There's a little-noticed and less commented - section of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between Major League Soccer and the Major League Soccer Players Union - Section 1.2 to be precise - which reads, in part:
"During any annual scouting combine, the union will be permitted, at it's own expense, to present a one hour orientation for all the players attending the session....."
The Union exercises this right at the MLS Combine every year. No league employees, no team personnel, just a few current players and a roomful of (mostly) college kids trying to break into professional soccer.
And what is the main message that the players impart to these eager young minds? It's simple: MLS sucks.
As one 2008 attendee put it afterwards, "these guys really hate MLS".
They are particularly encouraged not to sign Developmental contracts. A couple years ago, when an attendee told the union reps that he intended to sign with USL 1 they applauded.
There's some hostility here people, and it's getting harder and harder to put a happy face on. It's hard to get through a player interview of any depth these days without him referencing the pay scale, particularly for developmental players, and how the topic is going to be addressed in the "upcoming CBA negotiations".
Meanwhile, from the management side, the comments are more circumspect, but Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis made clear his frustration with the complaints a couple of months back when he figuratively waved the players signatures in their faces: the entire developmental player program and pay structure, down to the last dollar, was negotiated over and agreed to by the Players Union in the last (current) CBA.
Again, a bit disingenuous: "This deal which we readily agreed to is grossly unfair!" Well, OK, then why did you agree to it?
The only real answer is, of course "because we like our jobs".
But Gazidis made another point, referencing the very similar pay scale in minor league baseball, which deserves a closer look. Fortunately for the sake of this discussion, rookie and minor league pay is fixed and readily available.
Domestic US Rookie Leagues (Appalachian, Pioneer, Arizona and Gulf Coast) to which virtually all MLB draftees are assigned, pays $850 a month. So-called "Short Season Class A" pays the same. "Long Season A ball pays $1050 per month, AA $1500 and AAA a whopping $2500 a month.
Per diem for all US minor leagues is $20/day. In MLS, it's $47.
Of course, high draft choices make much more. As they do in any sport. There are also often signing bonuses involved for some players. But for most everyone else, you pack into an apartment six or eight at a time, hoard your per diem money and shop together at Aldi's for stuff that comes in white cans marked "Food".
And if it takes you three or four or five years to get to the bigs, well, living on an income a New Delhi street begger would find insulting is considered part of the price you pay for fame and fortune.
Now of course, very little is ever really analogous, and this is no exception: if you make it to the majors, the minimum salary is currently $390,000 ad the average is a whopping $2.8 million plus.
When MLS gets to the point that the players average 2.8 mil, the players will think they died and went to heaven, and the rest of us won't have to listen to Adjunct Professors of Swapping Grades for Blowjobs sneer at the pay scale any more.(NOTE TO EMPLOYERS, LENDERS AND OTHER INTERESTED PARTIES: THIS IS WHAT IS KNOWN AS A JOKE. I HAVE NO PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE OF ANY SUCH ACTIVITIES BY ANY PERSON LIVING OR DEAD.)
In the meantime though, what we're stuck with is this: if MLS signed most of it's draftees to Developmental Contracts and sent them to play for the Bluefield Orioles or the Pulaski Mariners or the Kingsport Mets, they'd be the highest paid guys in the room.
I don't see much sturm und drang out there about the sorry plight of MLB rookies. Perhaps I've missed it.
To me, the main problem is not the pay, but rather that we give these kids $12k a year and then give them a locker next to Landon Donovan. They'd look pretty poorly paid next to ANY major league athlete. In fact, they look LESS poorly paid in the average MLS lockerrom than they would in the dressing room of any other sport.
Would we like to see these kids paid more? Sure, absolutely. I'd also like to see the guy who towels off my car after the Zippy Wash make $50,000 this year and hotel maids supporting families $75,000 plus bonus.
But that's not what those jobs pay, and neither do draftee jobs with MLS. Maybe the players will be willing to put their own butts on the line in January of 2009 and go out on strike in order to get the newest players a better deal.
Want to bet on it?