How the NASL can bring down Sunil Gulati (maybe)

After reading the main text of U.S. Soccer’s response to the NASL complaint, I sat down to read Sunil Gulati’s “declaration.” Most of the 78 pages are dedicated to restating the main text, just in more detail, and stating much of the U.S. Soccer bylaws.

Add it all up, and Gulati makes a convincing case — on paper, at least — that the decisions on sanctioning leagues are made by Board members and Task Force members who are not affiliated with any pro leagues. They even disagree at times. In 2017, the Professional League Task Force (currently VP Carlos Cordeiro, CEO Dan Flynn and Paralympian Chris Ahrens, but I’m not sure that was the same group that voted) recommended against provisional Division 2 sanction for the NASL (and the USL) but that the Board (with Gulati, MLS commissioner Don Garber and anyone else associated with a current pro league recusing themselves) voted to grant those sanctions.

(The minutes for this Board meeting — Jan. 6, 2017 — are not currently on the USSF site. I’m inquiring.)

So — again, on paper — Gulati, Garber and company can’t just do whatever they want.

The task before NASL is to prove that Gulati pulls all the strings.

That’s much easier said than done.

The NASL could hammer away at Gulati for his role in bringing in independent directors for the Board. He’s on the Nominating and Governance Committee, along with Garber (chair), Youth Council rep Tim Turney, Athlete rep Angela Hucles and independent director Donna Shalala. Board minutes over the years show him giving reports on searches for independent directors.

Gulati has sought to diversify the Board in several ways — gender, ethnicity, background, etc. As far as I can find, no white man has ever been an independent director, though it’s a new-ish position. Is he also seeking people who’ll do what they think he wants? Hard to say, especially given this …

(Yes, Shalala stands accused of falling asleep when the NASL made its big presentation Sept. 1. But, again, Lamar Hunt fell asleep when Doug Logan interviewed to be the first MLS commissioner, and Logan still got the job.)

On the other hand, the most recent Board addition is a banker named Lisa Carnoy, a trustee and board member at Columbia, where Gulati teaches. (But also where the soccer stadium is named for Rocco Commisso, someone Gulati was happy to welcome into the pro game as the Cosmos’ savior but is now calling for Gulati to step down every couple of days.)

But even if Gulati has managed to install three puppets as independent directors, along with an ally (Garber) as a Pro Council rep, it’ll be much more difficult to demonstrate how Gulati is somehow manipulating the Youth Council, Adult Council, Athlete Council and National Council to do exactly what he wants. A current Adult Council rep, John Motta, defeated Gulati in a VP election in 1998 and has made noise about running for the presidency.

The Legal Steves (Bank and Holroyd) will need to weigh in to tell me whether all this evidence is enough to fend off accusations of a USSF/MLS/SUM conspiracy from a legal point of view. The practical point of view might be another story. But this is going to court, and to me, the NASL will have a difficult time explaining to a judge that this is a conspiracy.

The other legal argument the NASL has in its pocket: Under U.S. law, U.S. Soccer (and by extension, FIFA) have no authority to regulate the pro game at all, even though we the NASL have said for years that they do. If this argument works, everything short of frogs and locusts rampaging down Fifth Avenue is possible. Maybe the USA would even get kicked out of the next World Cu- … oh, right. OK, the next Women’s World Cup.

A few other odds and ends from the USSF massive document dump:

Gulati depicts himself as someone who constantly tried to help the NASL. He makes several references to Brian Helmick of the San Francisco Deltas expressing his gratitude, which gives me an excuse to play the Beastie Boys:

The exhibits pile on the examples of Gulati personally intervening to help NASL, along with several restatements of intent to help NASL get to D1 status someday. Make of that what you will.

For much of the balance of the year, and into January 2017, I and other USSF representatives invested a lot of time and energy trying to save the NASL – not destroy it as the NASL would now have the Court believe. We helped the NASL explore a merger possibility with the USL, and when that option failed to materialize, I discussed with Mr. Commisso the possible transfer of ownership of the New York Cosmos – which, if it had not occurred, would have almost assuredly led to the demise of the NASL.

gulati-nasl-hist


The first few exhibits are copies of documents from the 1910s and 1920s. Funny how lawsuits provide such a windfall for historians.

What about indoor? Gulati’s declaration cites FIFA statutes requiring national associations to govern football in all its forms. So what about the MASL, which isn’t in the USSF umbrella?

Deloitte is everywhere. The Pro League Standards Task Force includes one Alex Phillips, formerly of UEFA. Also formerly of Deloitte, which produced an easily dissected report in favor of promotion and relegation at the behest of Riccardo Silva (NASL’s Miami FC).

So dangerous you’ll have to sign a waiver. Gulati says he has been pushing for a while for fewer waivers in all leagues — MLS, NASL, USL, NWSL.

On SUM: Gulati says SUM was able to make a great deal by bundling. “As a consequence, SUM was able to negotiate sponsorship and broadcast deals which generated more money for both MLS and the USSF than either had previously been able to negotiate.

The revenues generated from USSF’s relationship with SUM benefit all stakeholders in the sport of soccer in that it allows the USSF to devote additional resources for, among other things, player, coach and referee development, safety education and the development of training centers.

On the standards: “Without a credible threat to deny non-compliant leagues a sanction for a particular division, the USSF would have almost no leverage to enforce its standards.”

gulati-why-pls

On what the NASL might do next:

gulati-harm

Today, Midfield Press reported that a couple of NASL owners plan to “help several ambitious NPSL clubs make the leap to the pros by temporarily financing them until long term investors can be found.”

I should mention I’ll have an NPSL-related podcast next week.

On my citation: You may have seen this on Twitter yesterday …

Here’s the funny part — that was NOT a quote I got directly from Don Garber.

Check out Exhibit 12 from the NASL filing / Rizik Declaration:

post-cite

Notice the “8” footnote? Or the “told the Washington Post“?

That footnote goes to a Steven Goff story from Oct. 22, 1999.

I don’t think I’ll be subpoenaed.

Next up: Reconstructing the timeline of how everything fell apart from the multitude of USSF exhibits. This could take a while.

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