the 2014 campaign, several clubs have folded and won’t be returning, and a couple others are undergoing significant rebrands and/or ownership changes. I like the increasing regionalization of the NPSL, but at some point I want to see more stable clubs and higher standards throughout. Still, I believe it is too early to kick PMI out. This is the first offseason they have been involved in, and while it seems unlikely that every club will make it through to the 2015 season intact, we can’t be sure. As with many new jobs it takes a solid year to really to get up to speed, and it is often well into the second or third year that things ‘fall into place.’ As an electrical estimator, it really did take about a full year at my current job to get a feel for the office, the business, and synthesize everything to start consistently winning competitive bids. That first year our sales stayed flat from the last year. But the following year we doubled our sales volume and the third year we doubled sales volume again. In years since we have kept up this increased volume but have focused on making that same volume more profitable. Sometimes the growth needs to happen first. What is unpalatable in this situation is the history high growth leagues in US soccer history. But I’ll suspend judgement on this count for at least another season.
I have been and in many ways am still critical of the NPSL and believe there is a lot of room for improvement. But I believe PMI and Hitchcock’s involvement is good for the league - if nothing else, they have certainly raised the profile of NPSL soccer. So sorry Mr. Jones, I’m not going to sign the petition.