PHF Chairman addresses commissioner search, Digit Murphy hiring, expansion and more

PHF Boston Pride players celebrate after scoring in the 2022 Isobel Cup Championship game
Michelle Jay

April 26, 2022 – Update: This story has been updated to include new information from the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) regarding the minimum salary for individual players and team roster size limits for the 2022-23 PHF season. 

Originally Published: April 20, 2022

On Tuesday evening, On Her Turf interviewed Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) Board of Governors Chairman John Boynton about a variety of topics, including the timeline for announcing a new commissioner, league expansion, the decision to hire Digit Murphy as the new President of the Metropolitan Riveters, and the role of BTM Partners in league governance.

On Her Turf also asked about Boynton’s role as chairman of Yandex, Russia’s largest tech company, which has reportedly played a role in suppressing factual information and promoting propaganda related to Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. He declined to comment.

Here are the biggest takeaways from that conversation.

When will the new PHF commissioner be hired?

According to Boynton, Ty Tummunia‘s successor as PHF commissioner will be announced “very soon, and possibly even this week.” Tumminia, who took over as commissioner in October 2020, announced in February that she would be stepping aside after this year’s Isobel Cup Playoffs.

“We are deep into the search process. We started out with a really great set of candidates… and worked down through a list of finalists. And we interviewed the person we believe will be the next commissioner,” Boynton said, going on to clarify that he was not a member of the search committee himself.

According to Boynton, the committee was led by Connecticut Whale owner Tobin Kelly, and there were six people involved in the search process: three members of the Board of Governors and three senior staff members.

Boynton declined to provide names of the hiring committee members or provide a number of how many members of the hiring committee are also members of BTM Partners. “I’m not sure that’s really relevant,” he said.

When the PHF (then NWHL) was founded, the league owned and operated all four franchises. In the last three years, there has been a transition from league ownership to private ownership of teams — a strong sign of growth — though two of those ownership groups currently control more than one franchise. The long term goal — according to the league website — is for every team to be owned by its own individual ownership group. But until this happens, the current joint ownership structure has the potential to create conflicts of interest.

During the 2021-22 season, BTM Partners owned three of six PHF teams and thus had three of six seats on the PHF Board of Governors. John is chair of the Metropolitan Riveters (and chairman of the league), his wife Johanna Boynton chairs the Toronto Six and business partner Miles Arnone chairs the Boston Pride. In addition, Digit Murphy is Senior Vice President of BTM Partners, while Bryant McBride is a partner.

When On Her Turf asked about the composition of the search committee and pointed out that the current ownership structure could result in a concentration of power, Boynton replied:

“We have an ownership group that is completely aligned around our mission, right? We are trying to build a league that is the best league we can build. And we are getting slammed in the press by people like you, honestly. If I look around, show me another group of people who plans to invest $25 million in their players over the next three years. Show me another group of investors in women’s hockey who have spent more than $15 million in the last three years building a league. We are working as hard as we can to build the best league we can. So I don’t know why the ill will.”

After On Her Turf pointed out that media accountability is important to the development of women’s hockey, Boynton replied, “By the way, I think most of the players in this league are thrilled with their experience… You know, change takes time. And if you look at the amount that we’ve accomplished over the last 18 months, to me, it’s pretty dramatic. And we’re moving fast. We’re proud of what we’re doing. And we think we’re doing an excellent job. Are we perfect? Of course not. Right. But we’re doing our best to make this league the best it can be. And that’s why it’s a little bit upsetting when we have certain journalists who just tend to be consistently negative and seem to be unable to see the positive in what we’re doing.”

UPDATE: Premier Hockey Federation appoints Reagan Carey as new commissioner

Is the PHF still planning to expand next season?  

Earlier this year, the PHF announced that the league would expand from six to eight teams for the 2022-23 season. The two new teams are expected to be based in Montreal and a U.S. city to be determined. Boynton didn’t provide any additional details on Tuesday, but said he hopes more information will be available by the “end of the first week of May.”

Boynton did say that – while BTM Partners is responsible for the Montreal expansion team – a different ownership group will control the other expansion team. He also confirmed that the sale of the Toronto Six — which was announced on March 7 to an all-BIPOC group that includes Angela James — has not yet closed.

What went into the decision to name Digit Murphy as President of the Metropolitan Riveters?

It was announced last week that Digit Murphy will take over as President of the Metropolitan Riveters, the same position she most recently held with the Toronto Six. The decision received some blowback from PHF fans and staff members.

“Digit was the one who launched the Six and she built that franchise from scratch and did a hell of a job with it,” Boynton said. “We (BTM Partners) were pretty hands off in our first year of owning the (Riveters). But we see an opportunity to really support the staff better, bring more resources to the team, build a team that we hope will compete more effectively next year — and do it all with a very strong culture that we think will be very much like what Digit was able to do up in Toronto.”

According to Boynton, Murphy will also be “supervising a transition of the front office (of the Six) and hiring a new president for that club” as the team transitions from BTM Partners to its new ownership group. He did not address Murphy’s current role as SVP of BTM Partners.

As for the departure of Anya Packer as Riveters general manager, “We asked (Anya) to come back as GM and she is not coming back. It was totally her choice,” Boynton said, adding that the Riveters will hire a new GM for the team ahead of next season. “We think that, to run these teams properly, you need to a president and a general manager.”

On Her Turf confirmed this with Packer in a phone interview.

“When I looked at the new role as general manager that got really narrowed by new hires in the org, it was no longer for me,” she said. “It’s a great role for whoever does take it on, but it just no longer suited me personally.”

Packer isn’t the only person to depart the Riveters organization in the last week.

Former head of Riveters Communications Jess Belmosto, as well as members of the stats team, also left.

Murphy has been criticized for her prior association with the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, an organization that has been condemned as transphobic. Although Murphy has since left the organization and said she has done “a deep dive of what it really means to be inclusive,” Belmosto cited her hiring as a specific factor in the decision to leave the organization.

“Her coming aboard really really really made it hard to even think of staying,” Belmosto told The IX. “It made me sick even thinking of working under her knowing her beliefs and how she has treated employees in the past. I knew in my heart I couldn’t stick around. I can’t change her and never will.”

Asked about the recent staff departures, Boynton said he had a call with nine staff members on Tuesday and that it went “very well.” He went on to add, “One of the headlines that we’re sharing with the staff is that what the Riveters did this year was great. They’re doing a lot of great work and advocating for a lot of great causes.”

As for what he would say to fans who feel alienated by Murphy’s hiring — especially regarding her prior association with the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group — Boynton said:

“I would say that Digit, for 40 years, has been a tireless advocate for women and has made a huge impact, a hugely positive impact, on the world of sports. I think she believes strongly in inclusion, and empowerment, and diversity. I think if you look at the organization she built for the Toronto Six, one of her goals was that the organization should reflect the diversity of the Greater Toronto Area, and she did that. I don’t think there’s another team in this league that has as much diversity in their front office as Toronto has. So I think that Digit is a fabulous advocate. And I think that, as the Riveters fans to get to know her, I think they’ll come to appreciate all that she has to offer because it’s a lot.”

What will PHF salaries look like next season?

In a press release Wednesday morning, the PHF outlined some of its plans for “roster building” ahead of the 2022-23 season. One of the highlights is that the PHF is implementing a salary cap floor of $562,500, which is 75 percent of next year’s $750,000 salary cap — part of a $25 million commitment announced in January.

Creating a salary cap floor is a major step in ensuring that teams are spending on player salaries as advertised. That said, the release says nothing about how this will be enforced (the PHF hasn’t historically released salary information) or if there will be individual player salary minimums.

Minimum player salaries have been a crucial in other women’s leagues like the NWSL and WNBA to ensuring that no player makes below a specific income threshold. In their first ever collective bargaining agreement, the NWSL Players’ Association negotiated a minimum salary of $35,000, while the WNBA’s most recent CBA specifies the minimum salary for rookies in 2022 will be between $60,471-$72,040 and $72,141 for veterans with three years of service (per HerHoopsStats). (Note: while the PHF has a Players’ Association, unlike the WNBA and NWSL, it is not a union that can collectively bargain for player rights.)

Following the phone interview on Tuesday, On Her Turf followed up with Boynton via email to ask whether the league had enforced minimum player salaries this past season. Boynton replied that there was a league-wide minimum, but when asked what it was, he replied that he wasn’t sure, and then followed up with, “I’m sure all complied; we all abide by the rules we set together.”

After Wednesday’s announcement, On Her Turf again followed up — both with Boynton and PHF Senior Vice President of Communications Paul Krotz — but did not initially hear back.

A member of the PHF Players’ Association who did not wish to be identified told On Her Turf that there is a “recommended” base salary of $20,000, but that the individual salary floor is lower to accommodate practice players and athletes who want to play, but can’t commit to playing the full season.

Update: On Tuesday, April 26, 2022, the PHF followed up with information on individual player minimum salaries. According to Krotz, the minimum salary for a player under contract during the 2022-23 PHF season will be $13,500. Krotz’s email included the following explanation: 

“This figure was established in consultation with the players who preferred a lower number to allow for a broader distribution of pay across team rosters within the salary cap, as well as to allow for exceptions that account for part time or practice players on the roster. Each year there are players that cannot commit to a full season or may only compete in some games due to work restrictions, etc, and the players wanted to be able to accommodate those individuals. It was determined that it would be easier to manage by simply lowering the contract minimum instead of applying rules for special circumstances to allow flexibility for some players to continue playing even if they may be limited based on personal situations related to their career, family, etc.” 

Krotz also confirmed that teams will be limited to a roster size of 25 players for the 2022-23 season. 

Also on Wednesday, the PHF confirmed that there won’t be a draft this season. According to the league press release, “PHF teams have the exclusive right to re-sign any rostered players from the 2021-22 season up until April 30, with unrestricted free agency officially commencing on May 1.” While the release says teams have the “exclusive right” to re-sign players, the same member of the Players’ Association said that players have the right to refuse the contract extension from their current team and wait until free agency if they want to explore their options.

The league’s press release also provided new details about health insurance coverage, noting that the new standard player agreement includes “comprehensive benefits plan with medical coverage from Aetna, plus dental and vision coverage through MetLife. One hundred percent of the premiums will be paid for the players and they will have no deductibles.”

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Diana Flores looks to break down gender barriers with turn as AFC offensive coordinator in 2023 Pro Bowl

Courtesy Diana Flores

Diana Flores admits she was surprised when she became a viral sensation last spring, courtesy of a 15-second slow-motion clip showcasing her evasive maneuvers and fancy footwork while leaving at least three defenders in the dirt during Mexico’s 2022 national collegiate flag football championship.

“I never expected someone to record that moment,” said Mexico City native Flores, who led her team – the Monterrey Tech Borregos – to their third consecutive national title as a senior last May. “I was just having fun. I was just playing the game I love and then days later to see that it was viral on the internet — it was crazy. But at the same time, it was exciting because I remember when I was younger, I didn’t have a lot of flag football role models to follow. So now, for me to be a role model for many boys and girls that play my sport is something that really makes me happy and proud and also motivates me to keep getting better.”

Flores, who led the Mexico Women’s National Flag Football Team to a gold medal at the 2022 World Games, will have the chance to promote her sport on one of the world’s biggest stages this weekend when she serves as the AFC offensive coordinator for the NFL’s 2023 Pro Bowl Games, featuring the first-ever AFC vs. NFC Flag football games on Sunday in Las Vegas.

Organized in partnership with RCX Sports, the NFL’s flag football operating partner, and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), Sunday’s Pro Bowl event will feature three 7-on-7 AFC vs. NFC flag games. Each game will be 20 minutes in length (two halves) and played on a 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones. Flores will be joined by Peyton Manning as the AFC head coach and Ray Lewis as defensive coordinator. On the NFC side, U.S. Women’s National Flag Football team quarterback Vanita Krouch will serve as offensive coordinator, with Eli Manning as NFC head coach and DeMarcus Ware as defensive coordinator.

“I think that this has been one of the best things in my life,” she recently told On Her Turf about her Pro Bowl appointment. “It is like a dream. I mean, I grew up watching football, watching the NFL, playing flag football. And now to be able to be part of all of this — it is bigger than my biggest dreams.”

Flores’ football dreams began as when she was just 8 years old. Her father — who played quarterback for the perennial football powerhouse Monterrey Tech program — took her to a practice and she fell in love with the sport. But as the time there were no teams for girls her age, so she played with girls twice her age and used it to her advantage, focusing on her own abilities and sharpening her skills. By age 14 she was playing NFL Flag in Mexico, where she was the only girl in the league, and at 15 she started playing NFL Flag in the U.S, where she finally played on an all-girls team.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: U.S. flag football star Vanita Krouch ‘living the dream’ ahead of NFL Pro Bowl debut as NFC coordinator

“I remember when I started playing, I used to receive a lot of like comments, directly and indirectly from other people, like, ‘Why do you play that sport? That’s not a girls’ sport, that sport is for boys, you’re get injured, you’re going to get hurt, don’t play with boys, that’s too rude.’ And the list keeps going. But my mom and dad were so supportive. They always encouraged me not to listen to anybody, to just follow my passion.

“And I think thanks to them, I’ve always had this mentality that gender doesn’t matter. It just matters how passionate you are about your dreams, how hard you work for what you want to achieve. And that you will always demonstrate what you’re made for, depending on the hard work you do. So, I’ve lived through that [negativity], I have experienced that. And I think that it has been one of my biggest blessings to be able to experience — for myself — what sport can do and how gender barriers get broken when you follow your dreams and you connect with other people through your passion.”

At just 16 years old, Flores made Mexico’s national team, playing in the first of four Flag Football World Championships – so far. Last summer at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, the 24-year-old Flores led Mexico to a 6-0 record, which included two wins over the U.S. women, who took silver. In the gold medal game against the United States, she completed 20 of 28 pass attempts for 210 yards and four touchdowns in Mexico’s 39-6 victory. She finished the tournament with 23 touchdown passes, the third-most among women’s teams, and she was the only starting quarterback to beat USA’s star QB, Krouch, who is 19-1 in international tournament play.

All that international experience so early in her career has given Flores a wise-beyond-her-years approach to playing flag football, a sport where she was frequently the only female player on the field and often the only Latin American as well.

“When I first came to the U.S., it was a little shocking to notice that I was probably the only Latin American girl playing,” she recalls. “But I think that it was easy for me because I got all the support from my coaches and my teammates. And since a young age, I think that I started to realize that sometimes what you do is for something bigger than yourself. That’s why you have to always give your best, in any situation. Even at that young age, I understood that I was representing more than myself on the field, I was representing Latin American people, Latin American girls in a sport that [many people thought] was meant to be for boys.”

RELATED: NFL still pushing for Olympic flag football with a chance ahead

One door Flores hopes to help open is the one leading to the Olympics. Flag football is on the short list being considered for inclusion in Los Angeles in 2028 Los Angeles. As an ambassador for flag football for the NFL and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), she’s participated in talks with the International Olympic Committee, and just last month she was joined by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden in Mexico City where they joined forced to promote women’s empowerment and inclusion.

“I think for me, that experience is one of my top three,” she said of spending time with Biden. “I call them gifts from life, something that you didn’t expect it to happen, and somehow, one day, you’re right there in front of the First Lady. I admire her for what she does for boys and girls, for empowering woman and giving opportunities for everybody to achieve their dreams. So it was truly an honor to meet her, and also to be able to keep impacting my sport, not only on the field, but [off] the field, and have the opportunity keep inspiring others and keep impacting the world.”

As for what she hopes fans at the Pro Bowl and viewers at home take away from Sunday’s flag football showcase, Flores hopes they’ll see the characteristics that made her fall in love with flag in the first place: creativity, speed, agility, teamwork, passion and a lot of heart.

“I hope to show to all little girls and women that dreams come true, that nothing is impossible, to keep inspiring and opening opportunities and doors for women in sports, especially in the world of the NFL and football and flag football,” she says. “We’re going to make history, and I am so proud and happy for that. I’m really hoping that it is just the first step, not only for me, but for all the women that are coming after me.”

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Flag football star Vanita Krouch ‘living the dream’ ahead of NFL Pro Bowl debut as NFC coordinator


When Vanita Krouch got the news that she was named NFC offensive coordinator for the 2023 Pro Bowl Games, featuring the first-ever AFC vs. NFC Flag football games on Sunday, the U.S. Women’s National Flag Football team quarterback admits her jaw nearly hit the ground.

And then she realized something even more profound.

“For the longest time, thinking about the moment, everything, you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is a dream come true. Is this really happening?’” said the 42-year-old Krouch, known as the “Tom Brady of flag football” with a 19-1 record as USA’s starting quarterback in international tournaments since 2018.

“But then I started thinking to myself: You know what? None of us grew up thinking of this as a dream to obtain. So really, it’s kind of reversed where I’m living a dream. I get to be a pioneer in this growth of flag football for all and inclusion for all, youth and adults, [women and men]. It’s such an inclusive sport, and I get to be a part of this growth and still actively play. It’s exciting. I’m literally living the dream. I’m very much like, ‘Guys, don’t pinch me. Let me keep sleeping.’”

Organized in partnership with RCX Sports, the NFL’s flag football operating partner, and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), Sunday’s Pro Bowl event will feature three 7-on-7 AFC vs. NFC flag games. Each game will be 20 minutes in length (two halves) and played on a 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones. Krouch will be joined by Eli Manning as NFC head coach and DeMarcus Ware as NFC defensive coordinator. On the AFC side, Mexico Women’s National Flag Football quarterback Diana Flores will serve as offensive coordinator, with Peyton Manning as head coach and Ray Lewis as defensive coordinator.

But Krouch’s journey to the Pro Bowl stage began under the unlikeliest of circumstances and was inspired by her own family odyssey, which began in Cambodia during the horrific regime of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. Krouch’s mother, Phonnary Krouch, fled the country with three young sons in tow, running by night and hiding by day to escape, finding safety initially at a refugee camp in the Philippines. That’s where she welcomed Vanita, in September 1980, and two months later the family made its way to the United States. Krouch’s father exited the picture upon their arrival in America, leaving Phonnary to raise four children alone.

“In a nutshell, my mom is an amazing woman,” said Krouch, who first found sports via an elementary school flyer advertising youth soccer in Carrollton, Texas. “On the journey, she had a lot of trials, tribulations, … and after our dad left us, it was just mom and four kids in this little one-bedroom apartment. So, it was a challenge. I’m just so amazed by her strength and will to never give up.”

She also credits her mom for standing up to then-stereotypical notions that Asian girls should not play sports.

“I’m just thankful, honestly, that my mom allowed me to break the Asian culture barriers of a woman playing sports because that’s not easy,” she said. “She faced a lot of backlash from the community. But she said, ‘Hey, my child’s making good grades. She’s healthy, she’s good. She’s staying off the streets. I don’t see a problem.’ And she just let me do it. I was just lucky to have a mom that let me spread my wings.”

Krouch also had a few mentors along the way. Her elementary school PE teacher, Toni Neibes, stepped in to pay for those initial soccer fees and continued her support as Krouch transitioned to basketball in the fourth grade. She fell in love with the sport and excelled at it as well, eventually earning a full scholarship to play college basketball at Southern Methodist University. She wears the No. 4 to this day in honor of Niebes, who wore the same number as a young athlete. She also credits her fourth-grade teacher, Judy Ward, as having a lasting impact after the teacher made a habit out of showing up for her youth basketball games.

She pays tribute to them both through her clothing line, 4Ward Apparel, which features ever-changing collections emblazoned with relevant slogans encouraging female empowerment, inclusion and her personal mantra of “paying it forward” – something she does with the line itself. Each month, Krouch donates a portion of the sales to individuals, families or organizations in need.

After graduating SMU in 2003, Krouch continued to play basketball in semi-pro and adult leagues, but she was still searching for something to satisfy her competitive drive. She and a former college teammate stumbled on flag football during a Google search for local Dallas-area activities, and the rest – as they say – is history.

“It was like I drank the Kool Aid and I never looked back,” she says of her start in flag in 2006. “It’s just like every game, every play is a new challenge, and it’s addictive for a competitor, so I just fell in love with flag. I actually think I’m way better at flag than I was at basketball.”

She moved into the quarterback position through some sly maneuvering by current USA Women’s Flag Football head coach Chris Lankford. They were playing together in a local tournament when he “tricked” her into the QB position, despite Krouch knowing “zero football language.”

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“One day I showed up for a tournament and I asked, ‘All right, guys, who’s our quarterback?’ And he says, ‘We’re looking at her,’” she remembers. They kept the plays simple, and her team made it to the playoffs that season. Krouch has been a QB ever since.

Krouch joined the national team in 2016 and was inducted into the National Flag and Touch Football Hall Fame that same year. Last year at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, a 41-year-old Krouch set a new mark as the oldest Flag football player, man or woman, in the games, and she ranked second among women with 25 touchdown passes at the tournament where USA won silver.

She aims to bring that expertise to the field at the Pro Bowl games, where she’s looking forward to seeing NFL players take on the flag football style type of plays. “Flag is a very finesse, quick game, a lot of footwork, and these guys can’t grab or hold, no downfield contact or downfield block or anything off the line,” she explains. “So it’s going to be exciting just to see skill for skill, footwork for footwork, defense to offense, and to see flag football language with those type of elite athletes.”

As for the biggest challenge, Krouch believes it will be crafting a concise playbook and language that puts everyone on the same page. “A challenge for me is getting a coach’s mindset,” she adds, “I have to actually come up with plays ahead of time and I don’t usually have premeditated plays in my head. I just read it so for me to tell Kirk Cousins or Geno Smith [what to do], it will be different, you know?”

But beyond the Pro Bowl, Krouch is excited that flag is being considered for inclusion as an exhibition sport in the 2028 Summer Olympics. While she’s keeping a hopeful eye on that development, she’s also working to shape the next generation of potential athletes as a physical education teacher at La Villita Elementary in Irving, Texas.

RELATED: NFL still pushing for Olympic flag football with a chance ahead

“It’s an honor to be a role model – for other youth flag football players, for my students, both boys and girls,” says Krouch. “Then at my campus and in my community, it’s amazing to be able to break the barrier of like, ‘Asian women can’t do this.’ And then to be at my age, still doing this, I feel very lucky and blessed. …I think I still got some years in me.”

As for what she hopes viewers and fans walk away with after watching the Pro Bowl flag games this weekend, Krouch feels confident folks will walk away enlightened by the show.

“I just hope that they have fun with it,” says Krouch. “And for those who don’t know flag to be like, ‘Wow, that’s really amazing. Maybe that’s something I really can get my son or daughter into at a young age.’ So I just hope that they see that the sport is real – it’s not just something we play at recess. It’s a real thing now. I think they’ll see that the world loves it, the world can play it and is playing it.”

Be sure to check back with On Her Turf later this week when we catch up with AFC coordinator and Mexico Women’s National Flag Football Team quarterback Diana Flores.  

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