Killing Birds With Stones

So Paul Tenorio had an excellent interview with MLSPU master of ceremonies Bob Foose, and he came right out and said what I would have bet real money the union wouldn't say or hadn't parsed through:

[Tenorio:] There is also an argument that this would drive up prices on players through bidding wars, but doesn’t a salary cap protect against exactly that?

[Foose:] Without question.

With every single player, other than a designated player, for every player whose salary is on-budget that argument is just false. Any extra dollar spent on Player A is going to come out of the pocket of Player B. With regard to DPs, where that doesn’t apply, it’s simply not relevant. Because DPs in MLS do have real international free agency. For every other player in the league, well technically [international free agency is] true, but you and I know it is not practically true for a majority and probably a significant majority of our players. International movement is very difficult, and especially difficult for North American players. The economic argument just doesn’t hold up to any kind of scrutiny. Free agency in MLS and what we’re proposing is not an economic issue.

Now, I'm not a professional negotiator, nor am I an expert in labor law.  But saying free agency isn't an economic issue is like a player saying he wasn't offside because he wasn't interfering with play.  Then what are you doing on the field?

At face value, the players are willing to go on strike for something that will not benefit them materially.  As Karl Marx said in "Das Kapital" when describing how the elite manipulates the political system in order to mask from the proletariat their control of the means of production, that's crazeballs. 

Foose didn't even bring up what I think is the other elephant in the animal cracker box, the SuperDraft.  Remember, as of early February 2015, no American sports union has managed to dump its sport's college or amateur draft.  And unless the MLSPU manages to become the first to succeed in negotiating it away...despite literally no public statements of intention to try to do so...Foose's goal of having players choose their clubs is dead at the scene. 

So, unless I'm badly misreading the situation, the latest public statement from the union focuses on the players willing to strike over something that won't help them, whether they succeed in achieving their goal or not. 

Well, or Foose is trying to get his achievable goal, more compensation for his constituents, at the expense of his unachievable goal, free agency. 

It would be interesting to hear the owners' negotiators go on record about this - Kansas City holding Herculez Gomez' rights in perpetuity doesn't benefit anyone, either.  But at this point, it would probably be more posturing and assertions of unshakeable unity. 

I don't believe the SuperDraft is going anywhere soon, even if the players do end up making a public stink about it.  But there are signs that it's become problematic. 

Hear the woeful tale of Portmore United, who are being merciless bullied by the Columbus Crew for the services of former Jamaican youth international Sergio Campbell.  MLS and the Crew refuse to pay a training fee for Campbell.  MLS is flying in the face of FIFA regulations on this, apparently:

The provisions concerning training compensation are set out in Annex 4, Article 5 of these regulations.

“Accordingly, the first time a player registers as a professional, the training compensation payable is calculated by taking the training costs of the new club multiplied by the number of years of training, in principle from the season of the player’s 12th birthday to the season of his 21st birthday.

In the case of subsequent transfers, training compensation is calculated based on the training costs of the new club multiplied by the number of years of training with the former club.

The stakes couldn't be higher for these clubs:

With a few past successes like Ricardo Gardner, Ricardo Fuller and Rodolph Austin to England, Jamaican clubs maintain hope that the big payday may one day arrive, should they manage to stay afloat.

Other than local corporate support, one of the mechanisms that will assist clubs to stay afloat is receiving training compensation or solidarity payments for the talent which matriculate abroad.

Oh, wait...yes they could.

Accordingly, Portmore United claim they are entitled to US$7,500

By the way, Campbell wasn't drafted from Portmore United.  He was drafted from UConn.  Where he played three years (after his freshman year at Central Arkansas).

Sure, Portmore's claim on him five years after leaving barely passes the chuckle test.  Sure, Campbell left Portmore for a college scholarship, and the NCAA's resolute insistence on amateur status.  But rules are rules, are they not?

Let's assume that we agree with the goblins in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," and that the makers are the true owners of the Sword of Gryffindor.  Why doesn't MLS pay, you may be wondering. 

It's not quite that simple.  LE Eisenmenger interviewed Real Salt Lake's then-academy director Greg Vanney (current whereabouts unknown) about this topic, from the point of view of MLS teams getting in on this action on the selling end.  Vanney wasn't wholly optimistic.

LE: Is RSL going to be a selling academy and will it be registered with FIFA, where you can apply transfer fees?

Vanney: We’re looking into that, what that process is and what that means from an American soccer standpoint because of child labor laws and a number of issues in the U.S. FIFA has a limited governing role over MLS. We do things in MLS that aren’t necessarily under FIFA guidelines. So we’re continuing to size that up. We will be when we can, we’re just sizing up right now whether we can.

Eisenmenger also put the issue to agent Mark Wheeler around the same time.  Wheeler was in favor of the principle of training compensation, but, again, brought up that pesky "law" thing - in this case, the Uniform Athlete Agents Act.  The fact that these laws are by and for the benefit of the NCAA, and all its hypocrisy, does not strip them of the force of law. 

While the menace of clubs "poaching" young talent is one that shakes the hearts of small clubs everywhere, I have trouble seeing precisely how a long-term claim on a percentage of a player's services squares with a useful definition of "free agency." 

Of course, one way to avoid these sorts of arguments would be if clubs like Portmore and others in the youth development industry should stop seeing their role as an assembly line for indentured servants.  But that would require FIFA, clubs, and leagues putting the well-being of the player ahead of those fighting over a percentage of him, so I remain pessimistic on progress in that quarter. 

FIFA's commitment to free agency only dates to 1995, when the European Court of Justice forced it upon them, so, once again, we must make regretful assumptions about those who would ask FIFA to reform MLS by fiat. 

However, if the players and owners were to agree a player signing system, especially from the amateur and college ranks, that avoids the irksome inequities of the SuperDraft and FIFA bureaucracy - maybe through some form of bargaining collectively - that might solve a great deal of these issues. 

But someone would have to bring up the issue first - the owners won't, and the players haven't.  Why?  Who knows?

UPDATE - those of you who enjoy my furious posturings being reduced to whimpering squibs will be delighted to learn that the Crew and Portmore came to terms, according to Adam Jardy.  Terms, you will be flabbergasted to learn, were not disclosed, but I choose to believe that's because no one has asked them nicely enough.