In the world of fitness competitions, the CrossFit Games rule all. Yes, there are other major national competitions, like the OC Throwdown and Wodapalooza, but the one event that the entire community knows about (or should know about) is the CrossFit Games. But what if I were to tell you that the playing field might be shifting? What if we were about to see the emergence of a rival competition? Well, enter the National Pro Fitness League.

The mastermind behind this venture is Tony Budding, former director of CrossFit Media and one of the original members of the CrossFit HQ team. Now, for those of you who aren’t aware, Budding announced in December of last year that he would be leaving CrossFit to start his own venture, the National Pro Fitness League (NPFL). Billed as the “world’s first professional spectator sport with co-ed teams competing in human performance races”, Budding is attempting to create a “season” of “fitness matches” (the NPFL is careful not to use the word CrossFit) that is “not unlike an abbreviated NFL season”. Unlike the CrossFit Games, which is essentially a fitness competition where only the winners of the events (and overall contest) are paid, the NPFL will be attempting to make their athletes salaried professionals. Since we anticipate that the majority of these athletes will be current CrossFitters (or have CrossFitting backgrounds) this could be a major step in taking our sport into a professional setting. So, how would the NPFL work?

Teams
 In it’s inaugural year, the NPFL will be made up of eight teams “to keep things simple”. Budding and the NPFL want their teams to be geographically diverse, and this is reflected in the current line-up (there are currently five official franchises):

Each team is separately operated by for-profit entities. For example, the Firebreathers are owned by Human Potential Management, Inc. So, like in other professional sports, teams are free to sign and pay their athletes (as long as the contracts are legitimate). Here are the other important facts to note:

  • Teams will have a 14 person active roster (7 men and 7 women), with an additional 2 athletes on the inactive roster—so teams are made up of 16 athletes total.
  • Teams must have at least one male and one female athlete over the age of 40.
  • Four reserve athletes are available who can be called up during the season.
  • Teams are city or region based (so New York will “play” Phoenix, etc).

Each team will be responsible for their general admin, player costs, game day costs, local media and content creation, and their participation in the Combine/Draft (more on that shortly). The details on how the season will work are still a little unclear—there doesn’t seem to be any mention of how a team would “win” the league, whether this would be through a playoff format or final position in the league at the end of the season.

“Matches”
 Teams in the NPFL would compete head to head in matches or races throughout the course of the season in the following format:

  • Matches are 2 hours long
  • There are 11 races over the course of the match
  • 8 athletes (4 men and 4 women) from each team compete, whilst in-match substitutions are permitted. Of the 8 athletes, one man and one woman must be over 40.
  • Matches will take place on the NPFL court, which looks like this:

NPFL

                        taken from the NPFL website

  • All the events in the matches are announced ahead of time (a distinct change from the unknown and unknowable format of CrossFit). This allows team Coaches to plan, train and pick their team based on the respective strengths of their athletes.
  • Currently, the races themselves closely resemble CrossFit workouts, based on the exercises and format of how the race is programmed. For example, the NPFL has posted this sample race online, which is broken down as follows:

40 – One arm, kettle bell, overhead squats
40 – Chest to bar pull-ups
4 – Rope climbs
40 – Shoulder to overhead (women 95lbs/ men 155 lbs)

  • Here is where it gets a little complicated, despite Budding trying to break it down as simply as possible in the posted video. This particular race calls for the 4 male athletes of the team. However, only 2 men can be working at one time. Together, the men have to accumulate the total required reps for the exercise. But, at any point an athlete can sub out for a teammate on the bench. Once the work is done, there is a 30-second ‘reset’ before teams have to do the entire round again. So teams will have to come up with distinct game plans for the respective race of their match. In this sample race, you could ask the two male athletes who start to do the whole first round themselves before subbing in your fresh athletes to tackle the second round. Or, you could cycle through your 4 athletes throughout each round.

You can see what Budding is trying to accomplish here, as these workouts will definitely be calling for strategy, practice, and in-game coaching—much like a game in any other pro sport league. And, through the design of the court, it will be easy to see who is in the lead, at what stage, etc. However, at this point the specific rules are still slightly confusing (despite my awesome explanation).

The Combine/Draft
As I’ve said, active teams are made up of 7 men and 7 women. Teams will be able to sign 4 men and 4 women on their own initiative (which is going on as we speak—more on this below). The remaining 5 spots on the team (3 active and 2 inactive athletes) have to come through the combine and draft process. As Budding has said, this is the NPFL’s first step towards enforcing parity to prevent teams from forming “super-teams” made up of star athletes. Here is how the combine and draft will work:

  • :200 men and 200 women will be allowed to try out for the NPFL through the Combines.
    • Anyone can sign up as a candidate for the chance to participate at the Combines. The cost to sign up is $50. Individuals will list their statistics on the sign-up page on the NPFL site, such as their height, weight, age and max lifts. Teams will then invite up to 200 men and 200 women to one of the Combines. The current list of athletes invited to the LA combine is continually updating on the NPFL site.
    • The first stage of the Combines will be three-day events in four locations between April 4 and May 4. The locations and dates are as follows:
      • On Friday (women) and Saturday (men) athletes will be tested through sets of individual lifts, skills, drills and workouts. All together athletes will perform at up to 21 different stations looking to impress one of the eight teams for their chance to be selected. This is not a competition, and given the flexibility of the matches in the NPFL, teams may be looking for athletes with particular strengths in certain areas rather than an all-round athlete.
      • The NPFL site has provided a list of the stations that will be tested at the combines. As this isn’t a strict competition, athletes will be able to choose which stations they want to perform at:
  • The following stations will initiate every 3 minutes:
  • Front Squat – 1RM
  • Press (strict) – 1RM
  • Overhead Squat – 1RM
  • Jerk – 1RM
  • Deadlift – 1RM
  • Clean & Jerk – 1RM
  • Snatch – 1RM
  • Clean – 1RM
  • Chest-to-Bar Pull-ups – Max reps in 90 seconds
  • Handstand Push-ups – Max reps in 90 seconds
  • Muscle-ups  – Max reps in 90 seconds
  • Box Jumps (30/24″) – Max reps in 60 seconds
  • Pistols – Max reps in 45 seconds each leg
  • Double-unders – Max reps in 90 seconds
  • Rope Climbs – Max reps in 90 seconds
  • Handstand Walk – Max distance in 60 seconds
  • Farmer Carry (155/95lbs) – Max distance in 60 seconds
  • Shuttle Run – Max distance in 60 seconds
  • The following three stations will initiate every 15 minutes:
  • 5 Rounds of 12 Power Clean and 6 Push Press (165/105lbs) – 12 min cap
  • AMRAP 7 min of 20 Thrusters (95/65) and 20 Bar-facing Burpees
  • Row 1k
  • At the end of Friday, the Teams will select 48 women, and at the end of Saturday, the Teams will select 48 men, to return for Sunday, where they will race in a series of pickup team events. At the end of Sunday, the Teams will select 24 women and men to come back for the second stage.
  • The second stage of the Combines will be a single two-day event in mid-June. Both days will consist of a variety of pickup team races. After evaluating the athletes, teams will then select the individuals they’re most interested in to move on and be available for selection during the Draft.
  • The Draft will operate much like the NBA or NFL Drafts, with teams selecting athletes one at a time in a random, predetermined order. At least 80 athletes (including reserves) will be selected through the Draft, which is scheduled to take place in late June.

Phew! That’s a lot of information, but it’s great to see that the NPFL wants to make their competition open to the average Joe of the sporting world. Having the chance to rub shoulders with some big names will surely be a dream come true for many, and teams have wasted no time in snatching up some of the highest profile athletes in our sport…

The Athletes
The NPFL is careful not to mention CrossFit as the league’s focus on the site, but based on the early sample workouts that have been released, it’s quite clear that athletes with CrossFit backgrounds will excel in this kind of workout format. With that being said, it will still be cool to see former professional athletes from other sports joining the league and competing. Indeed, the prospect of having a professional sporting contract will be incredibly enticing for many current CrossFitters, and this has already proven to be the case, based on the names that have already signed contracts with teams. These include:

  • Annie Thorisdottir-New York Rhinos
  • Annie Sakamoto-San Francisco Firebreathers
  • Lindsey Valenzuela-LA Reign
  • Kenny Leverich-LA Reign
  • Daniel Tyminski-Philadelphia Founders
  • Nate Schrader-Phoenix Rise
  • James ‘OPT’ Fitzgerald-Phoenix Rise (player/coach)

As I mentioned in the introduction, for the first time “CrossFit” athletes (again, the NPFL doesn’t use that term, but it’s a safe bet most of their athletes will be CrossFitters) will become paid professionals upon signing with an NPFL team. The details on how much each athlete will be compensated are still unclear, but we do have this information, taken from the NPFL website, in regards to athlete salaries:

“For each match, teams will “dress” four men and four women, with at least one of each being over 40 years old at the time of competition. Only these eight athletes will be allowed to compete in the events for that match. Teams may only “dress” athletes from their active roster for each match. The minimum compensation for each “dressed” athlete is $2,500 per match. On top of the 14 active athletes, each team will have two men and two women on their reserve list. Each of these athletes will be formally signed and receive payment of at least $100 per year, even if they never get called up.”

There are obviously still a lot of questions surrounding the NPFL, and considering this is a brand new sporting league and competition, this is only natural. We know that the league is expected to start late August 2014, will be aired live, and some sponsors already include the likes of Eleiko. Budding is obviously hoping that the close ties that the format of the NPFL will share with CrossFit will attract a lot of attention, both from the community and sponsors. And as we can see from some of the athletes that have already signed contracts this certainly seems to be the case. There is a lot of potential for Budding and the NPFL, which could shake up the CrossFit landscape in the coming months and years. Whether this will be good or bad for our sport remains to be seen.

Artist rendering taken from the NPFL website.

William Imbo
William Imbo is an Associate Editor at BoxLife magazine, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer and holds an MPS in Sports Industry Management from Georgetown University. He is an avid CrossFitter and loves film, music and travel, thanks to having grown up across Europe. A fan of the New Orleans Saints and Newcastle United, Will's favorite CrossFit girl is Helen-least favorite being Isabel.

2 COMMENTS

  1. This league is off to a very slow start. They promised 8 teams and are only starting with 5. The combine today in LA was sparsely attended. Very few spectators and only a handful of athletes. They will have to endure a half dozen years of losses to get this going. I watched the sample races on youtube and it was like watching one of the games they play on reality shows like Big Brother or Survivor, not a fitness competition. It was very chaotic and not spectator friendly. The rules seems strange as well. Why the gratuitous 40 year old? What other sport does that? Also, it’s billed as co-ed but they are scaling the weights for women so it’s not actually co-ed. Women competing against women and men competing against men.

  2. The San Francisco team had to drop the “breather” and are now called simply SF Fire. The “original firebreather” would not give them the OK to use the name he “created.”nn1

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