Neil Blackmon turns last week’s narrative from the failed WPS to the USWNT
Quite a past week for women’s soccer in this country.
The morning after one of the most dominating qualifying performances, for any international tournament, in the history of the sport, the already-on-life-support WPS cancels the 2012 season.
The final decision on the 2012 season was made by the WPS governing board, but not really.
Dan Borislow’s civil lawsuit seeking an injunction against the WPS for its (Borislow’s words) “threatened action to immediately terminate his Florida franchise at the conclusion of the 2011 season” was both the impetuts and the death knell.
From a legal perspective, the costs of that litigation to this point alone were steep for a league already in financial dire straits—but the prospect of continued litigation pushed things over the top, according to league officials. As such, while the US Women’s National Team was putting on a clinic of hurricane-like dominance in Canada, one that began to answer many of the post-World Cup Final “Questions” about the sustainability of USWNT dominance; the WPS, facing more hearings in court, was quietly meeting to drop the hammer on the WPS 2012 campaign.
Without being too legally technical—the ruling by a Florida judge appears to follow the letter of the law: the manner in which the WPS took action against Borislow was, in fact, not compliant with its own bylaws and mediation procedures.
Borislow was (is), by all accounts a dreadful owner.
If you saw the understaffed and ill-equipped training facilities his MagicJack side trained on in Palm Beach County, or the stadium they played in–as I’ve witnessed–you could understand why.
But it was more than that.
The WPS sets floor requirements for operations by each of its franchises within the league bylaws. According to league officials and the respondent complaint in the civil lawsuit, Borislow’s club was not up to floor requirements in several areas: player treatment (training, medical bills and media access), payroll deadlines, facility guidelines and owner-team communication.
This is all dreadful stuff—especially given Borislow’s background in horse racing— it appears he treated his franchise, and his players, like they were race animals. Then again, given his lengthy disputes with the IRS—this isn’t necessarily someone who has a reputation for playing by the rules or respecting institutions.
The problem for the WPS was its response to these concerns.
Contractually, it was a violation of its mandated mediation guidelines to take or even feign preemptive legal action to terminate the franchise. Mediation must come first, and in failing to address these concerns according to its own bylaws, the league violated its contractual obligations to Borislow. The problem, of course, is the costs of the litigation that ensued because of the WPS breach forced the governing body’s hand—so while in the view of an outside observer it would appear Borislow committed the wrong and should be the villain in the story—the WPS was forced to cancel the 2012 season in order to keep fighting in court.
The players become victims of the league’s trust as well. The league is tentatively scheduled to begin play again in 2013—but no one paying attention should be holding their breath. We’ve heard for well over a decade now that a women’s professional league would finally latch on, have continuous operations and succeed. It simply hasn’t happened.
U-20 members in 2008...last week, the talk should have been about the maturation of these two (Leroux, Morgan)
What’s worse? The collapse of the league has overshadowed a more worthwhile discussion–one on the performance of this Olympic Qualifying version of the USWNT and what that dominating performance says about the state of the women’s game in this country. This isn’t to say the success of a professional league stateside and the state of the women’s game in American aren’t connected—to suggest that would be naïve.
It is that the success of the women’s national team has and should, in the near future, continue to occur regardless of whether a professional league is ultimately successful.
The state, and culture, of the women’s game in America is strong, professional league or no—and views to the contrary are placing too many eggs in one basket. In fact, I’d argue they are making a causal link between US Women’s National team success and pro league success that simply shouldn’t exist: it should never be, and is unfair to make it be, the burden of the women on the USWNT to “save” the professional league in this country.
WPS or no—is the state of women’s soccer in America still strong? In my view, that discussion brings us back to the central questions that lingered after the American loss to Japan in Frankfurt last summer. In the aftermath of that loss, there were a number of critics who suggested that the US Women’s National team, and the US Women’s program in general, had a great deal of work to do if they were to retain their place among the world’s elite. These folks made (and make) a couple of central arguments.
First, they suggest that the American “style” of play is too reliant on athleticism and physicality to maintain its competitive excellence. Other countries play more technical, attractive football and eventually their infrastructure will catch up. Second, they suggest that without a sustainable professional league stateside, the Americans can’t slow the closing of the gap.
Granted, it was just a qualifying tournament—but thirty eight goals to zero later, it is safe to say the rumors of the death of US Women’s soccer have been greatly exaggerated. And its apple pie American fitting that an old Mark Twain one liner best sums up the state of at the very least, the national team, after completing what was perhaps the most dominant qualifying performance for an international tournament in the history of their sport.