MLS Free Agency vs. Hell Freezing Over

Over the last day or so, multiple sources have breathlessly reported that the MLS Players Union is asking the league for free agency.

Let it be noted that among the things I'm asking for in my negotiations with my wife is a live-in girlfreind and a beer tap in the living room.

And honestly: I think my odds are better.

Unfortunately, the story has launched what seems like a hundred blog posts and a thousand message board missives and it seems as if a lot of people think that it's a real possibility.

To them I can only say: are you insane?

Free agency is a non-starter. The league isn't even likely to be interested in wasting ten minutes talking about it, except when they need a really good laugh.

This is a little like the promotion/relegation discussion; it takes a profound, willfull, almost psychotropic misunderstanding of how MLS is structured, how it works and who owns it to believe that either concept has even the most remote chance of being implemented. Not now, not next year, not ten years from now.

To their credit, some writers do recognize that free agency has exactly zero chance of happening and are suggesting that the reason the union is bringing it up is so they can negotiate it away and end up with what they really want, which is guaranteed contracts or fluffier pillows or something.

Which is, I have to admit, logical sounding and at least shows some sense of reality, but if that's really what the union thinks they're doing then they're living in a dream world.

Firstly, because the owners just aren't that stupid. (And can we please, just this once, acknowledge that it isn't Don Garber who's going to make the calls here? He doesn't own MLS, the money isn't his and the guys who DO own MLS will decide for themselves how much of their cash they're going to be spending, thanks). They recognize a bullshit demand as well as anyone else.

By this theory, the Union could come in demanding hookers in every hotel room and a private plane for every player and then negotiate those away in order to get a ten million dollar salary cap.

Here, for your listening and viewing pleasure, is how the entire conversation on this subject will go:

Union Rep: We want free agency

Management Rep: No. Next?

See how that works? A concept that is totally out of the question doesn't magically become a bargaining chip just because the Union wants it to be.

Free agency would require, essentially, the total restructuring of the league and the abandonment of their entire business plan. Single entity ownership is how they have managed to find all these yohos willing to write them $40 million checks. If they decide to drop it you can go ahead and get used to an 18 team league. Prospective investors will stop returning Don's phone calls.

Garber is one hell of a salesman, but "come lose your ass" isn't a concept that even he can sell.

A couple teams might be able to swing it, but as I pointed out the other day to the great dismay of Seattle fans, the reason they had a league to join in the first place is because some guys took some huge risks 14 years ago.

It's similar to the proposal - wildly popular amongst Toronto fans, God bless them all - that MLS operate as a "two tier" league where some teams can decide to leave the single entity tent and spend whatever they want on players while others can choose to stay with the salary budget system.

This is what passes for deep thought when your brain is pickled with Labatt's and Tim Horton's respective products, I guess. There's no other explanation but the willful suspension of concepts like thought and reality that would cause a person to sit down and write stuff like that and think it makes the slightest amount of sense.

It will be interesting to see how the CBA comes out, but the Union has, to put it mildly, very little leverage. If they think a work stoppage scares the owners they'd better think again.

(For those of you who haven't had the opportunity to spend a few years at Kellogg or Wharton, here's a brief rundown: threatening someone who is losing money with forcing him to stop losing money until they cry uncle is not, generally speaking, regarded as a clever negotiating ploy.)

(Yes, yes, I know, it's not that simple. The teams and the league will still have expenses. But the teams who control stadiums can likely manage to schedule enough Monster Truck Rallies and Rascal Flatts concerts to at least keep some cash rattling around. The players, on the other hand, won't much care for waiting tables and coaching 7 year olds.)

Now in fact the Union wants - has wanted, will continue to want - a look at the books, something else that they're not going to get. A couple months ago MLS sent over some figures which Bob Foose and Jon Newman and Co. found insufficient, to which the league replied - and I believe these were their exact words - "tough titties".

In the end, the Union will get a modest increase in the minimum salary and larger senior rosters, two things the league probably would have done this year were it not for the fact that the league wanted to save those as chips for the negotiating table.

Everybody will talk tough, the players (in particular) will make menacing noises but, in the end, the entire structure of the league - which is what the owners credit for the leagues' very existence - isn't going anywhere.

And you can take that to the bank.