Last week, Inside Minnesota Soccer revealed the actual standards the US Soccer Federation is going to (try to) hold any prospective Division II men’s outdoor league to in 2011 and beyond. You can go there and read the entire legalese, or I’ll condense the standards for you here and comment afterward.
General for any league:
1. Must determine a champion, either by “seasonal play” or a tournament.
2. Must play by FIFA Laws of the Game and relevant FIFA guidelines.
3. 75% of teams must be in the USA.
4. Must be able to control ingress and egress to stadiums.
5. Fields must be 110 yards x 70 yards and FIFA-approved.
6. Coaches must have USSF “A” licenses (or equiv.) within two years of their appointment.
7. Must use USSF-licensed or USSF-approved referees for all league games in the USA.
8. Leagues must require performance bonds “or other security” of amounts to be set solely by USSF.
9. League has to have an office open year-round during regular business hours.
10. League must have full-time CEO/Commissioner, active publicity/PR, marketing & sponsorship programs, director of officials (or delegate to USSF), professional registrar, disciplinary body and an executive committee.
11. League and each team must produce an annual media guide, league must produce weekly stats and regular press releases and league or teams must produce line-up card “or similar guide” for each individual game.
12. Teams must have General Manager, directors of Marketing/Sales, Communications/Media Relations, Promotions/Community Relations, Game Operations, head coach, assistant coach, trainer, ticketing manager, finance director and clerical staff.
13. Each team “must demonstrate its on-going commitment to the promotion of soccer at all levels in its home market.”
14. USSF can limit the number of foreign players.
15. No multiple-team owners unless “it is necessary for the viability of the league” and then you have to have a divestiture plan in place.
16. League must join USSF, pay all fees and and and its teams must be in good standing with USSF.
17. League must submit an annual report showing compliance with these standards.
18. League must release its players for national team duties and must “actively support the US national team programs.”
19. League must register its players with USSF “on a timely basis.”
20. USSF can review financial books of the league and teams.
21. The league must have a “code of conduct” for teams and players.
22. Teams have to provide attendance figures and “gross gate reports as requested by the Federation.”
23. USSF has to be notified if teams fall behind in paying players, stadium, league or “key vendors.”
24. You can request a one-year waiver from one or more of these standards but only in “exceptional circumstances.”
Specifically for a DII league:
25. Eight teams to apply for sanctioning. At least 10 teams by year three, at least 12 teams by year six.
26. US-based teams must participate in all CONCACAF competitions.
27. Teams in at least two different US time-zones. By year six, at least three different time zones.
28. At least 75% of teams must be in markets of at least 750,000 people.
29. 5,000-seat minimum stadium capacity, must be leased no later than 120 days prior to the start of the season.
30. $750,000 letter of credit to cover costs of operations, submitted 120 days prior.
31. Team owners must “demonstrate the financial capacity to operate the team for three years.”
32. One principal owner that owns at least 35% of the team must have an individual net worth of $20M.
33. Prospective owners must meet with USSF regarding “the responsibilities of owning a team.”
34. League must submit to USSF any violation of standards and how they plan to deal with it.
35. All required positions must be filled by full-time staff during the season.
Okay, so here goes:
1. Yeah, fine.
2. No experimenting, yo.
3. That means if you have Edmonton and Hamilton, you’d have to have six US-based teams with them. The NASL’s dream of a Canadian land rush may be dampened a bit by this.
4. Basically, you can’t play in an open field.
5. No crappy, short high school fields and only artificial surfaces that meet with FIFA approval. In other words, don’t go back to that high school in Cleveland. Also, Tampa Bay is going to have to stop playing at a baseball stadium at some point.
6. This has been a USL standard for years, though I’m not sure it’s been rigidly enforced.
7. That just makes sense.
8. Mandating performance bonds isn’t that new, but holding teams to it will be in USSF’s purview now.
9. That means you can’t have just one guy working out of his home office.
10. You have to have an actual league staff, not just one guy working out of his home office.
11. You know, the stuff actual leagues do. My guess is “line-up card” means match programme of some sort.
12. Teams must have actual staff.
13. You would think they would do that already, but whatever.
14. As per usual.
15. Could you please apply this to MLS?
16. Of course.
17. Wouldn’t you love to see these annual reports?
18. For DII, I don’t know how much of an issue this is going to be, but there’s always Jeremy Christie
19. Okay, then.
20. That will be fun. As private enterprises, teams haven’t had to do this (and, in fact, would balk at this if you asked).
21. Will it include time-outs?
22. We’ll definitely want to see both sets of those numbers. Good luck getting them.
23. Early-warning system, okay.
24. Translation: don’t expect much slack.
25. I got news for you: unless somebody’s sandbagging, I don’t see eight viable organizations right now, with six in the US (see #3).
26. Easy enough.
27. Eastern and Central would be easy and Eastern, Central and Pacific will end up being the three (Mountain Time always gets screwed).
28. This is interesting. You can have a Charleston, but (in an eight team scenario) you can only have two markets smaller than El Paso, Texas. Considering MLS has a lot of the larger markets already locked up, it’ll be interesting to see how this goes. The biggest markets MLS doesn’t have are Atlanta, Detroit and Phoenix. Minneapolis, St. Louis, Tampa, Baltimore, Portland and Austin are current D2 markets (Portland’s not long for the world, obviously) and Orlando (#27) is supposedly a USL expansion team for next year (good luck).
29. Note it doesn’t say “soccer specific stadium” anywhere that I can see. Just means they’re putting some minimum stadium standards that will (usually) rule out your run-of-the-mill high school stadiums that have plagued the lower levels for years.
30. $750,000 letters of credit should be workable for the high-net worth people they’re talking about, right? Still, I’m thinking Letter of Credit Day is going to be a nailbiter in late December every year.
31. Some have had the capacity, not a lot have had the ability. Just sayin’.
32. This might be the hardest one of all to accomplish.
33. Come in and see us, they say, so we can give you our blessing.
34. Do your own progress reports!
35. No interns doing actual grownup jobs.
So there we are. It seems as though most folks are, like FC Tampa Bay’s Andrew Nestor, saying all the right things, but let’s be honest here: the bulk of the currently-extant or proposed expansion teams at the DII level haven’t demonstrated the ability to meet all of these standards. We could go team-by-team, but what’s the point? I don’t believe there are eight actual teams that can pull this off.
So then what? It may very well be that, in 2011 at least, there is no second division. It may be that everybody plays in a league that gets Division III sanctioning (we don’t know exactly what those standards are, but I wouldn’t imagine they’d be too stringent. And, except for a niche of the soccer community, who’s going to care? Charleston has proven this year that level isn’t everything – that professional is as professional does. In their market, at least (and probably in many others) whether you’re in a DII league or a DIII league doesn’t seem to make a big difference.
The next 90 days or so should be very interesting. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but my guess is we’ll see some extreme volatility in the roster of teams for 2011 between now and Christmas. And that, once again, things will go down to the wire before we know what’s up for next year.