On March 20, just a few days before the start of the National Women’s Soccer League season, the league sent out its 2023 competition guidelines, including it’s roster rules, deadline tables and much more.
NWSL rules are notoriously complicated and difficult to follow even for those whose job it is to know them, so our goal is to help you better understand some key elements.
The major milestones to watch out for are going to be the closure of the primary transfer window — when teams can still sign players — which will happen on Thursday, April 27. The secondary window runs from June 28 through July 25, overlapping the World Cup.
As a mechanism for adding players, the 45 day Injury/Illness List was added. Basically, if a player is expected to miss at least 45 days due to an injury, they can be added to the list and their team can sign a replacement player.
How does this differ from the season-ending injury (SEI) designation? With the SEI, teams are able to also have salary-cap relief, whereas they don’t with the 45-Day IL, so the added player must fit into the team’s salary cap. Also, if a player does recover before the 45 days is up on the latter, they are not allowed to return to the active roster until the 45 day period is up.
With a lot of players having SEI’s last year — usually due to a torn ACL — and showing up on final rosters today still having the SEI designation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that player will also miss this season. If a player receives the SEI designation, the team receives both roster and salary-cap relief and that stays until the player is cleared by the team physician. As long as a player had the designation before the start of the regular season, they can come off the list at any point in time. The minute they do, the money and roster-spot help disappear. So, teams have incentives to keep players designated as SEI, for now.
The caveat to this is what happens when someone has a SEI during the season, but then unexpectedly recovers quickly: If the team didn’t use roster or salary-cap relief, said player can rejoin the active roster at any time. However, there is a limit that only two players can use the unexpected recovery return in any given season.
One other way teams can stay under the salary cap is the fact that performance bonuses for players — although paid out in the year they were achieved — count toward the next year’s salary cap. So, contracts can be structured in ways where if teams think they have more give in the next year’s cap, they can make the performance bonuses bigger in order to stay under for the current year.
In addition to the annual limit of allocation money, “teams that did not qualify for the postseason in a given league season may purchase an additional $100,000 in allocation money during the following calendar year.”
CBA offers new parental rights
The documents also gave some clarity around some of the parental rights that the new CBA affords. First, strides were made to improve the life of players post-pregnancy and make sure that they are supported while nursing:
Second, language clarifies that paid parental leave is also available for any player who adopts a child during the NWSL season and that they are entitled to either eight weeks of paid leave or the remaining term of the player’s contract, whichever is shorter, in addition to players who give birth to a child. The player will received 100 percent of their NWSL salary.
One other tidbit that differs a lot from other leagues is that trades may not be conditioned upon a player passing a physical examination or voided because they failed to do so, unless the trading team acts in bad faith regarding the details of a player’s medical condition.
The other calendar is the national team replacement player (NTRP) calendar, which highlights the FIFA windows in which NTRPs can be signed and when they must be released by. As a reminder, NTRP’s do not count against a team’s roster or salary cap unless they are kept past the highlighted red boxes.
For many teams with multiple players heading to the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer, NTRPs are an important factor in continuing to win games during major tournaments.
Complete NWSL rules can be viewed here.
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