My last article “If I were the President” of U.S. Soccer was about my thoughts on youth development. Now I will talk about what I would do about the professional leagues, coaching and refereeing “if I were the President and end this “If I were” series.
If I were the President I would restructure the professional leagues. Coming from a Pro/Rel culture, I am definitely in favor of promotion and relegation in our professional leagues. On the other hand, one also has to understand the professional sports landscape of this country, how MLS was formed in a “hurry” in the 1990s and the MLS reality before imposing promotion/relegation on the North American first-tier professional league. Otherwise, you will be like Don Quixote attacking the windmills. MLS should be given enough time to complete its expansion and be ready for a promotion/relegation. This duration should be negotiated MLS. One would think that it will be somewhere in the next 10 years or so. But MLS should understand that this is the final objective and take the necessary restructuring measures for the time when promotion/relegation will start. I will immediately start the restructuring of the Division 2, Division 3 and Division 4. All of these leagues will have promotion and relegation based on sporting merit. Division 2 should be national and there should be only one Division 2. The winner of Division 2 should compete -- if possible -- in Concacaf’s Champions League. Division 3 should be regional and can be up to 4 groups - one for each time zone. The winners of the groups will move up to Division 2. Division 4 should be regional and teams can be semi-pro. Division 4 could get teams promoted from the state amateur leagues. The teams to be relegated from Division 4 should lose their semi-pro status and can play in their local leagues as amateurs.
If I were the President I will follow the gold standard of European soccer and establish club licensing system for all professional clubs. This will replace the current 14 page-long document with USSF Professional League Standards. With the current document U.S. Soccer is more of a semi-regulator rather than an enforcer or true regulator of the professional leagues. Some of the decisions and standards are left to the Leagues. The club licensing system will license clubs based on their division. There will be different set of standards for different divisions. For a team to be promoted, it must finish at the top of its division. Even if it finishes at the top, if the team does not fulfill the standards of the division it will be promoted to then the team will not be allowed to move up. Instead a team which fulfills the standards which is ranked lower will be promoted. U.S. Soccer Club Licensing system will take the UEFA model as a framework to start with but it will be adopted and modified according to the needs of the local realities. The Club Licensing system must have detailed youth development requirements for each division. The Club Licensing system should have all the required stadium standards for that division. We are not just talking about capacity; we are talking about the dressing room standards, VIP Box standards, internet standards etc. The Club Licensing system should have financial, legal and organizational standards also. With the Club Licensing system U.S. Soccer will become a true regulator of all the professional leagues. This move will also test Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act of 1989 whether U.S. Soccer can regulate professional leagues. I am sure some teams/leagues will challenge that move in court. This is how professional leagues are regulated in the world; the USA cannot and should not be an exception. The governance model of the leagues must have U.S. Soccer as a major constituent. The FIFA statues clearly state: “Each member association is responsible for deciding national issues, which may not be delegated to the leagues.”
If I were the President I will support the current changes made to the Coaching Education system. The adaptation of the Jira Convention (UEFA) system was a correct step in the correct direction. There is a shortage of licensed soccer coaches in the USA. We must produce more U.S. Soccer Pro, A and B licensed coaches for elite soccer as well as C, D, E, F and Grassroots licensed coaches for competitive and recreational youth soccer. The first step to that end is developing coach educators (tutors). This development process should be expedited and strengthened. In a span of 10 years we must make it mandatory for all levels of soccer from the professionals to the recreational levels to have licensed coaches. Unless you make it mandatory in a time frame, unless you make the courses easily accessible and unless you make sure by carrying out the necessary PR activities that every potential coach knows how to get a coaching license; you will not be able to reach your goal. We must make sure that we develop player educators and not player trainers. Currently we have a lot of player trainers and not enough player educators.
If I were the President I will concentrate on the 2-6 years old year range. These kids should be trained at home or at the back yard mastering ball control skills. Since the parents will be involved in developing these skills, I will utilize all the resources of the Information Age to tell the parents what to do or what not to do for this age group.
If I were the President I will make sure that referees are the guardian angels and enforcers of the Laws of the Game (LOTG) as well as the Player Development Initiative (PDI). The leagues (Professional, Adult or Youth) as well as parents might like to think otherwise and they can request diversions to the LOTG and PDI. The first step will be the appointment of the State Referee Administrators (SRA) by the National Referee Committee (NRC) instead of being appointed by the State Associations. SRAs can form their own Referee Committees. I will ask for communications channels between NRC, PRO and SRAs to be improved. Right now, they seem not to be working in harmony. Although PRO is formed taking the PGMOL as a model, the refereeing landscape in the USA is different than England. The owners of MLS might most probably be inclined to act like the other professional sports owners and might like to influence PRO in its applications/interpretations of the LOTG which in some cases can be detrimental for the development of the game. I would make sure that PRO works closely with NRC/U.S. Soccer and as a first step – which is symbolic -- I will ask PRO to move to another location from its current one, which is the same building as MLS. Another step I will take is to set up a Disciplinary Committee for all professional leagues under the Federation. These are actually mandates by the FIFA statues: “that the member association has the primary responsibility to regulate matters relating to refereeing, the fight against doping, the registration of players, club licensing, the imposition of disciplinary measures, including for ethical misconduct, and measures required to protect the integrity of competitions;
If I were the President realizing the vast differences between the states in terms of quantity and quality of refereeing, I will set up a panel similar to UEFA Referee Convention so that referee development can be standardized across 55 state associations and the standards can be monitored.
If I were the President I would not base my decisions based on possible litigations or possible counter interpretations of the Law of the Land. I will do whatever is the correct, legal and smart move for the development of the game. Whether you base your decisions on litigations or not, you will still anyway face a lot of court battles in this most litigious society of the world.
The bottom line is the fact that this and my previous article is just a personal wish list. Since some of the items in the wish list might be poking the bee hive, the true presidential candidates might not include them in their wish/project lists. With the current governance structure, these projects might cause them to lose votes.
One should have awareness of the current soccer landscape. There are some serious problems in our soccer landscape like the pay-to-play system or the structure of the professional leagues. One can neither ignore these facts nor attack them outright. But one can always create alternative routes/projects around them to develop our beautiful game in our country. This is what these two articles are all about.
On the other hand, the only goal and mission of the Federation is to develop soccer in this country and make both the USMNT and USWNT to be one of best in the world. For that reason, the Federation cannot and should not transfer some of its responsibilities to professional leagues. The professional leagues are business entities and their major concern is to be profitable. The Federation should take all the responsibility for the development of soccer and implement its developmental projects vigorously
Ahmet Guvener (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, TX.