In February of 2013, the NPF made an exciting announcement - a long-awaited fifth team would join the league and begin competition immediately, but with a twist.
The uniqueness of the announcement came in the form of the fifth team being none other than the Dutch National Team. The Netherlanders would play a mostly-full schedule, even arranging around major international competitions, against the other four teams in the NPF and would, for all intents and purposes, be considered a part of the league.
Whether it was a long-term bargain or simply a one-year pact, a legitimate query, was inconsequential for many fans - the league was finally growing and adding!
In the months between the early-spring announcement and the mid-summer start of the season, however, all of those plans disappeared and when the season rolled around, it was the same ole, same ole. No Dutch, no fifth team at all, and, most importantly, no mention of what had occurred or why the excitement of months earlier was all for naught.
The roster had been set, so getting agreements to play wasn't the issue. Neither was the NCAA's rules on amateurism - the two Dutch players with eligibility remaining were to sit out all games against NPF opponents.
In search of clarity and, as Regis Philbin might say, the final answer, I asked one person that I knew could fill in the blank: league commissioner Cheri Kempf.
As always, the commissioner was glad to respond to my queries and clarified why the plan to include the Dutch never came to pass. "The fact that the Dutch team was
considering coming into the league was a plan that never really came to fruition," she told me. "The reason for that was that there was no owner willing to come into the league and take on a new team at that time... it was financing. The reason we thought we were close was because a potential owner did exist and went down to the wire in making the decision."
This explanation makes sense, even more so when noting this paragraphical statement on an article covering the NPF's original announcement:
"Accommodation and transport in the US during NPF will be covered by an American
“owner” of the Dutch team. Otherwise expenses are covered by the players, which
voted unanimously to start into this adventure."
I've been an unbiased critic of the NPF in the past, praising and critiquing when one or the other felt deserved. In this case, I believe a bit of both is warranted.
On the praising hand, the league showed proactiveness and outside-the-box thinking in the Dutch even considering coming over to be part of the league. And while Kempf noted that no plans are in place for an international team to become part of the league in the near future, she said that "the NPF is always open to that". This is good.
On the other hand, a bit of constructive criticism is also due. Why make the announcement without a signed, sealed, and delivered contract in-hand from both parties? It's understandable that the league, like many fans, got caught up in the excitement of growth in the long-stagnant four-team league, but that is still no excuse for premature press releases. The lack of an announcement as to why the inclusion of the Dutch disappeared as quickly as it had appeared only served to exacerbate the problem.
If the league continues to be of a proactive mindset in the same way they showed to be here, it could be good for a league that is still trying to maintain four solid teams, and barely even able to consider expansion beyond that.