It seems we can’t go more than a few days without drama in United States Soccer. With prospective cities dropping out of the running left and right to be hosts for the 2026 World Cup, we got word a couple of weeks ago that the three teams (effectively) remaining in the North American Soccer League would not be allowed to participate in the 2018 US Open Cup.
At the time, I noted that the New York Cosmos, Jacksonville Armada and Miami FC were conspicuous by their absence from the 2018 USOC handbook, which published all eligible teams for this year’s competition. Well, we then got official word in the form of a letter from Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso, that the aforementioned teams are not allowed to participate. That was in spite of the fact that at least the Cosmos and Miami FC applied and paid the fees. The aggrieved parties requested a hearing with the USSF regarding this situation, and now we have word that hearing went down today (3/27/18).
The hearing was essentially confirmed by New York Cosmos COO Eric Stover, who provided the following comment:
We’re aware that the US Open Cup Committee is considering making changes to this year’s tournament. We’ll reserve comment until we hear what they’ve decided.
The Armada didn’t seem particularly pressed about participating in the 2018 USOC, as it appears they didn’t file a letter or have a representative present for the meeting (they may have been simply relying on the NASL representative). Since it appears the relevant applications and fees were filed, and nothing has come out that refutes that, the issue at this point is whether they are eligible, per the rules and regulations, to participate in this year’s tournament. To determine that, we’ll need to take a look at the 2018 USOC Handbook; specifically, Section 201.
Part II–Competition Procedure:
Section 201 gives us the information regarding the requirements for a team to qualify for the 2018 version of the USOC.
So, we’re obviously already running into some issues. The USSF stripped the NASL of Division II status on September 1, 2017. The validity of that decision, as well as USSF’s sanctioning authority generally, is currently the subject of litigation, so I’m not going to get into that here. That decision resulted in the remaining NASL teams (those that didn’t fold or move to USL) fielding teams in the National Premier Soccer League. That would presumably subject those teams to the Open Division procedures, since they are not playing in a D1/D2/D3 league. So no problem; they can just participate through the Open Division qualification process, right? Well…
Section 202–Team eligibility:
So there’s your big problem. Obviously, the three NASL organizations who are now running NPSL teams haven’t even started their schedule in that league yet (it begins in April); certainly not prior to the deadline required above. Now, the rule is mainly designed to prevent teams from hopping divisions (presumably after failing to qualify), to get a second bite at the apple. Two teams have fallen victim to this provision this year, though the situations aren’t quite analogous. And it doesn’t really apply to the version of the NASL teams now competing in NPSL. Now, when NASL lost their D2 sanctioning, they were afforded the opportunity to apply for Division 3, which they declined to do. I’m not going to get into whether they should have or not; that’s really besides the point.
You can probably see where I’m going with this. There are, it seems to me, some pretty brutal logistical issues that were dropped on NASL after they were denied Division II. So, let’s assume the NASL would have applied as a Division III league by the deadline imposed by the USSF (October 2, 2017). That would have required a NASL to comply with the Professional League Standards for a Division III league…in a month.
So let me get this straight: The NASL, losing teams after not being granted 2018 Division II status (and for other reasons, to be fair) on September 1 2017, as a league were supposed to come up with the required eight teams (and otherwise comply with the Professional League Standards) in a month to be granted Division III status, and get their league up and running by December 31 2017 to be USOC compliant/eligible, unless you consider it a new “league,” in which case the deadline would be January 31 2018, but in order for the league to comply with the PLS, they *have* to participate in the USOC, which the USSF is saying they aren’t eligible for due to the loss of sanctioning. Therefore, those NASL teams who have decided to field NPSL teams aren’t eligible for the USOC, because to qualify through the Open Division, the NPSL would have had to be in season by December 10, AND those teams wouldn’t have been eligible anyway, since they didn’t qualify through the NPSL’s 2017 qualification procedures. Because they were in the NASL. Which was in season in 2017. And was then stripped of Division II status. After the NPSL season was done.
So let us assume that USSF would have granted NASL Division III in a timely fashion (even though it took them about 4 1/2 months to ultimately grant USL Division II status). Let’s say they granted NASL Division III status by November 1, 2017. Does anyone think it was reasonable for NASL to be able to get the Division III league up and running by the deadlines prescribed in the 2018 USOC handbook (whichever one you choose)? Does anyone think it was possible that the NASL->NPSL teams could have begun their participation in that league by December 10, considering the NPSL season didn’t even begin until March? What?
Yes this is an absolute mess. Again, whatever you think about the NASL’s business decisions or legal strategies, it’s hard to see how this process makes sense. I do not see how, based on the timing of the de-sanctioning, it would have been reasonably possible for the NASL to participate as a league in the USOC in 2018 (even though the rules require them to participate), OR to allow teams that ultimately moved from NASL to NPSL to participate either.
Fortunately, it appears there is something of a catch-all: Section 107.
So, we’ve got something of a backstop, which allows the Open Cup Committee (OCC) to rule on matters not contemplated in the Handbook. This would certainly seem to qualify, which would provide the NASL->NPSL (I need to come up with a better name) teams at least a chance of having their argument heard. So who is on the OCC?
Now, I’m not sure if these represent those who are hearing this “appeal.” Nipun Chopra says there are a total six people deciding this issue. I’d guess that the committee liaisons are not part of those that’ll decide it, but the remainder seem to make sense. We’ve got reporting that the hearing today lasted three hours, with no decision made. I’m attempting to dig out some additional information on this issue, so stay tuned. What we’ve got right now is a pretty big (I hesitate to call it a loop) hole in the handbook. Hopefully, the parties can come together and fill it.