January 30, 2012
By Charles Cuttone
WPS hopes to be back in 2013, but nothing concrete
Women's Professional Soccer might have dealt itself a death blow on Monday, choosing to suspend operations for the 2012 season, although many involved in the league insist play will resume in 2013.
Citing the ongoing legal battle with Dan Borislow, owner of the league's former magicJack team, the league said the decision to not play in 2012 might ultimately mean the league has a future.
"I think it would have been an irresponsible decision if we had tried to sort of deal with both putting on of a season and the dealing with the legal issue, if we found ourselves during the season unable to move forward for whatever reason." Said WPS CEO Jennifer O'Sullivan, who is an attorney. "I think ownership just really did feel that once and for all this has to be something that is resolved."
Atlanta Beat owner T. Fitz Johnson, a member of the league's Board of Directors, placed the decision squarely on the legal problems with Borislow, and while saying he didn't have anything personal against the magicJack owner, that it all came down to one issue.
" I think you can look to one place, and that's compliance," said Johnson. "We have a set of basic rules in our operating agreement that we all intend to abide by to make this league a success. magicJack was just not complying with the OA, and I believe it just went downhill from there.
"This was a difficult decision for the owners. I can't express that enough, how difficult this situation was and how difficult it was to make the decision to suspend."
While the league's official position is that it will be back in 2013, and indeed several other owners indicated as much in correspondence to fans, there are as of now no concrete plans in place for how that will happen.
" The ownership has their bonds in place for U.S. Soccer for this season," said O'Sullivan. "We'll certainly talk about that moving forward into ‘13, what that would mean from the league, requiring that of the ownership as we work through this year. I think everybody has that goal in mind, and that's the intent, so I think at this point that's what we are working towards.
"That's our intention, to get through this issue with Borislow to get us back onto the field in ‘13."
Despite much of the blame for the suspension being laid on the magicJack owner, including in tweets from several players, the league also has issues with its business model, that has seen Los Angeles Sol, Saint Louis Athletica, Chicago Red Stars, and Bay Area FC Gold Pride fold and the Washington Freedom transferred to Boca Raton, Fla. by Borislow prior to last season.
None of the teams are close to breaking even, despite heavy reductions in costs, which this year was to include huge cuts in player payroll.
"If we had maintained operations status quo, the various issues with which we are currently battling would have caught up with us within the 2012 season," said Sky Blue FC owner Thomas Hofstetter in an e-mail. “Consequently, we could have been forced to cease operation entirely by the end of the season."
Hofstetter said that the league's board is implementing a 90-day action plan that includes detailed action plans related to operations, sponsorship, the players’ union, television contracts and resolving the legal issues. The goal, according to O’Sullivan, “is that we come out of this stronger than where we stand today, or where we did yesterday before we made this decision.”
Still, Monday’s announcement, just days after both the United States and Canada qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympics, produced a sense of sad déjà vu among observers of the women’s pro game, forcing many to recall that the Women's United Soccer Association announced it was ceasing operations just as the 2003 Women's World Cup was about to begin.