Not Another Soccer Lawsuit: NASL-USSF, Halloween hearing edition

I’m not going to try to write something coherent out of all the accounts of today’s NASLpalooza in a New York courtroom.

First, I’m going to send my hopes for speedy recoveries for those injured and comfort for those who mourn after today’s senseless attack in Manhattan. I’m going to suggest we look into simple ways to make public spaces safer — bollards would help in this case — without resorting to outrageous racial and religious scapegoating or some sick fantasy that “good guys with guns” can stop this sort of thing from happening.

Then, I’m going to direct you to some first-hand accounts:

  • Michael Lewis, who has covered all leagues called NASL, has a summary.
  • Chris Kivlehan, writing for Midfield Press, has what you might call a play-by-play.

And you’ll want to follow Miki Turner, who has an advantage over most of us in that he’s an attorney. Another advantage: He has the transcript.

So what I’m really doing here is leaving a few breadcrumbs to find our way back through the Labyrinth. Or something like that. In simpler terms, I want to capture a few thoughts before the day is done.

1. The “USSF has no right to regulate squat” apocalyptic vision is probably moot.

And that’s good because I think USSF lawyers may have missed an opportunity to point out that there’s a difference between “amateur” as defined in most of the world (someone who is not paid to play) and “amateur” as clumsily redefined in the USA’s Stevens Act when someone realized a lot of Olympians are now raking in the dough.

Another thought on that topic (“they” here refers to NASL legal team):

So legal nerds hoping for The Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe and Whether the Stevens Act Covers Professional Leagues might have to wait until the inevitable suit against some other National Governing Body. (If I were making odds, I’d say it’ll happen in rugby. Or volleyball.)

If you want a bit more on this, here’s Midfield Press: “Judge Brodie asks for clarification on whether Sauer (USSF lawyer) is taking the position that Congress has given USSF the authority to regulate professional soccer.  Sauer clarifies that the Stevens Act does not limit their authority.  Sauer traces the USSF’s authority from the Olympic charter, from which FIFA draws its authority.  USSF is recognized by FIFA.  “Bottom line” is that USSF believes it has the authority to govern pro soccer and the Stevens Act does not limit it.”

And finally …

2. I’ll never understand why Jeffrey Kessler gets into soccer lawsuits and tosses out things that are easily refuted by anyone with a shred of outside knowledge (such an opposing counsel).

In Fraser v MLS, we actually had people arguing about whether the Premier League and The Division Now Known As The Championship are equal or whether the bottom three teams in the Premier League are sent down. (See pages 318-321 here, then pages 421-425 here. It actually reached a point of absurdity — page 2190 onward — at which Kessler was forced to backtrack from an assault on the credibility of one Sunil Gulati, who is once again involved in this case and seems to be Kessler’s white whale.)

Today, he brought up the sad story of a family upset over the prospect of losing the San Francisco Deltas. It didn’t take USSF lawyers long to point out that the Deltas’ survival ain’t at stake in this courtroom.

3. Judge Margo K. Brodie has done a remarkable job getting up to speed on soccer.

From the Midfield Press account: “(Kessler) suggests that no other FIFA affiliated federation in the world has standards like USSF’s PLS.  Judge Brodie suggests that is because soccer in those other countries is the number one sport, which is not the case here in the United States.”

Do you hear that, Soccer Twitter?

And she seems like one of those stereotypical New York judges from Law & Order who makes the lawyers behave.

4. I still don’t have a good handle on when this case will discuss whether the NASL can reasonably have D2 status.

We know from earlier filings — and from the reporting by Midfield Press and Nipun Chopra — that the NASL is grabbing some NPSL teams and flinging them up the pyramid to bolster their numbers. Follow-up info on that front is redacted, but it was discussed in court today:

Coincidentally, the Ranting Soccer Dad podcast posting tomorrow morning is an interview with NPSL Managing Director Jef Thiffault. We refer to the clubs considering an NASL move, but given the pending legal action, don’t expect a ton of detail.

5. I have no idea who’s going to win.

Or at what stage. Would the judge grant an injunction, giving the NASL a stay of execution, only to grant the USSF’s Motion to Dismiss, which is following a separate schedule and will take a few more weeks to discuss? I’ve heard convincing arguments either way, and I can’t pretend to be a lawyer.

I can tell you from a journalist/historian’s point of view, the NASL side has piled on more arguments that set off my b.s. detectors. They have eight teams — no, wait, make that 14, even though it’s well-established that a couple of these teams aren’t likely to return, and several others are currently playing before crowds of hundreds (when reported) in the NPSL with amateur players. They made bold claims about competing with MLS well before they were ready to do so, and now that they’ve declined, they’re blaming the system. They could’ve differentiated themselves from MLS by creating the promotion/relegation system they claimed to support, and not long ago, NPSL was interested in doing that. NASL pushed them away, only to latch onto a few NPSL clubs now.

If I were an NASL fan — and if I lived in Indianapolis or Puerto Rico right now, I would be — I’d be embarrassed by this insistence on propping up a brand name instead of joining up with NISA or regrouping some other way in Division III and working back up.

But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong, legally. It doesn’t mean they can’t convince a judge who appears to be quite reasonable that they should be given, like Delta House after the Faber parade, just one more chance.

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