New England Soccer Today

WPS may lose DI status

Women’s soccer in America has encountered another setback. The top-tier female league in the United States, Women’s Professional Soccer, is facing a loss of sanctioning by the U.S. Soccer Federation as a Division I league. Entering its fourth season, WPS “terminated” its Florida franchise, magicJack, bringing the number of teams down from six to five in early November.

In the past, the Federation has bent its rules regarding qualification to be a Division I league. The Federation granted WPS a waiver last year, even though policy states that all professional leagues may have no fewer than eight teams. But the Federation stopped cutting WPS slack once magicJack folded. Now, WPS has two weeks to find a sixth team.

Loss of Division I status could dissolve the women’s league permanently. Players who compete in a unsanctioned league may not be eligible to play for their national teams. Last summer’s U.S. World Cup team which finished second in Germany had twenty of its twenty one players competing in WPS. Should the demotion go through, national team players will likely leave the U.S. to play in other leagues in order to qualify for international selection.

“While we take very seriously the issue of U.S. Soccer’s classification of us as a Division 1 league, we are both confident and undeterred in our mission to continue and to be the best women’s professional soccer league in the world,” said Women’s Professional Soccer CEO Jennifer O’Sullivan.

WPS’ method of contracting players has been structured to accommodate player movement should the league ever fail. In WPS, players sign contracts on a year to year basis. As of now, almost 70 percent of the league’s players are free agents. And American players are in high demand, especially after their performance last summer, so European and Asian teams would have no problem snatching up WPS’ talent given that there are no contracts in the way of negotiations.

In 2009, WPS revived the Women’s United Soccer Assocation (WUSA), another Division I league that existed from 2000-2003 but failed because of low ticket sales and little corporate sponsorship. WPS surpassed the old women’s league at the beginning, having ten teams compared to the WUSA’s eight. But many of the WPS’ franchises lasted only one year and markets like California, St. Louis, Chicago, and D.C. failed. The D.C. team, the Washington Freedom, was relocated to Boca Raton, Florida before the beginning of last season. But after just one season, the re-located team failed to stick yet again.

Prior to last summer’s World Cup, WPS was experiencing the same growing pains that the WUSA did. Average attendance dropped from a low 4,684 in 2009 to a very low 3,601 in 2010 and to a slightly lower 3,518 in 2011. And despite the growing interest in women’s soccer after the World Cup, the league is very isolated. Only one franchise exists in the South, the remaining four based in the northeast.

But at the very least, the World Cup did give WPS a point to start from. The main key is not letting the league get demoted and risk losing some of the world’s best players other leagues. Former Philadelphia Independence general manager Terry Foley revealed via twitter that a Connecticut-based franchise could join WPS in 2012.

“Our brand was bolstered by the FIFA World Cup and we expect continued momentum from the 2012 Olympics next summer,” said O’Sullivan. “Given these factors in addition to our long-term plan for growth, extensive expansion franchise pipeline, and the investment and commitment of a core group of owners, we would hope that the Federation would continue support for the only professional soccer league for women in the United States.”

There has been some talk that the 2nd Division W-League and Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) may attempt to form DI leagues in 2013.

One Comment

  1. Gary Perdue

    November 28, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    I think the only way for the league to make it, is to have regional teams that play in different cities, kind of like a tour. I have watched serval games on TV, product is good, but me being in the midwest how I can I go to a game.

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