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The CBA, truth, myths, and reality of it's impact

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I am not a big fan of unions, but I acknowledge they have played their role in the past I see them now as being as pointless, bloated, and corrupt.  Now that being said let me say I think a young industry like MLS and their players need a union to try to protect the players and their rights but they also have to understand that 15 years ago their jobs didn't exist.  While the players have been cashing checks for over a decade, you can count the profitable years or clubs on a single hand.

I do think there are some huge issues that need to be addressed by the current CBA (click here to read) as the situation has changed a lot since 2004 when the agreement was written.  In fact many of the rules that people think are affected by the CBA actually have no mention in the document.  For example:

 

  • The only roster size indicated in the CBA is the 18 man senior roster (that is why the overall roster size has changed from 28 to 24 last year without the CBA being impacted)
  • No mention of a salary cap, DP, or grandfathering players who make above the league max(something also not mentioned)
  • Number of international players- no mention of the current limits on the international players.

More details after the jump

Here are some of the issues that I think need to be addressed by the CBA:

 

 

  • Minimum salary for all players set at $40,000, I don't believe the CBA should set a cap but anyone who thinks the league can be an attractive career option for players while some make under $20 a year is simply not living in the real world
  • Milestone bonuses- MLS Cup, US Open Cup, and CONCACAF Champions Cup, the league should increase reward for MLS teams that make the finals of these tournament.  Currently the MLS Cup Champions get a bonus of $165,000 which when you divide it by 24 (if a team splits it evenly) is just $6,875 per player.  The second place team split $60,000.  Outstanding performance has to be rewarded.
  • Freedom for players to negotiate personal promotional contracts, in this day and age when sponsorship deals can equal or surpass salaries players deserve the ability to sign their own deals.  The league has failed to capitalize on the public relations value of players and I believe this could be handled better by the MLSPU or the players and their representatives.
  • Retirement and Free Agency- I do believe these issues need to be dealt with and based on the current CBA, the players actually do not have a bad deal but I do think there should be more done in the form of setting aside funds for players transition from playing to other careers.  I do believe that the Free Agency issues are likely to not be dealt with as simply until teams control contracts having the league negotiate with the league over the move of players is going to be messy.  I think this has to be addressed in concept but until the overall structure of the league and teams is dealt with, this issue likely will see no movement.
I believe there are more items but those three items seem like simple things that could benefit both the players and the league.  I also believe there are some issues that should not be included into the CBA:
  • Guarantee Contracts - I know there are many who believe this is the keystone issue of this round of negotiations but given the current structure of the league I do not believe this is the time for such a clause to be included.  When and if the teams can begin to sign their own contracts and not have to deal with the limits and restrictions of the MLS it is more likely that contracts could begin to be guaranteed.  I use the example of Luis Miguel Escalada, a talented player who has been traded for over 1 million dollars but when given a chance to play with RSL failed to adapt to the demands of the staff and in the end was released after playing only 126 minutes.  To say that RSL should have to continue to pay for him or keep him on their roster after it was clear the player wasn't going to be part of the teams plans would have crippled the team from making other moves and responsible for over $65,000 in salary.
  • DP rules or Salary Cap- the CBA will likely be a contract that covers at least 4 years and too much is likely to change in that amount of time.  We would have had no DP's if that portion had been covered by the 2004 CBA, a time when the league had only 10 teams, who would have thought then that David Beckham, Juan Pablo Angel, or Freddie Ljungberg would be playing in MLS.  I think the salary cap should be based on the overall health of the league, and not on a contract that can't see the economic future of the league or the US or global economy.
  • Roster sizes- I am torn over this having seen how the reduction of the MLS roster to 24 players in a move the league said was about saving money, but in turn left teams with few young developmental players and in some cases forced teams to spend large amounts of money sending players on short loans to USL sides and bringing them back anytime a player got injured or sick.  I believe the league needs to figure out a way to work with the USL/NASL or simply form their own second division (minor league system) where young players can develop and where teams can form partnerships with those teams to allow the free movement of players up and down to remain sharp, get playing time to develop skills, and to recover from injuries.
There are a lot of issues that are on the horizon and some of them can be dealt with by the CBA but many more will not be, this being said neither side can survive a strike.  The league and team has to understand that we are on the edge of soccer becoming more and more accepted in the US, the Summer of Soccer numbers prove it, a strike or lock out would simply cripple the league to a point where it would move back to step one of 1996.  Players also have to realize that the sport is simply not hugely profitable yet in the US and while they deserve to get paid for their skills it may be better to be a bit underpaid than unemployed.  While 10-20% of MLS players may be able to get jobs in other leagues a large number would simply be back working at Home Depot or somewhere else.

The crossroads of soccer and overall acceptance/success in the US is in sight and decisions made in the next 6 weeks could either move us closer to changing the sports landscape of the US or see the league become as many critics over the years have said it would, just another memory in US sports.

Here is hoping calmer heads prevail and both sides understand that a new deal is important to the long term growth of the sport, the success of Toronto, Seattle, and now Philly show that the US and Canada are hungry for soccer and now is the time to establish MLS as the solution for fans.

Here is an interesting read, I don't agree with all of it but it is educational (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/soccer_america/12/10/mls.union/index.html)

OFF MY SOAPBOX