The North American Soccer League and Major League Soccer often find themselves at odds, and now, the NASL seems to be of the belief that US Soccer is giving the current first division of US Soccer preferential treatment. On Monday, reports emerged indicating that the NASL has applied for Division 1 sanctioning, and that they believe some proposed changes to those standards violate US antitrust laws.
Specifically, the league is upset with a trio of potential alterations. US Soccer has proposed that Division 1 leagues must consist of at least 16 teams, up from the previous minimum of 12. They'd force 75% of all teams to be based in cities with populations of at least 2 million (1 million previously), while also adding a requirement that all stadiums hold at least 15,000 spectators.
Jeffrey Kesler, an antitrust attorney representing the NASL, sent the following to US Soccer head Suni Gulati, setting the foundation for further legal action should these changes be adopted:
"Doubling the population criteria now is an anti-competitive bait and switch, with the purpose of entrenching MLS’s monopoly position at the very time when the NASL is threatening to become a significant competitor."
"The financial damage is significant. Simply put, the actions by US Soccer are hindering the league’s earnings potential with advertisers, broadcasters and other business partners, who will pay top dollar only for Division I, regardless of the quality of play or passion of the fans."
-Jeffrey Kessler, via Financial Times
As it stands, the NASL doesn't meet current Division 2 standards, though that will almost certainly change in the next 18 months when the league expands to the west coast (more expansion announcements are expected very soon). In all likelihood, these potential west coast clubs were noted in the application to US Soccer, but I guess we'll never know for certain.
Regardless of whether or not the NASL meets the criteria for Division 1 sanctioning or not, however, I think US soccer fans in general would agree that it's more than a bit unethical to suddenly make massive changes to the sanctioning standards, clearly to the benefit of MLS and the direct detriment of the NASL.
Either way, I'm glad to see the NASL pushing for Division 1 status, even if it's a long shot.