Brek Shea, and a dirty word
Contributing writer Shane Nicholson is back to blow the cover off the MLS monopoly…
There’s a “C-word” that keeps coming to mind when I think of the men in charge of MLS.
Not that one. I’d just call them cunts if that what I was thinking.
No, the word is “collusion,” and it’s not one that owners and league commissioners like to hear tossed about.
We’re all familiar with how MLS handles its negotiations with its players. In a nutshell, MLS is like one club on the global landscape with 19 retail outlets to sell its product, and all the employees are bound to HQ. It’s not a league in any sense as the rest of the world knows it.
Enter Brek Shea.
Brek fancied getting out of the dead end that is MLS, and even flew over to visit Premier League side Stoke City for a one-week trial to show off his goods. Tony Pulis was pleased, a bid was made, and his club accepted; yet Brek Shea will remain in MLS for the foreseeable future because, as Don Garber has made clear before, when it comes to being a professional footballer and “club” in the MLS cabal, “It’s not just what the player wants and what the club might want.”
Nope, you see, in MLS the term “club” has no meaning in the traditional sense. You are beholden to the league office first and foremost. And you, the player — the product — you’re nothing more than a commodity to be pinged around at Garber and Gulati’s will.
Professional baseball existed in this country for over a century with a contract system commonly referred to as the “reserve clause,” which essentially bound a player to his team indefinitely. Players were given rolling one-year contracts and had no right to negotiate with any other club unless they were given their outright release. If they failed to sign a contract, the club could then unilaterally impose a new one for the next season.
Up stepped union leader/sparkling genius Marvin Miller and a willful participant in four-time All-Star Andy Messersmith (soon joined by an on-his-way-out-the-door Dave McNally) to say, “Wait a second, this isn’t going to do.” They filed a grievance and they won.
The Seitz decision brought an end to the stronghold owners had over players, effectively halting 100 years of collusion among the owners that kept salaries down and players under their collective whip. Seitz ushered in free agency in American sports, giving players that little bit of self-determination that would eventually pave the way to multi-million dollar endorsement contracts. Professional athletes became professional. The owners got pissed.
MLB owners tried to get their revenge with a series of collusion efforts throughout the 1980s. All were thwarted. They were meant to pay for them, but instead decided to expand the league and use the expansion fees to pay their settlement. They went for it again in 2002 and ended up dropping $12 million out of their shared revenues to the players. Once the wall came down – no matter how hard they tried – it could not be rebuilt.
MLS institutes a perhaps even more draconian model, all in the name of “long-term goals and objectives” as the commish so eloquently put it. You can sum those goals and objectives up pretty quickly: more money in the hands of the owners; less power to the individual players.
The league still operates under the assumption that it and its retail outlets — the 19 teams — are the product, not the players. This is simply not the case, and an inferior product does not sell. People want to see good football and that means paying good money to good players and developing a good league model that is functional and sustainable over a long period of time – and not just for the owners and their snake oil salesman of a commissioner.
I’m sure government handouts for stadiums and paying salaries on par with tiny eastern European nations is working out great for them right now, but for a man so concerned with the “long term” aspirations of football in the States Garber seems completely unaware of the coming pitfalls, even though he’s the guy with shovel-in-hand digging the pits.
Eventually there will be a Messersmith or a Bosman in MLS. It’s only a matter of time. And this, along with an empowered fanbase as I discussed prior, will be one of the major stepping stones to promotion and relegation in the US. More levels of football competing with a shared talent pool means more jobs for players and higher salaries across the board. Competition in terms of the league setup breeds competition in terms of the pay scale, which at the moment MLS is doing everything in its power to keep down. As “The Soccer Don” said, thinking about the long-term implications of player power is “what leagues are charged to do.” This is collusion, whether anyone wants to say it or not.
The players know this, their agents know this, their union knows this, and the owners are surely aware of what it could mean for their cosy setup. All it’s going to take is one player, a sharp legal mind behind him, and an arbitrator who understands precedent.
Maybe that rebellious little cunt stuck down in Dallas is just the guy to do it.
Contributing writer Shane Nicholson is the founder and Executive Editor of TheCoplandRoad.org – He drinks a lot, has a beard, and lives in Rockford. You can find him on Twitter at @ofvoid