The ‘USA Soccer is Not Ready for Promotion/Relegation’ Myth

One of the most common responses to the movement for an open, promotion/relegation system in USA soccer is that the nation’s soccer landscape is “not ready yet.” It is natural to look at the extremely unstable USA soccer closed system of today and falsely conclude that there is a lot of preparation work to do before an open system can be implemented, but the “not ready” brigade is looking at the equation completely backwards. Open systems are not a response to closed-system successes, but rather they are a response to closed-system failures (see USA soccer today). The assumption that a closed soccer system is the proving ground for the viability of an open system is just flat out wrong. There is no prerequisite for equal opportunity for all.

All risk with no reward

From a cost-benefit analysis perspective, investors and fans have very little incentive to contribute their time, money, and energy into “making USA soccer ready” for an open system. There is no tangible and realistic return on investment (ROI) opportunity for those contemplating investment into a lower-division soccer economy that is stuck beneath a glass ceiling. If you do well as an individual or club, why does it matter? There is no upward mobility and reward for success. If you win your league (AKA have the best product in the marketplace) you are simply resigned go back and do it all over again the next year. All risk, no upside.

It is absurd to ask people to place a bet when the odds are stacked 100% against them. A few outlier people and clubs are willing to take this sort of plunge in the closed USA soccer lower divisions of today, but we should not expect a majority of constituents to undertake this almost suicidal “sacrifice of love” in order to produce lower-division vibrancy at a larger scale. USA soccer must introduce open-market incentives that reward hard work and excellence, otherwise, the lower divisions of USA soccer will continue to tread water, with most clubs breaking even or sustaining losses, and dozens of clubs collapsing each year. By its very essence and definition, investment – the “readying” of USA soccer that people are calling for – cannot exist without the presence of potential return on investment.

Closed-system victim blaming

The onus is not on the captives to prove that they deserve freedom, nor is it the responsibility of the disenfranchised to earn the right to a fair chance in their particular ecosystem. USA soccer, and sport as a whole, is a real-world industry just like any other. Tangible consequences of jobs, social opportunity, and increased GDP are at stake. It is not right to dismiss sport as “just a game” or mere entertainment. USA soccer’s closed system is economic, social, and sporting discrimination. We cannot blame people for not being able or willing to participate in the USA soccer ecosystem when U.S. Soccer Federation policy rigs the entire system against them in the first place. Stop blaming victims and start blaming the perpetrators, namely, the USSF governing federation that is supposed to be fighting for all constituents in the USA soccer ecosystem.

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The fraud of the ever-moving “ready for promotion/relegation” goalposts 

What exactly does “ready” for an open USA soccer system look like and who decides it? The “not ready yet” claim is merely a delay tactic put forward by those who oppose an open USA soccer system. Every ten years, there is another declaration saying that USA soccer is ten years away from being able to establish an open system. The goalposts are vague and always moving. USSF, MLS, and open system opposition realizes that they would look like buffoons if they try to explicitly argue against the wild success of open soccer systems all over the world. Since these people have no factual and logical arguments to refute the idea of an open USA soccer system, they resort to disingenuous delay tactics like this in hopes that the rising tide for equality and opportunity in USA soccer will just go away.

In order to have reason to mobilize and invest in the USA soccer lower division marketplace, USA soccer constituents need U.S. Soccer governance to declare an open system start date. Even before the “go-live” date, people and clubs will then have incentive to start building and investing in their clubs, and the lead-up time will provide enough time to ensure a stable start to the open-system era. Until then, while the USSF avoids or vaguely addresses the potential of opening the USA soccer system, it is 100% understandable that investors and fans refuse to invest in, or even completely ignore the lower divisions of USA soccer.

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U.S. Soccer Follows Typical Government-Authorized Monopoly Script

The MLS monopoly that sits atop USA soccer is not necessarily founded and preserved by a lack of oversight from governing authorities – namely, the U.S. Soccer governing federation (USSF). The thinking here is that the federation either did not have the capacity, or was unwilling to prevent MLS capture of the USA soccer marketplace. This line of reasoning is a bit off base. It is important to understand this key truth when examining MLS’s position in the USA soccer ecosystem: the MLS monopoly over USA soccer is knowingly enabled and authorized by the U.S. Soccer Federation. USA soccer fans must realize that blame for USA soccer closed-system ineptitude rests 100% on the U.S. soccer federation. The 100% authority that USSF holds over USA soccer must also include the corresponding 100% responsibility.

The battle to free American soccer from harmful MLS control starts and ends with appeals toward USA soccer’s governing federation. The two possible scenarios are to reform the existing U.S. Soccer Federation from within through fan or FIFA pressure, or set up a replacement USA soccer federation and acquire official recognition from FIFA. The latter scenario seems to be the best bet for success at this point. The foresight of MLS in a wild-west USA soccer era was shrewd, and USSF did fall asleep at metaphorical wheel of governance, but the important fact is that the U.S. soccer federation has been captured through either payoff or infiltration, and U.S. soccer leadership is fully aware of this. The MLS tail is waging the USSF dog, so to speak, and USA soccer fans must now intervene to restore authority back to all USA soccer constituents instead of a select few. 

This USA soccer market-capture dilemma follows the same pattern we see with truly harmful monopolies in other industries. The practice of regulatory capture, where one firm uses government as a puppet to protect itself from competition, rings familiar. Liberty and the free market are not bad at their essence. Problems arise in the free market when a government oversteps its bounds thanks to corruption or ineptitude. Do you blame private healthcare firms for simply taking advantage of the lobbying and bribery opportunities the U.S. government affords them? Of course not – the enabling governing officials are at fault. The solution for problems in the free market is not slapping on more regulation and restriction, but rather granting more freedom and autonomy. A government’s job is to be a watchdog and enforcer of fair market opportunity for its constituents, not to determine the winners and losers within the market. 

We must understand USA soccer governance duties as well as MLS’s relationship to the U.S. Soccer Federation. Blame in this case must fall on USSF since it has ultimate authority to decide on the matter. Blaming a free USA soccer market for MLS’s capture of the USA soccer ecosystem is the same as blaming USA healthcare woes on a free market. Both are sourced from crony capitalism brought about by expanded government, not true capitalism. The U.S. Soccer Federation has decided that the MLS company is the winner and everyone else is the loser in the American soccer market competition. This is clearly a case of a soccer governing body fundamentally failing in its FIFA-mandated duty.

USA soccer players, fans, and clubs must understand that priority number one in the quest for USA soccer progress is appealing for change at the policy level of the ecosystem. It is not very productive to expend time and resources building in the USA grassroots when the MLS monopoly has power to hold a glass ceiling above and topple the build work of any club it sees as a threat. It is still commendable to build in the grassroots, but if you can only pick one task between building in the grassroots and speaking up for policy change, speaking up is the best choice. Power lies in the hands of USA soccer constituents. Silent hope is just the same as complying with failing and toxic USA soccer closed-system policy. The key to reform is building enough public pressure so that either USSF, FIFA, or the U.S. government is forced to act.

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