NASL v. USSF: Why court ruling against NASL was not unexpected

Federal judge Margo Brodie denied the NASL's request for a preliminary injunction that would have required U.S. Soccer to reverse the board of directors' decision on Sept. 1 not to sanction the NASL as a Division 2 league for 2018.

Brodie wrote that:

1. The NASL showed irreparable harm;
2. The balance of hardships tipped in its favor; and
3. An injunction would not harm the public interest.

But she ruled that there was "no clear showing of entitlement to relief" on the NASL's underlying antitrust suit for a permanent injunction to eliminate all divisional designations for pro soccer. (She also rejected the NASL's other avenue of relief in a footnote, saying there was no finding the NASL would suffer "extreme harm" -- basically, go out of business -- if the mandatory injunction was not granted.)

The order was not unexpected, given Judge Brodie's ruling on the eve of Tuesday's hearing that the "status quo" was that the NASL does not have Division 2 sanctioning for 2018, not that it has Division 2 sanctioning for 2017. That required the NASL to seek a mandatory injunction and set a higher bar to show it could win its case.

Brodie determined the NASL has a "plausible case" but made no "clear showing" it could win.



Much of the case centered around the application of the Pro League Standards -- the PLSs -- U.S. Soccer has promulgated and used to sanction pro leagues at the Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3 levels.

In the case of the NASL, the issue at hand was that it did not and had not met two of the five requirements for a Division 2 league: the minimum number of teams (12) and number of time zones in which teams exited (3).

At each turn, the NASL struggled to prove its case.

-- U.S. Soccer had no authority over pro soccer? Judge Brodie ruled the NASL did not offer sufficient evidence and indeed accepted the fact that as a practical matter it could not operate outside of FIFA and U.S. Soccer.

-- U.S. Soccer's sanctioning standards weren't pro-competitive? (Since the NASL is suing on antitrust grounds, U.S. Soccer has to essentially prove that the standards promote competition.) Judge Brodie ruled U.S. Soccer had plausible reasons for the standards, including the two the NASL failed to meet: more teams encouraged stability and teams spread out over more time zones created a national footprint.

In a key passage, U.S. Soccer used and Judge Brodie cited part of a 2011 statement of former NASL CEO Aaron Davidson -- now awaiting sentencing in the same Brooklyn Federal courthouse in the Traffic criminal enterprise -- to argue that financial viability requirements were needed in light of the long history of failures of American pro soccer leagues:

“[W]e also take it seriously and understand that the federation is exercising its role as the governing body of the sport in North America. They are demanding that we live up to those standards. Part of the reason they’re being so strict is because of the instability of where we come from. 106 teams have played in division two or three since 1996 and of those 84 folded. Fans don’t want to follow a team who’s in a league with those sorts of stats and that much turnover."

-- U.S. Soccer conspired against the NASL in its application of the sanctioning process?  Judge Brodie acknowledged that U.S. Soccer and MLS had conflicts of interest because of their aligned business interests through SUM -- conflicts she said were inherent in membership associations like U.S. Soccer -- but she ruled that the NASL failed to offer evidence there was any undue influence in the sanctioning process and the changing of the sanctioning standards.

She noted the NASL had taken part in the review and comment process -- indeed was able to prevent the passage of more restrictive standards in 2015 -- and the board had enough "safeguards" -- its conflict of interest policies, the fiduciary duties of board members to their constituents --  to prevent directors from being swayed by an business interests tied to MLS and SUM alone.

If the NASL goes forward with its case for a permanent injunction, it will try to use the discovery process to prove that there was indeed a concerted action to favor MLS over it.

7 comments about "NASL v. USSF: Why court ruling against NASL was not unexpected".
  1. nick p, November 4, 2017 at 6:37 p.m.

    All original NASL 2.0 owners are gone now

  2. R2 Dad, November 4, 2017 at 7:22 p.m.

    "In the case of the NASL, the issue at hand was that it did not and had not met two of the five requirements for a Division 2 league: the minimum number of teams (12) and number of time zones in which teams exited (3)."
    The criteria have nothing to do with quality of players, coaching or quality of play. The Division 2 requirements seem to demand as big and expensive a league as possible, so teams spend their limited budgets on travel instead of development. This sounds just like our amateur rec travel teams.

  3. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, November 4, 2017 at 10:37 p.m.

    Smaller leagues with fewer teams and less of a national footprint can be classified as lower than second.  This league really brought nothing to the table and the few remaining teams can just join other leagues.  Two of the eight current teams were already planning to do that anyway.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, November 5, 2017 at 9:18 a.m.

    There are other sections requiring USSF licensed referees, full time paid staff, an A license coach, and a player development program.

  5. R2 Dad, November 5, 2017 at 12:56 p.m.

    "If the NASL goes forward with its case for a permanent injunction, it will try to use the discovery process to prove that there was indeed a concerted action to favor MLS over it." The mere fact that a Divsion 1 league has an uncapped number of teams after 23 years of existence is proof enough USSF has gone easy on MLS while giving the high hard one to NASL. Allowing the same benefit to USL/NASL does not negate the fact that MLS has been a destabilizing force on lower league improvement. Otherwise, why would USL feel it necessary to team up with MLS? Whether a judge can adequately balance the extent of this destabilizing force is another matter.  MLS's undue influence (enabled by USSF) has made that even more evident by their attempts to dictate youth programs via the DA system. But end of day, MLS will prevail because money. The status quo monopoly will be reinforced, and we will be having this same conversation in 20 years, just with more hand-wringing.

  6. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, November 5, 2017 at 5:28 p.m.

    Most likely, no one except a handful of diehards will even remembert this joke league as club soccer continues to grow in this country.  Bunch of conspiracy theorists.

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, November 5, 2017 at 10:37 p.m.

    R2 Dad, the Division 2 standards are less stringent than the Division 1 standards, and the Division 3 standards are very relaxed. I really don't see any logic for your conclusion. 

    Do you realize teams have to post performance bonds prior to each season? This is a business, even at Division 2. 

Next story loading loading..