Noah’s Arc: Suemnick Battles NCAA in the Name of Pickleball…& God
Putting the power of God in support of a passion for pickleball.
Noah Suemnick thinks big. The National Collegiate Pickleball Association (NCPA) founder is barely six months out of college and he’s already putting together a collegiate pickleball national championship tournament.
“So, I dream big, I think big, I pray big,” Suemnick said. “I want kids to go back after competing in this event [saying] it was the best collegiate event they played in, it was the biggest, it was the most exciting.’”
Suemnick started planning for the tournament – the NCPA Collegiate Pickleball National Championship, which will run from March 15-17 in San Diego, CA – from his college apartment during his senior year at Point Loma Nazarene University.
“I called over 200 colleges [about competing], I think was about 230,” Suemnick said. “I was with my buddies in my room, I lived in an apartment on campus, and they're in the other room playing Halo.”
Backed by a team that includes a former VP of Business Development for the Philadelphia Eagles and a seasoned venture capitalist, the recent graduate already has 24 teams and 124 players on board, with both of those numbers growing. He and his team have secured streaming deals, which he says will broadcast the tournament to at least tens of thousands – and potentially even millions, per his highest estimate – of viewers.
Suemnick, who got his start as the president of Point Loma’s pickleball club, organizing local tournaments in San Diego, made it onto the NCAA’s radar too. In September, the NCAA threatened to sue the upstart pickleball organization for trademark infringement due to their similar sounding names.
“We are trying to find a common ground,” Suemnick said. “They want us to change the name and they want us to give them rights to use NCPA for nothing…so the ball’s in their court with being open to having a discussion.”
The David-and-Goliath story garnered nationwide attention and raised the NCPA’s profile. But the former Division II soccer player thinks the work he and his team put in behind the scenes getting the NCPA off the ground contributed to the intrigue.
“It was the San Diego Union Tribune that was first to write an article, and it kind of just spread like wildfire,” Suemnick said. “I had people all around the nation, a couple of big players in the pickleball world on the East Coast pretty much said, “Hey, what's going on with this? We haven't heard of you until now.”
According to Suemnick, NCPA’s format differs from industry-standard DUPR, which deploys a ratings system using MLP-style team matches consisting of a women’s doubles game, a men’s doubles, and two mixed doubles games. Instead, NCPA will use five individual tournaments – gender-specific singles, doubles, along with mixed doubles – to de-emphasize mixed.
“A lot of times in the mixed games, the guy will come over to the woman side, and pretty much take up the full court,” Suemnick said. “It's not fun to watch. It's not fun to play. And it's just frustrating on many fronts. So what we're doing is five individual tournaments, making it very basic, very streamlined, not complicated.”
As upstart organization battling the established power of the NCAA, Suemnick said the going hasn’t been easy so far, but he’s finally starting to see a reward for his efforts with the national championships right around the corner.
Suemnick credits his resilience to his faith. A Christian, Suemnick says his religion is at the core of everything he does.
“It's not just a private thing you keep to yourself,” Suemnick said. “It's something that you spread in every aspect of your life. So, for me, it just so happened to be pickleball. It could have been I was pursuing real estate, it could have been me spreading the faith through real estate, but it happened to be pickleball.”
Suemnick tries to put his money where his mouth is – the NCPA donates 10% of its revenue to A21, an organization that works to stop sex trafficking.
“I'm not making much, if any, money right now. And still, we're giving, we’re trying to support one another,” he said.
It remains to be seen if Suemnick’s vision works out or if he dreamt too big this time. But after how hard it was to get the NCPA off the ground, Suemnick said he’s thrilled that he’s finally seeing some returns.
“It’s pretty much been a year until we're finally seeing something happen,” Suemnick said. “I've been laughed at… I've been told ‘You're wrong. You're nothing. Just let the big guys take over. You're just this little college kid that is trying to do something new…so we're starting to see something, giving it all to God, and doing what I can.”
Godspeed, Noah Suemnick.