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Sports Then and Now

WPS Troubles: Here We Go Again

Posted on May 14, 2011 by John Wingspread Howell

Action on the feld has been good in 2011, but off the field issues persist for the WPS.

It seems a decade ago but it was only last Fall, when rumors abounded that two WPS Franchises were on the verge of folding. One: The Bay Area’s FC Gold Pride, had just captured the league championship. The rumors turned out to be true. The other: Washington Freedom appeared to be rescued by telecom startup mogul, Dan Borislow, who would eventually move the club to South Florida and re-name it after his company: Magic Jack.

A third franchise, The Chicago Red Stars, not even rumored to be in trouble, was unable to attract additional investors and suspended play for the 2011 season.

Chicago and Gold Pride joined Los Angeles and St. Louis in the dumpster of defunct original league franchises, leaving only Boston, Sky Blue FC (New Jersey) and Magic Jack of the original seven clubs, along with expansion teams Atlanta and Philadelphia. League officials had already stated that they needed six clubs in order to have a season. Enter Buffalo Meat Mogul Joe Sahlen, who upgraded his W-League Champion Buffalo Flash to the WPS as the sixth franchise. That move appeared to save the league for the 2011 season.

Now comes the announcement from WPS that Magic Jack is non-compliant and under sanction. At issue is the team’s staging its first three home games without complying with several league rules, including those requiring display of sponsor field boards and submission of match video.

When confronted by league officials about this breech, Borislow has made derisive statements about the league, leading to sanctions with the threat of further penalties if he remains non-compliant.

“Warning the owner of the magicJack women’s soccer club that it will not tolerate his contractual failures and disparaging statements,” a WPS announcement stated, “Women’s Professional Soccer took action to ensure the team can meet obligations.”

The League said today that it will contract directly with vendors for field boards and match video systems so that the team can meet obligations and will bill the team for this action.  The League said that unless team ownership immediately improves and adheres to League standards, further sanctions will be immediate and swift.

“Women’s Professional Soccer is committed to be the premier women’s soccer league in the world.  WPS has taken, and will continue to take, appropriate measures to protect the integrity and future of the league and our brand,” said CEO Anne-Marie Eileraas.

“When Mr. Borislow purchased an ownership interest in the Washington Freedom, he bought an organization with existing obligations to the league and others.  All owners and teams must comply with the league’s operating guidelines, which represent the commitment of WPS and its owners to a high standard of quality and professionalism.

“WPS has offered the team ample time, options and assistance to ensure that all league standards were met.  To our disappointment, the team has failed to meet these standards, and instead of working with his partners to address those failures, Mr. Borislow has chosen to make public statements that reflect a blatant disregard for the truth and are damaging to the best interests of the league.  In penalizing the team, WPS has not acted without cause or precedent, and has only taken the action necessary to enforce the regulations of the league,” Eileraas said.

“We will not allow any individual to diminish the quality and value of our league.  WPS and its Board of Governors are committed to preserving the integrity of our game, and will take immediate action – including taking over certain functions the team has failed to manage — to protect the best interests of the team, the league, fans, players, and sponsors, and to return the focus where it should be:  on the unparalleled play on the field,” said T. Fitz Johnson, chair of the WPS Board of Governors.

One has to wonder how long it will be before the franchise fails, given the precarious status of the franchise before Borislow purchased it, and given the dubious life-expectancy of WPS franchises in general.

Ironically, Magic Jack is one of only two clubs in the league with winning records (the other being league leading WNY Flash). The top two teams are scheduled to face each other at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester on May 22nd. No doubt the Flash organization and fans are holding their breath hoping the match will happen as planned. It is a special day for Rochester, as local fans plan to welcome native daughter Abby Wambach, one of Magic Jack’s key players.

Should Magic Jack fold the season could be lost. The league could shut down.

Such fears may be unfounded, however, since each franchise is required to place funds in escrow, sufficient to cover play through the end of the current season. Assuming Borislow made a full payment, the club should be able to finish, perhaps under league management, should Borislow be stripped of ownership.

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