WPS still seeking 2012 sanctioning

Jeff Kassouf November 22, 2011 12

Just when you think things are looking up, reality smacks you in the face. Perhaps the proximity of the few journalists who regularly cover Women’s Professional Soccer skews our perception, but it seems like no league in this country has dealt with that more in the past year than WPS.

October brought unprecedented optimism across the league. The almost exclusively Northeast-based WPS exuded positive forethoughts during the unseasonably warm autumn.

Women’s soccer was and is still riding the high of this summer’s World Cup (just look at the 18,482 fans who showed up in Arizona for the United States’ match again Sweden on Saturday).

The renewed confidence has been tangible from league and team officials throughout the offseason. Even up until two weeks ago, it looked like Connecticut would be joining the league in time for 2012.

The termination of the magicJack franchise was brushed aside as a necessary loss for the betterment of the bigger picture. For the most part, I think the majority of us were able to buy that one.

Then, on Friday, word broke that magicJack owner Dan Borislow is suing the league for improper termination of his magicJack franchise. That in itself was worrisome.

Borislow has the money and the necessary attitude to put up a serious fight against WPS. I’ll pass on pretending I’m a lawyer who can evaluate just how much of a chance he has at reparations (or even reinstatement), but the situation at the very least draws WPS back into the muck of a legal battle that will only drain its time and resources.

When the magicJack-WPS battle first looked like it was headed to the courts back in July, one would-be owner of a franchise interested in joining the league told me that expansion candidates were wary of entering a league with Borislow in it, but that the one bigger turn-off would be entering a league in litigation.

It looks like things are headed that way, again.

But what’s worse, WPS is yet to be sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation, as reported by Jenna Pel on Sunday.

USSF officials gathered in Los Angeles ahead of Sunday’s MLS Cup final for annual meetings and delayed their decision on whether or not to sanction WPS for 2012, reportedly giving the league two weeks to find a sixth team.

The league already in the past received passes on the minimum standards for a Division 1 women’s league, which require teams in at least three time zones and a minimum of eight teams. Six was enough temporarily, but the USSF’s stance coming out of Sunday’s meeting clearly indicates that five teams is not acceptable.

If finding a sixth team is what ultimately decides whether or not the league gets sanctioned, WPS could be in trouble.

A potential Connecticut franchise just 11 days ago decided, along with WPS, to hold off league entry until 2013, allowing the team more preparation time. Philadelphia Independence head coach Paul Riley has said in the past that a Long Island franchise could be ready if WPS needs it to be, but it’s now late November and that group of investors is slated to join the league in 2013 along with a host of West Coast teams (for up to seven additional teams, total, which would more than double the size of the league).

Detroit’s name has been thrown into the mix, but its late emergence makes a 2012 entry unlikely. Multiple sources said the Motor City is keen on a 2013 entry.

For now, though, there seems to be no likely candidate that can enter WPS and begin play just four months from now (not to mention the immediate needs of branding and marketing).

The implications of an unsanctioned Women’s Professional Soccer are yet unknown. So too is just how close such a situation is to becoming reality.

With rumors of a U.S. national team residency camp already swirling, the uncertainty surrounding WPS only further suggests that we may not see U.S. players in this league next season. Everything seems to be pointing in that direction, although there is still the case to be made that U.S. players may be willing to bear the pay cuts and chaos for the betterment of women’s soccer, as both they and their WUSA predecessors have done in the past.

Still, WPS as a sanctioned league is not a given at this juncture. WPS has coined the term, ‘11th hour,’ over the past two years to describe some of its shortcomings and contraction. It may take an 11th hour compromise to make sure the league is recognized by the USSF, a critical piece to both viability and credibility.

  • Lisa

    The league needs to save their $$, avoid going to court over Magicjack and swallow their pride & ego and bring Borislow’s MJ under some heavy constraints & probation. It’s a better solution than rushing a new team into the league. Borislow screws up the probation, league in better position to finally term his franchise for good.

  • newsouth

    Up – 7 teams in 2013 – Really?

    Teams won’t join now because of MagicJack – Really? And they are all independent franchises. That’s like no one in the early years getting an NFL franchise because of AL Davis’ legal battles with the league office.

    Fans – They still came after the WC. We have short memories when it comes to Dan. He doesn’t stop me or my sister from buying tickets, just makes us laugh. Plus the WPS added sponsors after the WC. I don’t think most of their execs keep track of this guy.

    Detroit – It has to be the worst city for a team. By mid-season, they’ll be preparing to close shop.

    Blame it all on Dan if the league folds. Everyone has to find their scapegoat.

    Blame on WPS.

  • Katreus

    I’m not very confident that an ownership group can make a viable entrance into WPS in 15 days if they haven’t done so already. Seems to me the easiest option is to let magicJack back in. This takes care of both lawsuit and meets the six teams requirement.

    “But it’ll hurt the league’s reputation” isn’t a very convincing response when the worst is that the entire league folds. If another ownership group can enter, great. If they can’t, hold your nose, let magicJack back in: a league with DB is much better than no league at all.

  • Elite Hunting

    The nonstop turmoil with this league is ridiculous. Teams come and go – sometimes in the middle of the season – and interest is little going on none. Obviously a women’s professional league in the U.S. is not viable. Five teams is not a league, it’s a Round Robin group. This joke known as the WPS needs to be put to bed. Perhaps, in the future, MLS franchises will be viable and profitable enough to sponsor women’s teams then a U.S. pro league for the women can move forward. Until then, it needs to go away and send the subpar coaches back to the college ranks.

    • newsouth

      Not sure what you are saying. You think Sahlen isn’t legit, or Boston, or NJ or Philly? The president and whatever owners voted against Dan to terminate MJ make a douche move that backfired. I’m guessing they thought CT was on the books to the last minute. MJ has a stadium, the university handles the front off, and they use a player coach. What’s the problem? Keep Dan from the players but the players took care of that problem at the end of last season, and they finished nice and strong. I could care less if Dan has battles with the president and calls Fitz ghetto for not paying his players. MJ should have been allowed to play thru this season with points Dan agreed to meet in writing. if he didnt as someone said, can Mj. at least you have a legit 1-3 teams in 2013. they had one if, and, and but this season. and Detroit is the worst city to be putting a team in. they must be joking. They’d do better finding someone in Arizona after the 18000 turnout for the USNT. i always thought arizona was a good location.

  • WPS coaches committed to forging ahead in 2012, with or without USSF sanctioning

  • newsouth

    Based on bigsoccer, the ussf will not let the NT players play Div II soccer. either get Dan back or pony up money to bring in a 6th team. what a mess? they just had to work with this guy in the off-season.

  • necron99

    It doesn’t make sense for the USSF to say that the USWNT players cannot play D2 soccer. The USWNT players can play for any NCAA team D1, D2, D3. They can play for WPSL, or even foreign leagues. Why should D2 in the US make any difference. It is almost an elitist position for the USSF to take, that only D1 players are “good” enough to be USWNT players.

    It seems more like a way to leverage their power over WPS and force compliance.

  • Greg

    It’s hard for me to imagine that the USSF would not exempt the WPS for one season at 5 teams if that means they can get to a point where half a dozen new franchises would be coming into the fold. If they really support women’s pro soccer in the states, they’ll give WPS that time to consolidate those expansion markets. It makes no sense to throw that potential away because WPS was at 5 teams instead of 6 for one season; they have to look at the long term.

    Looking back at the myriad franchise changes, rules changes, and lost revenue MLS was given a chance to work through for years, the USSF would be hypocritical to deny women’s soccer at least a portion of that support.

    • I agree with Greg on this. If the USSF gives a damn about women’s soccer, then it needs to offer all of the help that it reasonably can, and I don’t think asking for some leeway on classification here is really too much to ask.

      As for the mj saga, that whole thing has just been so strange, I’ve never fully understood it, and try to steer clear of it. But based on his previous actions, I still feel the league is better off without him. And I find it entirely unsurprising that he is trying to go after the league in court rather than bow out gracefully.

      If he was really such an unselfish supporter of women’s soccer, he could just give some of that bank (strings/influence free) to a different (6th) ownership group/franchise. That way his cash would help keep the league going with a sixth franchise, but he just wouldn’t have any kind of a hand in it. But I’m guessing he wouldn’t be willing to do that. There are obviously limits to what he will magnanimously do for the “team”.

      But anyway, I agree that the USSF needs to do it what it can to help the current situation.

      • newsouth

        this makes no sense. why don’t he give away his phn device, so someone else can enjoy the $100M a yr in revenues?

  • Ha, sounds fine to me. 🙂
    Anyway, all I’m saying is that there are ways for investors with money to contribute to the league, without seemingly trying to wreck it in the process.
    Just like there are ways to “stir things up” and get attention for the league, that don’t seem to tarnish the league in the process.
    And, personally, I thought his actions always seemed to be a little bit more about Destructive control than Constructive contribution…with that legal fight being the latest example.

    Anyway, talking about him is pretty boring.

    I find the USSF issue to be the main point, and I really hope they help out.
    It would make sense too, given the interest shown from other franchises, and more importantly, given the fact that this is an Olympic year.