Harvard analysis shows deeply embedded misinformation on women’s soccer pay

It’s not their faults.

Harvard Business Publishing has made available — for a fee — a pair of articles designed to serve as a basis for classroom discussion. They’re thoroughly researched by four people (“Professors Christine Exley and John Beshears and Research Associates Manuela Collis and Davis Heniford prepared this case”) with roughly 100 citations. (The narcissist in me is a little miffed that they didn’t read The Guardian or Soccer America, but the footnotes have a mix of primary sources and reliable news reports, not the pundits’ polemics scribbled out without the slightest attempt to get accurate information or context.)

For the most part, they’re quite good. You wouldn’t guess this is academic writing. That’s a compliment. These pieces isn’t muddled by obfuscatory jargon. They duly include arguments from each party and facts that favor each side.

The problems aren’t a reflection on the work of the Harvard quartet. For the most part, they’re an indication of how the media haven’t been able to correct misinformation in the players’ messaging. They’re also the result of some clumsy language in a contract.

Let’s start with the mildest of the problems — a chart that refers to the “league salary” specified in the 2005-2012 collective bargaining agreement if a league should arise. The CBA doesn’t actually specify a “league salary” because no one had any inkling in 2005 that the federation would pay players’ club salaries. The salaries in question show how the players’ federation salaries would be reduced a bit if a league formed, giving them more income from elsewhere and less time to play national team games.

But the language in the CBA is so fuzzy that we can hardly blame the research team:

So unless you’re fully aware of the context, “from Federation to salaried Players” is ambiguous.

Another sentence is technically accurate but misleading: ““Furthermore, for each game played over the minimum of 20 games, the women would receive no additional pay for a tie or a loss and would receive $1,350 for a win, while the men would receive between $5,000 and $17,625.”

The word “additional” keeps the sentence from being false, but the implication is that the men’s pay is also “additional.” It is not.

The biggest problem, though, is also in that sentence. It’s stated by the women in their EEOC complaint, and it’s a fabrication.

“the minimum of 20 games”

And not just 20 games. Twenty friendlies.

The key sentences from the EEOC complaint:

  • “Specifically, the Federation pays top tier WNT players, such as each of us, $72,000 per year to play a minimum of 20 Friendlies that year.”
  • “MNT players are also required to play a minimum of 20 Friendlies per year.”

If I may borrow a phrase from the great Paul Riley (said in an entirely different context), this is complete poppycock.

The women’s CBA actually specifies a maximum of 92 games — all games — over a four-year span.

The Memorandum of Misunderstanding … er … Understanding completely wiped out any talk of required games. Explicitly.

I sometimes wonder if U.S. Soccer hasn’t settled this case because they just can’t wait to demonstrate this error in court. But they could always do it in the Hope Solo case, which surely won’t settle before we’re all dead from climate change.

Shall we look at how many games the teams actually played?

201918 (incl. Gold Cup and Nations League)24 (incl. World Cup)
20181120 (incl. qualifiers)
201719 (incl. Gold Cup and qualifiers)16
201619 (incl. Copa America and qualifiers)25 (incl. Olympics and qualifiers)
201520 (incl. Gold Cup)26 (incl. World Cup)
201415 (incl. World Cup)24 (incl. qualifiers)

They do not play 20 friendlies. Period.

But again — you’d have to be a hard-core soccer fan to know the EEOC complaint was wrong. And we in the media haven’t done enough to tell the truth.

If you already know all this stuff, the Harvard Business discussion won’t tell you much. If you don’t, it’s not a bad place to start.


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