NWHL vs. players: An avoidable situation turned ugly

On Friday, the National Women’s Hockey League confirmed reports that the league was cutting player salaries in order to keep the league afloat for this season.

With few exceptions, a majority of the players in the league stayed relatively silent following the official announcement. Saturday a group of players released a list of demands from the NWHL.

Mostly legitimate questions raised by the players, especially the insurance one. The only slightly eyebrow raising demand is the audit of the books. Who is going to pay for that? Accountants don’t like to do comprehensive business audits for free.

The league released a statement from Commissioner Dani Rylan, not specifically to answer the player demands, but as a way of issuing comment.

“The players have many concerns and disappointments, and I understand that completely. I deeply appreciate that, despite the emotions of the last two days, they have continued with their preparation for tomorrow’s games in Buffalo and Newark. My colleagues and I have always and will always do everything in our power to build a professional league that the amazing athletes of the NWHL deserve. Despite our setbacks, we have made many positive strides — thanks in large part to our players. Our hope is that we can continue a positive, constructive dialogue with the players over the next two weeks.”

To be quite honest, all of this is a tire fire.

It’s reflecting badly on the league and players, and hurting potential growth with potential investors and sponsors as it plays out in public.

The worst part: it could have been avoided. All the league and the players needed to do was stick to their bylaws. As boring as that sounds, it reveals how both parties are in the wrong here simply because they didn’t follow their own rules.

In Friday’s conference call with Rylan, it was revealed the NWHLPA was not included in the determination to cut salaries.

Madison Packer of the New York Riveters revealed in an interview with Mike Murphy of FanRag Sports how the list of demands came to be.

As Packer revealed in an interview with FanRag Sports today, the NWHLPA was not involved in putting that list of conditions together. The captains of all four teams and other players (each team had two or three representatives) had a discussion and chose to release the statement independently from the NWHLPA.

“We got on a conference call and we talked through a lot of things. People were angry, frustrated and confused,” Packer explained. “We talked through the process of what we wanted to do and how we wanted to handle it. We spent about an hour and a half or so on the phone, and then a couple of teams had practice that night.”

The players then took what was discussed to their teams and teammates. That same group had another conference call this morning. The result of that discussion was today’s statement from the players.

Again, no NWHLPA involvement even from THE PLAYERS’ SIDE.

Without a collective bargaining agreement in place, the NWHLPA is the only governing body that stands between the league and the players. As we reported yesterday, Erika Lawler is no longer heading the association and we don’t know who took over.

The group has no additional resources, like attorneys, to work on their behalf. They are dependent on the two to three player representatives sent to act as part of the PA to represent the best interests of their respective team in matters with the league, like salary reduction and a response to it.

As Packer pointed out, there was a meeting between captains and other representatives, but not as a players association. This is a potential problem spot for the players moving forward. The league can question how unified the players are in these demands when they aren’t acting under the umbrella of the NWHLPA, and how the actions of a few represent the actual beliefs of the whole.

If only there was some sort of document that outlined the expectations of the players association…

From the NWHL’s 2015 bylaws obtained by Puck Daddy, the actions of the PA are explicit:

Ah yes, the Board of Governors. Something the NWHL has been tight-lipped on since the beginning.

In a June interview with Puck Daddy, Rylan was questioned on why the names of those on the BOG weren’t release. She stated, “We actually have a fantastic Board of Governors, it’s just not listed on our website. All of us on the administrative side want to keep the focus on the players.”

Governors act as a check and balance; they look at league business as a whole and adjust accordingly. Think of the NHL’s BoG; they had to vote to add the Vegas expansion team – a change to the NHL’s business model.

As for the NWHL, the 2015 bylaws obtained by Puck Daddy outlining the BOG:

It specifically states that a player representative will be on the Board of Governors. Where was that player? Board meetings would go over league finances, address sponsorship concerns, and anything else the player-rep brought to the table.

Plus, the BoG is required to take a vote on any emergency acts. The decision to cut player salaries would seem like an emergency act. If they did vote, then they have as much responsibility as the league does to explain to the players why they weren’t included.

There is a reason league’s establish these rules and we’re seeing why now.

The fact that neither side cared to live up to their responsibility within them is on them, and now they have to reap the consequences.

We tend to side more on the players when it comes to bargaining against the league, but at some point they are responsible, too. They are grown women – a handful of whom have access to lawyers and agents – if they had misgivings and concerns at any point the language is in place for them to hold the league to what they agreed to.

The league isn’t getting away scot-free either. Clearly the transparency the NWHL prided itself on did not follow all the way through. As a private business, yes, they are allowed some privacy when it comes to finances, but they have to be willing to admit when things are starting to go off the rails before sending down the hammer. Ask any one who has been laid off. Usually those terminations come after the company tells its employees that the financials aren’t where they should be and everyone should be looking for cost savings.

It’s one thing to go along with your head in the sand when things are going well. It’s something completely different when crap hits the fan and you’re faced with immense challenges.

Both sides could have avoided this media s*** show if they just talked to one another and held each other accountable along the way. It’s not like they didn’t know how.