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An attempt to summarize the current state of the magicJack-WPS fiasco

Women’s Professional Soccer has exactly three weeks left until its championship game on August 27, but the battle down in Florida is just heating up. On Wednesday, the previous behind closed doors struggle between Borislow and the league went public.

The drama truly began in November when the Washington Freedom, desperate for a new majority investor, was contacted by Borislow. WPS vetted Borislow through the express lane checkout without fully taking a look at how compatible the relationship would be. It was clear from the start that most of Borislow’s plans were polar opposites from what WPS had been preaching throughout the offseason.

The most noticeable rift in opinion from that interview – the first Borislow gave publicly following his purchasing of majority ownership of the team – came from the subject of player salaries.

Moving ahead full circle to Tuesday, Borislow filed a temporary injunction against the league to prevent WPS from immediately terminating his ownership of the magicJack franchise. WPS fired back with a press release that alerted the public to the dispute turned legal case that seemingly nobody – not fans, not media, not even most team personnel outside of plaintiff and defendant knew about.

Take notice that the plaintiffs in this case are MagicTalk Soccer Club, LLC., and Freedom Soccer, LLC. John Hendricks, 10 year owner of the Washington Freedom, still owns a share of this team (sources peg the share at 25 percent). He did not return an email request to speak about the issue.

Beau Dure spoke with Mark Washo, former Freedom general manager, and provides a great recap of the series of events over at espnW.

It was Wednesday’s press release from the league that opened up the floodgates, and Jenna Pel shortly got her hands on a copy of the grievance filed by the WPS Players Union against Borislow. It’s pretty vaguely worded, but it shows that clearly some players (which players exactly, remain unclear) wanted Borislow stripped of any coaching duties. The Players Union quickly issued its own statement on the happenings, stating that the players want to focus on what is happening on the field.

Pel also points out that a league tangled in a legal mess could turn away potential team investors and league sponsors. WPS has long known that to add 2012 expansion teams it would have to clean up this mess in Florida, but a legal battle is far from rebirth for WPS. It won’t just be a black eye, but a wallet gouger as well. Borislow has a lot of money and surely a savvy legal team.

The truth of what is going on between WPS and magicJack lies somewhere in between all of these finger pointing accusations. Of course, writing the word “truth” in the same sentence as this mess just feels wrong.

Boca Raton, Fla. is by all accounts the land of mystery when it comes to WPS. It started with players having a gag order issued at the start of the season and it seems that despite that being lifted, nobody really wants to talk about their experiences there.

There is a lot out there talking about how the players are being “treated well.” They are certainly living in a beautiful place, but having some nice material things speaks nothing about if the players are happy. No players – past or present – have spoken much, if at all, about their time at magicJack.

Former staff and one-time player Shannon Myers (in a precarious situation that saw the team without a goalkeeper for a 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Independence on June 25) said that at this time she would rather not get involved in what is going on down in Florida. Myers did offer this sentiment about her time at “the cryptic puzzle” that is magicJack:

“I am no longer a part of the staff or players but, even so, wish the team nothing but the absolute pinnacle of success. At this point, the only way I can explain my experience there is to say that it was unlike anything of which I’ve ever in my life been a part. And Dan is unlike any person with whom I’ve ever before been associated. Despite my departure, there were many positives. I joined the organization because I have a cavernous care for this league and an unconditional love for the women within it who have become like a family to me. Now that I’ve reached the end of my time there, I will take with me countless measures of growth, pride and experience. There are things I will miss – including the small impact I had in my efforts to positively imprint upon the day-to-day of 20-some women. Everyone has to move on and I suppose this was just my time.”

Thus, the mystery continues. Myers, who is no longer with the team for reasons which are still unclear, was one of what at least publicly appeared as one o just two “front office” members other than Borislow. The other was of course U.S. Women’s National Team legendary goalkeeper Briana Scurry. But she too departed the team during the Women’s World Cup for speaking critically of Hope Solo while serving as an analyst for ESPN (something I had also heard).

On Friday, Jenna Pel dove into how WPS outside legal counsel Pamela Fulmer plans to defend WPS. From what people who know legal jargon better than I do have said, it looks like Fulmer will try to prove that there is nothing explicitly mentioned in the LLC Agreement that says arbitration is required for termination of a team or owner.

Then again, this could be all for naught. It now looks like this issue could all be settled outside of court. Talk about a huge turnaround. One has to wonder not only what went on behind the scenes in the last 48 hours but also how much of an ego-driven front this was from each party. We’ll see if this mess actually avoids litigation, though. (And on a side note, magicJack suddenly expanding seating capacity to 5,000 seats and installing a balcony for Fox Soccer means that Borislow and FAU are taking steps.

As far as that temporary injunction is concerned, there are a lot of valid points along with serious cases of hyperbole and downright questionable statements. Then again, that is what legal debate in the court room is for.

The temporary injunction is a somewhat exhausting 32 page PDF, but there are some things that stand out in the document. Here are some notes that should be addressed:

  • Page 2: Dan Borislow “literally saved the league from extinction” – This has been beaten to death. Again, that is half the equation. Borislow “literally” would not have had that opportunity had Joe Sahlen not committed the Western New York Flash to WPS over two months before Borislow’s entry.
  • Page 2: The team is “becoming part of the fabric of the South Florida community” – Now this one could take the cake on hyperbole. Fans are clearly far more interested following the Women’s World Cup, but the lack of promotion of the team would suggest that the above statement is more self-satisfying than anything else.
  • Page 3: WPS terminating the franchise would mean the league is “capturing for itself and the other team owners the increased franchise value and goodwill” of magicJack. This is an interesting one. It raises a pretty good point. If an expansion candidate had the option of buying this team with nine players that went to the Women’s World Cup, it could be far more attractive.
  • Page 6: Bullet Point No. 5 under “Verified Facts” – You really have to wonder what the conversations between Borislow and the Hendricks’ were like (and more importantly, what the conversations between Borislow and WPS were like). No party could have envisioned this.
  • Page 8: Bullet Point No. 9 – The team is committed to moving to a large venue if attendance builds. If magicJack does continue to exist (as a WPS team, anyway), a larger, more professional venue will have to be acquired. That’s nothing against what I am told is a nice FAU pitch, but bleachers don’t scream professional. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to think that Borislow donating 100 percent of profits to FAU comes with the expectation of getting permanent stands built for 2012.
  • Page 11: Bullet Point No. 16-19 – This is interesting that WPS sent a series of letters to Borislow during the Women’s World Cup, which Borislow attended in Germany. It seems a bit unrealistic for anybody to deal with something like this from Germany. Personally, even just covering the Women’s World Cup consumed most of my time not used for sleeping.
  • Page 13: Bullet No. 23 – The team claims that it will lodge its own complaints against WPS for “fraud and misappropriation of Team assets.” I’d love for an explanation on this. Furthermore, the suggestion that WPS intends to terminate Borislow’s ownership in order to sell off the team to the highest bidder – a notion thematically mentioned throughout the document – seems incredibly far-fetched. This looks like an ugly divorce in which WPS wishes to just wipe its hands clean. Sure, women’s soccer is at a new, higher level of popularity, but WPS has been through several separations already (LA Sol, Saint Louis Athletica, FC Gold Pride and, to an extent the Chicago Red Stars). Has WPS ever profited from those divorces? Not a chance. A team folding is never a good thing. A team being terminated sounds even worse.
  • Page 14: Bullet No. 25 – It sounds like Borislow and company are willing to lose if they lose by fair arbitration. They just want to make sure the league doesn’t boss them around.
  • Page 15: The request is that arbitration stays confidential. It is more than fair to say that, as of now, the dispute is anything but behind closed doors. The public absolutely deserves to know what is going on, but deliver that message when there is a clear direction, not this mucky legal battle that makes everyone involved look bad.
  • Page 16: Article 13 clearly states that the league would take over the team in the event that the ownership group is terminated. WPS chose not to do this with Saint Louis Athletica, but at this point, surely it would to get magicJack through the next three weeks (a timeframe that presumes the team will even make the championship match).
  • Page 20: “The League’s interpretation of the Arbitration Provision is the equivalent of permitting death row prisoners to appeal only after their sentence has been carried out.” Well, when you put it that way…
  • Page 21: “The League, on the other hand, will not suffer any material harm if the Court enters a temporary restraining order to prevent termination prior to arbitration.” This I would argue. WPS really would not suffer any damage if the court proved the league was wrong and its villainized owner was correct? For a league that 12 months ago began decentralizing to a point that the front office went virtual and nearly powerless against owners, that would certainly qualify as “irreparable harm” by the loose terms being used.
  • Page 26: “…the press coverage of the team and its star players has exploded.” Players? Sure. Team? No way. The David Letterman interview cited and the other stops on the whirlwind national media tour were all about the U.S. Women’s National Team. In those instances, nobody was talking about magicJack. Players were even being criticized for not talking more about WPS. Without a heroic World Cup performance, those players don’t get on those TV shows.

There is not yet a conclusion and there likely will not be for a long time, but one thing is for sure: I can’t handle reading the phrases “in good faith” or “goodwill” much more without pulling my hair out. We will have forthcoming updates. There is no doubt about that.

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