For all the fuss, sometimes justified, over U.S. Soccer Federation transparency, the fed’s site has a treasure trove of information online. That includes:
- Board of Directors’ minutes going back to November 1999
- Annual General Meeting (all states, all affiliates, etc.) transcripts going back to 2000
- The ever-popular Bylaws and Policies, which hold the answers to a lot of frequently asked questions about the composition of the board and how the sausage is made.
- Financial information — Form 990s (IRS) and Audited Financial Statements — going back to 2006. I’m told the 2017 forms are still in the audit process as of mid-December. You could say that’s a conspiracy given the upcoming election, or you could say it’s because that year (a fiscal year ending March 31) included the hastily organized but quite lucrative Copa America Centenario. Or something else. I have no idea.
Not on the site (I think) is an external 2004 report on structure, governance and ethics by the Consensus Management Group. In the wake of this report, USSF followed the lead of other sports organizations and slashed the size of its board from an awkward 40 people to the current size of 15 voting members and two non-voting (the CEO/Secretary General and the immediate past president).
I’ve read, at one time or another, pretty much all of this information. That doesn’t mean I understood it. That doesn’t mean the records are complete — the Board seems to go into executive session over piddly details, while other boards with which I’ve dealt tend to do so only for personnel matters. But I’ve read it.
Quick side note: At one time, I started to compare the USSF structure to similar organizations, both international football feds and other sports federations in the USA. It’s difficult to get apples-to-apples information. The most similar U.S. organization is probably USA Basketball — it’s a substantial participatory sport with a major pro league. USA Basketball is descended from an amateur-only organization that added the NBA when pro players were cleared to play in international competition, and the NBA now appoints three of the 11 voting board members. In England, the Football Association’s board has representatives from the Premier League and Football League, and very few of the board members’ bios mention any significant playing experience. (Also, the CEO came to the FA from United Biscuits, which is so wonderfully English it makes me want to watch some Monty Python videos.)
The other big-picture item: The organization is turning over much, much more money than it used to.
I certainly have some questions left. Many. I hope to get some of them answered in 2018, preferably before the election.
So with that in mind, here’s a full history (abridged) as constructed from the minutes, transcripts and the occasional other document …
Close elections (reported by Soccer America):
- President: Dr. Bob Contiguglia 57.6%, Larry Monaco 42.4%
- Vice president: John Motta 50.8% (372 votes), Sunil Gulati 49.2% (361)
Gulati was MLS deputy commissioner at the time. He was pushed out in early 1999 and became managing director of Kraft Soccer (owners of the New England Revolution and briefly the San Jose Earthquakes) later that year.
Also, new bylaws went into effect in September.
A bylaw change put the VP election in Summer Olympic years and left the presidential election in Winter Olympic years. That set the stage for a Motta-Gulati rematch, and Gulati won. Motta would return to the Board in 2013 via the Adult Council; he’s the current president of U.S. Adult Soccer and is a must-follow on Twitter.
Secretary General/CEO Hank Steinbrecher retires and is replaced by Dan Flynn, who still has the job.
The fed begins a five-year sequence of business plans.
Flynn’s first order of business is to freeze 34 open positions and cut travel to turn a projected $2.2 million deficit to a $300,000 surplus.
Other issues at the AGM sound familiar to a 2017 audience: 75% of players drop out by the time they’re 13, grassroots coaches and players will be a priority.
President: Dr. Bob re-elected to second term without opposition.
All hell breaks loose.
The AGM has 38 proposed bylaw changes. Several people rise from the floor to complain that the pro leagues and athletes are voting as a bloc and outweighing the votes of the state associations, whose combined votes are just short of a majority. Alabama delegate Dan Mikos, also a member of the important Credentials Committee, compares the situation to the American Revolution and predicts “anarchy and revolution” down the road if changes aren’t made.
New York West Youth Soccer had a pointed opinion of the proceedings on its site a year ago, but alas, the link is dead. Some highlights from my notes:
- The state youth associations, representing roughly 80% of the membership, have only 20% of the vote. (I think it’s closer to 25% today, but it’s hard to put a precise percentage on this group because some are also represented (somewhat) by other organizations such as U.S. Club Soccer.)
- Among the bylaws that didn’t pass: an audit committee, a new appeals process, a requirement to give 30 days notice of any new policy being put in place.
- Many state youth association delegates boycotted the President’s Dinner, and U.S. Youth Soccer passed a grievance to go to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
The big governance report mentioned above is commissioned, researched and released. Among the observations:
- A lot is going well: Finances, staff, etc. Especially finances, with the Fed moving from a $2.5 million deficit to a $28 million surplus in less than six years.
- “While politics is always a factor in decision-making bodies, the level of vitriol in
USSF politics is extreme. The amount of talent and energy consumed in
internecine strife and finger pointing is destructive. There is little tolerance or
respect for differing points of view, and few venues for addressing differences
without rancor. Organizational sectors are increasingly isolated from each other.”
- The Youth Council barely meets to discuss common issues.
- The Adult Council is just USASA chatting with itself.
- Some think MLS shouldn’t vote. (Well, the EPL does in England.) Some think the adults should just shut up. Some think the athletes should just go away, though that would violate federal law.
- The 40-person Board doesn’t work, in part because people think decisions are just in advance. There’s also an executive committee (not any more) that’s poorly defined.
- “In 1986, 43.14% of Federation revenue came from dues. By 2000, that percentage went down to 9.05%. Because of the recent dues increase, it is estimated that in 2005, 12% of revenues will come from dues. For some constituents, this dues increase, coupled with a real or perceived decrease in Federation services while it enjoys a 70% fund balance (based on a $40 million budget) is an irritant that migrates into the USSF political arena.”
- There’s also a suggestion for how to find and nominate candidates for officer positions. That has not been implemented.
- Bloc voting, bloc voting, bloc voting!
All that said, no bylaws passed because Larry Monaco (remember him from 1998) says they weren’t disseminated on time. Part of the issue is whether they’ve been distributed in writing as opposed to on a disk. This really happened.
(Bear in mind, this meeting was in March. Previous years’ meetings were in the summer, so they had a shorter turnaround.)
Also, perhaps in response to the bloc-voting accusation of the past year, Peter Vermes gave an impassioned speech on behalf of the Athletes Council, saying all the athletes wanted to be approachable and they all started out as rec players. He was greeted with applause.
Then Steve Flamhaft (remember that name) rose to castigate Monaco for being such a stickler for the rules.
VP: Gulati re-elected to second term without opposition.
A less eventful year, with some governance tweaking in the wake of all that happened in 2003-04:
- Dr. Bob mentions that, in addition to the governance report USSF commissioned, they’re expecting a report from the U.S. Olympic Committee recommending a smaller board, greater transparency and a few ethics guidelines. Task forces are assigned to working on the governance of the Board and the Youth Council.
- Failed: A bylaw change (not sure of number) requiring a Soccer Summit to be held every four years.
- Failed: A term limits bylaw change limiting officers to two terms. Also something having to do with Bylaw 401.
- Passed: Something having to do with grievances (I really wish the full “book” from these AGMs was available online). Also changes to Bylaws 212 and 213 and some sort of change on referees.
What’s the president’s role? Flamhaft (whose father, Jack, was president from 1959 to 1961) rises to oppose a change to Bylaws 402 (Responsibilities of Officers) and 501 (Appointment of Secretary General) that he says would “dilute and emasculate” the office of the president. Then a curious argument — former VP Walter Giesler died during an AGM (in Flamhaft’s words; a couple of online sources say he collapsed while the 1950 MNT was being inducted into the Hall of Fame, which may well have taken place concurrently in 1976) and Flamhaft’s father was once carried on a stretcher from a FIFA meeting in Zurich, so we need to remember their sacrifices.
Dr. Bob passes the chair to VP Gulati so he can respond, saying it’s simply a reality of the modern world. Other soccer and other sports organizations are relying on CEOs who aren’t subject to election.
Also this from Dr. Bob: “the authority of the organization is not the president. The authority of the organization is the Board of Directors. And so we’re trying to legalize that and make it the way everyone else is doing it in the world.”
Most Board policies were quietly affirmed. The exception was a policy on referee assignments and unaffiliated games (such as high school games) that sparked a discussion that went on for pages and pages. Something was finally passed.
Also, the AGM took place during a USWNT Algarve Cup game vs. Denmark, so they periodically got updates. Kristine Lilly had a monster game, as usual, and the WNT advanced to the final, where they would beat Germany 1-0 on a Christie Welsh goal.
Later in the year, the Board:
- Approved a grant (later matched by the U.S. Soccer Foundation) for the Hall of Fame.
- Approved Toronto for membership in MLS. (Cross-border applications have to be approved by the Board; in other years, similar applications are heard in various lower-division men’s and women’s leagues.)
The Sunil Gulati era begins. He’s elected without opposition.
Dr. Bob does not preside over the election itself.
(Much later in the meeting, Blazer announces that Mike Edwards will be the next vice president, replacing Gulati. Standing ovation.)
Don Garber nominates Gulati. No one opposes him. Then Gulati thanks scores of people, including Sal Rapaglia (12 years before he stepped into a major controversy), Kevin Payne, Soccer America‘s Paul Gardner (!?) and former U.S. coach Bora Milutinovic.
Gulati also talks about how to get better, alluding to what Germany is doing (which would become “Das Reboot”).
He closes with a joke:
And another big change: The Board is trimmed from 40 people to 15. Much self-congratulation ensues — as Gulati points out, people are basically voting to get themselves less power, and the U.S. Olympic Committee only did it “because Sen. McCain was calling fairly regularly.”
They managed to do all that even after lengthy discussions on whether a particular amendment would promote “interplay” between youth leagues and whether USSF should be allowed to file an amicus brief in an arbitration. They even had a few “Wait, what are we voting on?” moments.
Also, Bob Abbott from Louisiana thanks the rest of the Federation for its support after Katrina.
The streamlined Board doesn’t have too much to deal with, though Bob Bradley is named interim MNT coach, and U.S. Futsal runs into trouble and is eventually removed from membership. (A U.S. Futsal group is an affiliate today; I don’t know how much restructuring they did before getting back into the Fed.)
The first independent director — Carlos Cordeiro — is recruited by the Board and officially elected at the AGM.
The other interesting item at the AGM — in the “Good of the Game” segment (just speeches, no votes), there’s a discussion about compensating the president so they can attract a bigger pool of candidates. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The Board is busy with the launch of the Development Academy and the delayed launch of WPS. A motion to establish a USSF nominating committee fails. Meanwhile, Gulati asks AYSO’s Burton Haimes to start a task force on pro league standards.
(Quick side note: Paul Caligiuri was on the Board this year.)
Unopposed elections: Mike Edwards (first full term as VP), independent director Fabian Nunez.
The Board votes, at Gulati’s urging, to recommend rejection of a proposed bylaw amendment to pay the president.
WPS gets provisional membership.
CalSouth Adult Soccer goes under criminal investigation. CalSouth Youth Soccer applies to take over adult soccer in the state, and the Board approves a task force to investigate. CalSouth is indeed a joint association today.
Other membership issues: MISL dissolves, Missouri Youth Soccer faces a lawsuit, XSL and NISL get provisional membership. Also: WPS requires some waivers to the new pro league standards.
And promotion/relegation is mentioned in the Board minutes! In the president’s report: “There were also discussions at a recent FIFA Congress regarding promotion/relegation and limiting the number of foreign players starting on domestic professional teams.”
Unopposed election: New independent director Donna Shalala, at least filling the third slot, and re-elections for Nunez and Cordeiro.
More foreshadowing: The Pro Council had been unable to agree on how to split votes due to a disagreement between MLS and USL. The final word: 62.5% MLS, 25% WPS, 12.5% USL.
The AGM is pretty quiet, though there’s some conversation about youth soccer mandates, including the age-old question: “So are you just going to stop kids from playing un-mandated soccer?”
The budget had a surplus of $218,000. International games helped pull it out of a projected deficit.
More conflicts: Dueling associations in Wisconsin (this would go on for a while), U.S. Youth Soccer vs. U.S. Club Soccer.
The Pro League Task Force appears. MLS is sanctioned. WPS and the new MISL are approved with some waivers.
We’ll pick up from there in Part 2.