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Wednesday, February 1, 2012
WPS brought mess on itself

By Monica Gonzalez

Women's soccer experienced perhaps the highest moment in its history with the 2011 Women's World Cup. And now, although not on worldwide television, but certainly on the global social media scene, the sport is experiencing its lowest moment with the drama surrounding the suspension of the 2012 WPS season.

I am sorry for the longtime fans, the die-hards who know more about the players, statistics and teams than I ever will, and the new fans, who became interested in our sport through the hype generated by players such as Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux.

I am sorry for players like Teresa Noyola, whom I got to know while in Mexican national team camp last year. She had the collegiate season of her dreams, winning a national championship at Stanford and the Hermann Trophy before being selected No. 7 in the WPS draft. Now, she has nothing to train for. I am sorry for the rest of the players, who were expecting to have a steady income in a matter of weeks, and now are left scrambling.

What I am most sorry about is that the drama has divided our soccer community. WPS is at war with former team owner Dan Borislow, and things have gotten ugly. Well, things have apparently been ugly for a while, but now the two sides' inability to resolve their differences in private has tarnished my sport and tarnished the place that we -- all female soccer players and our supporting cast -- have spent the majority of our lives cultivating.

The decision to suspend the 2012 WPS season is appropriate. The timing and the way in which it was carried out is flat-out embarrassing. Remember when the league was at the mercy of the U.S. Soccer Federation regarding Division I sanctioning, and everyone was forwarding tweets to sign a petition to save the league? (I am guilty, too.)

Did anyone else feel that U.S. Soccer was placed in an incredibly awful situation? It could either go against FIFA standards and sanction the league, or come out looking like the bad guy who didn't care about the future of women's soccer. How do you think U.S. Soccer looks right now in the eyes of those at the FIFA offices?

Had WPS made the decision a few months ago to suspend the 2012 season, the scapegoat would have been the Olympics, and the public, although saddened, would have understood. Sponsors would have, too. The players would have been given time to plan their lives accordingly.

But I believe WPS was too proud; it had just terminated Borislow's magicJack franchise and was determined to win the battle of having a league in his absence. I realize that Borislow is a man of extremes and I've read about his alleged crazy misdoings.

Part of me had thought that if the two most prominent faces of the women's game right now (Solo and Abby Wambach) supported this guy so strongly, then maybe we didn't know the whole story. That is, until I read Ella Masar's blog. Finally, a player speaks up. Good for you, Ella. You are brave, and you are a positive example.

When you make a list of all of Borislow's alleged wrongdoings, it's no wonder he is getting hate-tweets. If you treat people in any way other than with kindness and respect, it will come back to you full circle. At this point, WPS seems entirely warranted in not wanting Borislow to be a part of the league, but sadly, there is no point in discussing his misdeeds because the most critical mistake, and the only mistake that matters in determining what went wrong, was committed by WPS.

When Borislow joined WPS, he signed an LLC agreement, which contains an Arbitration clause, or "everything you need to know about when a Member [Borislow] has a dispute with the League." If you've never seen the documentary "Hot Coffee," I highly recommend it. The film explains how companies incorporated arbitration clauses into contracts in order to avoid frivolous lawsuits. An arbitration clause exists to protect the company (i.e., the league). Any dispute that comes up is handled privately, by arbitrators, rather than the league having to incur the time and expense of going to court. What I cannot understand is how the Oct. 25 decision to terminate magicJack was made, and then made public, without one person saying, "Hey, we are breaking the rules that WE MADE UP!!!"

Had WPS followed its own rules and implemented the simple four-step dispute resolution procedure detailed on Page 60 of the LLC agreement:

• 1. It would not have incurred the expense of Borislow's lawsuit (which by the way, has not yet been resolved). Arbitration would have taken place at the league's principal place of business.

• 2. WPS most likely would have won based on the evidence.

• 3. There is NO APPEAL.

• 4. There is a CONFIDENTIALITY clause! Section 12.04 states that no part of the arbitration can be disclosed publicly unless the parties to the dispute mutually agree to do so. So, WPS' dirty laundry wouldn't be out there for all the world to see.

The mistake in thinking WPS was above the law and could get away with breaking the rules needs to be accounted for. I appreciate the owners' statements. They were genuine. Some have even acknowledged the mistake of going into business with Borislow to begin with. But WPS has a lawyer.

And CEO Jennifer O'Sullivan is a lawyer. There is simply no excuse for the way the league proceeded, and my faith in its management is gone. None of the prominent figures in women's soccer are part of the league any longer, and that scares me. There is a lot of work to do with business models, finding new sponsors and keeping the fan base, but the biggest task of all will be winning back our trust.

Monica Gonzalez is a native of Dallas and played college soccer at Notre Dame before becoming a founding member of the Mexican national team in 1999. She was captain of the Mexican team from 2003-07 and was named to the FIFA World All-Star team in 2007. She currently works for ESPN as an analyst and sideline reporter.