As we look forward to the 2015 season, a whole slew of people are doing their best to make sure it happens — under their terms.
The collective bargaining agreement between Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Union expires at the end of January, and while the two have been actively working to find common ground in an agreement, the gulf seems to be ever-widening.
Let's go through and spell out what we know and what we don't exactly know.
What's this CBA business?
Given the nature of MLS as a single entity, there exists an MLS Players Union to represent the rights and desires of all the league's players. There exists a collective bargaining agreement between the two, and that's what sets up some of the stranger rules in the league.
What happens if the CBA isn't renewed?
This is exactly what we don't want to happen. If, for some reason, the two can't come to terms, don't expect the season to progress as planned. The Players Union has said they'll strike if it comes down to it, they'll strike.
What does the players union want?
It's fairly simple: They want free agency. It's something MLS is dead-set against, and it's something the players haven't publicly displayed much desire to move away from. The language used by the Players Union side has focused on the two being "extremely far apart."
Why doesn't MLS want free agency?
Well, not free agency, that's for sure. Nor do they want restricted free agency, apparently. FC Dallas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy told Sports Illustrated's Brian Straus that "free agency is not even part of the conversation for (MLS)." LA Galaxy's Todd Dunivant said, "Free agency has to be in this deal for the players to play on opening day."
Free agency, MLS is reportedly claiming, isn't in the league's interest because it would put salaries in a position where they could grow at an unsustainable clip. Additionally, the league seems to think that without free agency, they can better negotiate with international players and teams.
Why does the Players Union want free agency?
Unrestricted player movement — or at least something approaching unrestricted movement — gives players more rights and control over their careers. At current, they can't negotiate with multiple teams, even through the re-entry draft. They're stuck with MLS deciding, more or less, where they go in the case that more than one team is interested.
Should they have free agency?
Don't ask me that. I don't know the answer. But if I'm to make a philosophical argument, I'd say that unrestricted movement of workers outside of contracts is one of the most important issues this league is dealing with.
Will the players strike, and what happens if they do?
They've said as much. It remains to be seen, obviously, but the rhetoric is right there. They've said they won't budge on free agency, and they'll strike if they don't get it.
What happens if they don't come to a deal by the conclusion of the CBA?
When the last CBA expired, an extension was agreed until a new agreement was struck. It allowed players to continue getting paid and take part in preseason, and Straus thinks that sort of thing is likely this year.
When will we know more?
Well, I think we'll know whether the season will start or not about an hour before the first game is scheduled to kick off. If the season doesn't start, there will be some mighty angry folks, but here's hoping we don't have anyone rioting around the country.
Do you think the players will budge on free agency?
If they're willing to budge, they sure haven't made it known that they will. That's obviously standard in negotiation tactics — you can't play your hand. It's difficult to say whether the players are bluffing or simply pushing one point strongly in the hope of getting something more substantial in other areas of negotiation, but frankly, I'd rather not find out. I just want to watch some soccer.
Is free agency worth striking over?
I mean, I guess so, right? That's one major issue gripping the league. We can talk about wage discrepancy, and that's certainly an issue, but the ability of players to negotiate with clubs of their choice following either contract expiry or transfer negotiation is huge.
Could Real Monarchs continue playing with players signed directly to that club?
That's a good question. (Congratulations, self.) I don't know the answer, but hey, if it means watching some soccer, I guess I'll take that.
So ... we don't really know that much, right?
Yep. That's the beauty of negotiation. Parties outside considerations can make predictions, guesses, and have sources inside the groups, but every statement could simply be a bargaining chip. Remain vigilant and skeptical.