Provisional Division II status the best possible scenario for NASL, USL

After a long delay, U.S. Soccer made the best possible decision for sanctioning NASL and USL.

Games ending in ties remain one of the many things that confuse non-soccer watching Americans about the beautiful game. So, perhaps it is apropos that after weeks of deliberation, delays and discussion, the United States Soccer Federation announced that both the NASL and USL have been given provisional Division II status.

Certainly, there are challenges ahead for both league -- and the federation -- to implement the standards needed for full-time Division II status. But, what is clear is that this was the best option for U.S. Soccer, and that the federation deserves credit for making the decision that provides the best chance for both leagues moving forward.

In order to understand why this is a good decision, consider the alternate scenarios:

Scenario 1: NASL awarded sole Division II status

USL believes that it put in in an application clearly deserving of D-II status, and would have felt aggrieved if outright denied that.

“This work started a while ago, and the last few months have been very busy,” Jake Edwards, president of USL, told FourFourTwo USA. “The federation conducted the audits and we’ve been finding solutions which make sense.” Having gone through painstakingly putting together the application, Edwards feels the USL “meets league standards.”

U.S. Soccer requires each Division II team to have a stadium with a minimum 5,000-seat capacity. NASL teams meet this requirement, while some USL teams do not. James Poling of News Oklahoma reports that “at least four clubs” in USL do not meet the stadium requirements.

Another potential outcome of this scenario was the idea that USL may bring litigation against USSF. “We’ve never publicly said that,” Edwards said. And while USL would have been “disappointed” at not getting D-II status, Edwards denies litigation was likely.

Scenario 2: USL awarded sole Division II status

Beyond the USL perspective, U.S. requires 12 teams for a D2 league beyond its 6th season. NASL would not have met that criteria, having only eight teams as of now for its spring season; USL boasts 30 teams.

While this scenario would have been beneficial to USL, it likely would have brought an end to the NASL.

According to sources, the futures of NY Cosmos, Jacksonville Armada and Fort Lauderdale Strikers hinge on NASL attaining Division II status. Additionally, sources suggest that had NASL been given D3 status, some of the stable NASL franchises such as Indy Eleven and Puerto Rico FC would have questioned their futures with the league.

Scenario 3: USL and NASL awarded co-Division III status

Based solely on U.S. Soccer requirements, this was the most pedantic solution. However, as an optic for American soccer, this would have been embarrassing for USSF to have a first division and third division, but no second division.

Additional questions about why U.S. Soccer did not address these issues earlier would continue to manifest. Both NASL sources as well as Edwards were frustrated by the delay in proceedings. “Several votes have been postponed over last year; until we got to the final deadline on Friday. The final presentation was made around 5 p.m., and we were notified around 7 p.m.”

It’s also important to note that if the future of NASL teams truly was contingent on attaining Division II status, even a scenario of dual third-division leagues would have ended the NASL.

Scenario 4: A combined NASL/USL D-II league

While FourFourTwo USA understands that this was discussed in earlier negotiations, given the complicated history of the leagues and franchises, it remains a non-viable option.

What it all means

Awarding both the NASL and USL second-division status has already proven to be a shrewd move by U.S. Soccer.

In a press release, NASL confirmed an 8-team league comprising of Indy Eleven, FC Edmonton, Puerto Rico FC, Miami FC, North Carolina FC, expansion San Francisco Deltas, Jacksonville Armada FC and incredibly, the New York Cosmos. On Saturday afternoon, the New York Cosmos – a team mired in financial difficulties and thought to have been no more as of the end of 2016 – confirmed that they would be active in the 2017 NASL season.

U.S. Soccer will expect the each league to meet requirements consistently in the future.

The next question is: Where does each league go from here? U.S. Soccer president, Sunil Gulati, said in a statement that “U.S. Soccer will create an internal working group that will work with each league to set a pathway to meet the full requirements for division two and allow for the larger goal of creating a sustainable future."

Edwards explicated on the immediate vision for the league: “In our application, there were few areas where we fell short of D-II status. A few stadiums are below capacity.” Edwards added that those owners have already presented plans to either expand stadia or upgrade to new venues. Additionally, Edwards expects to have three new teams and a “major broadcast deal”; previously reported to be an ESPN and Sirius XM FC deal.

Edwards also clarified that suggestions that MLS was blocking promotion of USL to D-II were wide of the mark. “They’ve been tremendous partners,” Edwards clarified adding that MLS reserve teams were, “fully committed to meeting D2 standards.”

The meaning of divisions themselves, in the absence of promotion-relegation may, at first, seem rather pointless. But, there are clear financial considerations to being in higher divisions. In a conversation with Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated, Edwards explained the importance of D-II status,

“You’re talking about perception and value for the clubs and the owners, an impact on franchise values, an impact on revenue streams, an impact on commercial activity and media activity—media rights, sponsorship value in the marketplace and marketing perception of second division or third. Those are real tangible benefits for teams and their validation of the fact that the team is making that investment and operating at that level.”

While USL and Edwards are buoyant about the promotion to D-II status, the future of NASL, while immediately secure, remains unclear. NASL did not respond to requests for an interview today.

But FourFourTwo USA understands that the exact hierarchical structure within NASL remains unclear. North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik, not commissioner Bill Peterson, was quoted in Friday’s press release. While that might be coincidental, it is important to note that Jeff Rueter of Fifty Five.One reported that NASL’s last round of negotiations were conducted without Mr. Peterson.

Additionally, while NASL named the New York Cosmos and Jacksonville as active teams for 2017, both teams have challenges to navigate to be ready in time for the anticipated spring kickoff. Concomitantly, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, not named as one of the eight active NASL teams, are close to new ownership -- widely reported to be the  PSG Academy Florida. However, sources close to the club suggest the sale is yet to be finalized, and while it is expected, the ownership group is currently not interested in fielding a team in 2017.

NASL’s future is also heavily reliant on successful expansion franchises -- Atlanta, Detroit, and San Diego among the reported cities -- joining the league and bringing the number of teams to 12; as required by NASL.

The difference between basic and translational science is the former allows derivation of causation by using a reductionist perspective, whereas, the latter is a better representation of the complex interactions of the real world. Similarly, while supporters of one league, one agenda (Pro/Rel) or one club may have desired a simple, clear-cut decision from USSF, given the circumstances, that was not possible.

Yes, this decision is clearly a bandage; the word “provisional” suggests the instability of the situation. But, U.S. Soccer has ensured that, for now, teams won’t disband, players and staff won’t lose jobs and American soccer does not step backwards.

That’s no tie -- it’s a victory.

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