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NASL Owners to Press Forward — Without Bill Peterson

by on 29 December 2016

Two months ago today, the NASL’s 2016 Fall Season wrapped up. Since then, it’s been nothing but turmoil and working on extensions to save the league. With a decision on the second division’s future imminent, FiftyFive.One has learned that no matter the outcome, NASL commissioner Bill Peterson doesn’t appear to be a part of it.

On December 6, the US Soccer Federation set out a plan to meet over the next “7-10 days” to figure out what the future of lower-division soccer would be. Over the course of these meetings, the NASL ownership regained a vision to press on. This renewed vigor was largely spearheaded by Peter Wilt, former president of Indy Eleven.

What once appeared dead in the water has suddenly been resurrected. There’s now a growing confidence that the NASL will live to play another season. It seems as if the PSG Academy group will indeed take over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Meanwhile, there are multiple groups circling around the New York Cosmos, possibly having them ready for the fall. Meanwhile, clubs (including Indy and Edmonton) are already negotiating NASL-specific contracts with new players. Groups within the USL don’t believe any more teams will defect from the NASL.

More on how exit fees may have stalled the clock on a USSF decision…

The ownership groups have also pulled off a coup of sorts, completely saving the league without the assistance of commissioner Bill Peterson. The remaining owners met during the week before Christmas without Peterson, not even letting him know about the meeting. Peterson faced intense scrutiny from owners and the press this year. Most notably, owners felt they were given a false image of security as Peterson made up interest from ownership groups to expand the league.

As Peterson told Sports Illustrated’s Brian Straus:

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As the league looks to turn a new leaf, dismissing Peterson for a new leader appears to be at the top of their agenda.

How is this possible?

There’s still a major hurdle to be cleared before the NASL is alive in earnest. There will be a USSF meeting before the end of 2016. This meeting will require the NASL to prove their viability again, no matter how the league plans to press forward. The USSF has always required an eight-team minimum in their leagues.

The idea of the NASL moving ahead will raise a lot of eyebrows in Florida. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers were a source of continued scandal during 2016. In July, FiftyFive.One first reported insufficient funds and bouncing checks for players and staff alike. Then in November, we broke that players had been playing without health insurance and again weren’t paid on time.

The Strikers ended up paying players and staff just over half of what was owed to them in 2016. Likewise, both players and staff ended up losing their personal health insurance sometime in September. NASL had no mechanism to protect these players with their free-market rules and ownership has been bailed out. It’s believed that the NASL is forcing a sale in Fort Lauderdale to keep an additional team in the league. There’s no word of remedying underpayment for the 2016 lot.

The Strikers aren’t alone on this front, however. The Cosmos had been cutting costs as the season went on, including personal health insurance. FiftyFive.One has learned that the Cosmos’ losses totaled over $30 million since joining the NASL in 2012. This total may include the losses of One World Sports, founded in August 2011.

Ultimately, it remains to be answered why owners are getting a clean break while players and staff lose on wages and insurance.

 Updates on the USL’s pressure in the NASL decision-making…

Another question may be why the USL wouldn’t jump to Division-2 status amidst the turmoil. It’s clear that the USSF thinks too many clubs within the USL don’t meet D2 status. This includes stadium size, ownership wealth, and team organization. You can find a full list of D-2 standards culled by Neil Morris (Sept. 2014) here.

An announcement appears to be imminent, as soon as tomorrow morning. For many, it may be relieving that most clubs will avoid going under. However, the NASL (or however they rebrand) will have a lot of work to do to ensure this doesn’t become an annual problem.

Wes Burdine, Dave Laidig, and Brian Quarstad contributed to this report.

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