Promotion/relegation 2022, by popular demand (sort of)

Apologies for misleading people with the headline. I’m not saying promotion/relegation is going to happen because of popular demand. The growth in MLS and other “closed” leagues is a rather powerful argument against that argument.

No, I’m doing a post by popular demand. Also because MLS is growing too much, moving up to 30 teams and a Leagues Cup competition with Mexico.

So yes, it’s time to reconsider. First, I’ll need to sum up the thousands of words I’ve written on the topic, much of it on my own blogs but also occasionally in outlets like The Guardian. Bear in mind that if you want a good synopsis of how U.S. soccer arrived at this point, I wrote the book on the subject:

It only mentions pro/rel in passing, but the “historical and cultural reality check” is relevant. People often say “pro/rel works everywhere else, so why not here?” without considering what makes the USA unique and difficult.

A quick look back at the issue:

Yes, I’ve written plans for pro/rel in the past. And given the Leagues Cup and growing intermingling with Mexico, I think these plans need a rewrite.

I already wrote a suggested league(s) calendar to accommodate the Leagues Cup. It’s at Soccer America.

So let’s go farther. This might seem unusual, but bear in mind that a lot of countries (see England, Japan and the Netherlands) have historically had narrow gateways between amateur and pro divisions. Also, Brazil had one year in which the final 16 teams included qualifiers from the lower divisions.

The goal here is simple: Maximize opportunity, minimize risk.

Start with a licensing requirement based on facilities, staffing, academy and competitive criteria. Instead of joining MLS as an expansion club, an existing club obtains a MLS license, with which they’re guaranteed a place in either the first or second division. Other clubs can get an MLS associate license, which guarantees a place in either the second or third division. The third division can grow almost indefinitely through independent leagues with their own competition rules. If you really want to have pro/rel within a third-division league, fine.

So here’s the deal:

Fall season

Late July (as soon as practical after World Cup or other international tournaments) to mid-December, 20 weeks plus playoff final. Also note CONCACAF Champions Cup.

MLS Division 1: 16 teams, all with full licenses. East/West divisions. Top four in each qualify for Leagues Cup and cannot be relegated. Top team in each division qualifies for single-game MLS Cup at warm-weather neutral venue just before Christmas.

MLS Division 2: 16 teams, full or associate licenses, with room to grow. Four teams qualify for Leagues Cup. Those with full licenses are promoted.

Third division: Independent leagues that govern as they see fit.

Spring season

February to mid-May (finished in time for World Cup/other international tournament). Also note Open Cup.

Leagues Cup: 12 MLS, 12 Liga MX. Four-team single-elimination playoff.

MLS Promotion Cup: All full-license clubs that aren’t in Leagues Cup play for spots in MLS Division 1.

Third division: Independent leagues continue, with associate-license teams rejoining. National tournament of qualified teams determines which teams play in Division 2 the next season.

Other tournaments

CONCACAF Champions League (really Cup): Knockout tournament in fall but give byes to quarterfinals to Leagues Cup, MLS, Liga MX and CONCACAF League champions. Play-in round spots go to runners-up of those competitions, CONCACAF League third-place finisher, Caribbean champion, U.S. Open Cup winner and Canadian champion. (If someone qualifies for the play-in round by two different routes — say, Open Cup winner and MLS runner-up — that team gets a bye. If any other spaces remain, go to third place finisher in Leagues Cup.)

U.S. Open Cup: Local leagues and third division play qualifying rounds in fall. In mid-January, surviving teams face MLS teams (excluding League Cup teams) in 20 four-team groups at warm-weather sites. That takes us to 32 teams for knockout tournament culminating in May final.

The rationale

Existing MLS clubs face little risk to the nine-figure investments they’ve made. Every year, they have a chance at the Leagues Cup. They’ll either have a chance at MLS Cup or promotion.

Up-and-coming pro clubs get a new pathway that could see them reach the second division and even the Leagues Cup, in addition to the Open Cup. Over time, they may solidify and earn a full license.

Other pro clubs can play in regional leagues. Over time, they may earn an associate license.

Youth players will have opportunities with local clubs that cannot lose pro status unless they collapse. You won’t see an entire state’s kids lose their pathways to the pros just because the senior team had injury problems and got relegated.

And it’ll be fun.

And it’ll never happen.

Best of SportsMyriad 2014

The best-read posts and the most-overlooked posts of the year. (In other words — what you read and what I’m still attached to even though you didn’t read it, so in the spirit of the holidays, please give it another chance!)

BEST-READ (not counting the 2014 medal projections and all related posts, which destroy all, and not counting 2012’s Single-Digit Soccer: Flunk the 2-3-1?, which still gets traffic)

5. Women’s soccer: Show me the money: Building off Allison McCann’s piece on NWSL salaries and her ill-timed piece on Tyresö.

4. Wrong time to suspend Hope Solo: If nothing else, I confused people who think I wish nothing but ill on the USA’s controversial keeper.

3. Washington Spirit vs. FC Kansas City: Goal rush: An early game for the Spirit and an atypical game in retrospect, rolling over the eventual champions with a first-half surge instead of waiting until Minute 90something to conjure up an unlikely result.

2. Single-Digit Soccer: Give U10 travel the boot: This will be one of the big issues in my book.

1. Remembering Dan Borislow: Once the shock of the news passed, I wrote a remembrance of the former WPS magicJack owner that I hope captured his complexities.

(Hey — no pro/rel posts!)


MLS, USA and Canada 2022: One vision: A few offbeat suggestions for soccer’s future along with a couple of current trends. And Peter Wilt as FIFA president.

NWSL: Spirit, Breakers and the end of reality: One of the craziest women’s soccer games of the year.

An offbeat proposal for NWSL 2015: Solving the scheduling dilemma.

MLS: Time to quit playing hardball: Written nine months before the CBA talks really got underway.

UFC, MLS, markets and monopolies: Why the MLS lawsuit is a bad precedent for the fighters now suing the UFC.

Why I prefer the Olympics to the World Cup: Really. Includes a good John Oliver clip.

College athlete unions, paying players and unasked questions: Not just picking a fight with Jay Bilas.

‘Enduring Spirit’ epilogue: Thoughts from Diana Matheson: Hey, she was nice enough to respond to my postseason questions. Read them!

U.S. Open Cup: Top 14 teams and upset history: See the spreadsheet!

Break up the Olympics: Let all four U.S. bid cities host the Games.

War on Nonrevenue Sports returns: USOC gearing up: Has anyone noticed that sports other than football and basketball are endangered on college campuses?


A little knowledge on the USA TODAY layoffs: Essentially a pointed rebuttal to some guy who thought he knew what was going on.

Weird Al-related question: Lamest claims to fame: In which I point out my strange connections to everyone from Kim Basinger to George Will to Ben Folds.

Why we believe utter crap: Political scientist Brendan Nyhan has figured it out.

Leon Sebring Dure III: 1931-2014: My father’s life as a Marine, designated hitter opponent, survivor, and man who showed his love for the world with a sense of responsibility.

In defense of the Spin Doctors: Seriously.

Farewell to Landon Donovan: My memories of covering the legend.

Most Essential Simpsons Episodes of the Last 5 Seasons: Written to coincide with the marathon.

More from me at OZY.

In the New Year, expect a lot of Single-Digit Soccer and the start of the 2016 medal projections. Can’t wait.

The 2013 book extravaganza

This year, I’m doing a lot less freelance work and focusing on a few projects:

1. I’m following the Washington Spirit of the new National Women’s Soccer League through its debut season and will publish an electronic book as soon as possible after the season is finished in late August.

2. I’m writing about youth soccer, specifically the Under-10s and below, for a book called Single-Digit Soccer.

3. I’m still blogging at SportsMyriad and will work up 2014 Olympic medal projections.

Two opportunities to publish my work:

1. My book on The Ultimate Fighter is finished. My representative for publishing rights is Margaret O’Connor at Innisfree Literary.

2. If you’re interested in Single-Digit Soccer, please contact me. I’ll also be open to deals on the Washington Spirit book, but I plan to push that out quickly and won’t be going through the usual publishing process.

If you need me for soccer, MMA or Olympic writing, feel free to contact me. I’m limiting my time but will listen to good offers. The work doesn’t have to pay a ton — if you think the topic is up my alley, go ahead and ask!

As always, enjoy following SportsMyriad and my lively duresport Twitter feed, where I always seem to find a good soccer argument.

Time for a women’s sports and fitness channel?

At espnW, former WNBA president Val Ackerman explores women’s sports on TV with consultant Neil Pilson, who mixes some blunt assessments of the broadcasting landscape with a couple of interesting ideas, such as this:

One possibility would be to have [the channel] show more than just women’s sports. See if you could link with women’s health. See if you could link to some form of children’s programming that would link daughters and mothers together.

So would a women’s sports and fitness channel make sense? Particularly if it’s part of a larger sports/entertainment company that offers cross-promotion? (In other words, the dedicated channel would show a lot of women’s sports, while the “main” channel would pick up big events and highlights.)

And if ESPN doesn’t do it, would Fox (now launching a full-fledged ESPN rival) or NBC (building on soccer and Olympic sports) consider it?

Spring makeover on the site

I didn’t intend to spend so much time tweaking the site this week. Frankly, it’s all a rookie mistake, though I’m far too old to be a rookie. I updated my theme without backing up or making a child theme and all that.

So widgets that were once in their proper form were suddenly too wide or nonexistent. The fonts were all out of whack. I suddenly have a second menu bar that won’t go away.

I’ve more or less replaced all the widgets. I tweaked one font slightly. But I’ve given up replicating the old SportsMyriad look, at least for now.

But I figured I might as well make a few small changes while I was trying to restore some sort of order:

1. Most of the categories I use with some sort of regularity are in that second menu bar.

2. I also added a couple of tags in that second menu bar: NWSL and Single-Digit Soccer. Not coincidentally, these are my two book projects this year.

3. The UFC ladders project is on hold for now. No one’s reading it, and it’s a bear to update.

Feedback welcome.

Monday Myriad: April 8


Monday Myriad, Jan. 21: Figure skating fights and chess marathons


Monday Myriad: Jan. 14


Monday Myriad: Jan. 7


Went to a hockey bench and a fight broke out

From the lack of officiating discipline that led to the situation to the ridiculously one-sided punishment doled out by the league office, you’re about to see what we can only hope is atypical for the Southern Professional Hockey League. Or in hockey itself. Or in the South itself. I grew up there, you know.

Let’s watch the video, then break it down:

(Or let’s not. In March 2015, I received a warning from Google AdSense about this page. I couldn’t figure out how to explain that this blog is a sports blog that may sometimes talk about issues such as fighting — or, in the case of MMA, may talk about fighting as a sport — and I figured it was simply easier to take down the video.)

1. A fight breaks out between Huntsville’s Corey Fulton (#44) and Mississippi’s Jeff Grant (#23).

2. The fighters fall into the Mississippi bench area.

3. At the 10-second mark, we see our first violation of hockey’s “code”: Fights are one-on-one. That’s it. But Mississippi’s Anthony Collins (#11) and Branden Kosolofsky (#20) gang up on Fulton. Someone appears to use his stick.

4. Huntsville’s Aaron McGill (#16) gets into the bench area to try to even things up or get his guy out of there. A ref tackles him. (0:15 into video)

5. Huntsville’s Chapen LeBlond (#18) flies past the fallen ref and teammate to get into the bench.

6. Meanwhile (still less than 20 seconds into video), separate players/fighters pair off.

  • Huntsville’s Matt Smyth (#4) punches his way clear of Mississippi’s Corey Tamblyn (#17), then hops into the ruck at the bench.
  • Mississippi’s Kyle VanderMale (#14) grapples with Huntsville’s Ian Boots (#10) to take him out of the area.
  • Mississippi’s Jay Silvia (#25) grabs Huntsville’s Justin Fox (#19) and gently steers him away. They’re not really involved.

7. By the 22-second mark, several Huntsville players have made it over to the Mississippi bench — Bryant Doerrsam (#3), Stefan Stuart (#7), Sam Cannata (#8), Brett Liscomb (#82), Kyle Laughlin (#14), even backup goaltender Jonathan LaRose (#1). As in a bench-clearing brawl in baseball, most of these players are just there as a show of force, not really involved at this point.

8. But then Smyth (see step 6) throws a few punches into the bench. And Cannata (see step 7) is in the bench, as is Bill Baker (#67). By the 34-second mark, the officials have made no progress whatsoever with the combatants at the bench. Some Huntsville players, like Liscomb, look like they’re trying to break things up. Baker, on the other hand, has worked his way toward the far side of the bench somehow, like Scarlett Johansson getting through the hallway and taking guys out in Iron Man 2.

9. Doerrsam (see step 7) breaks away with Mississippi’s Reid Edmondson (#27) for a more traditional hockey fight, landing a few good shots early. Boots and VanderMale, one of the groups that broke away in step 6, also have a one-on-one fight going, but they’re not doing much.

10. Mississippi’s goalie, Kiefer Smiley, figures he should square off with another goaltender, so he gets LaRose.

11. Now a “code” violation for Huntsville’s Doerrsam, who keeps punching when Edmondson goes down. “Ground-and-pound” is OK in MMA. Not so good when someone’s head is near solid ice.

12. Huntsville’s LeBlond, on the Mississippi bench, manages to square off one-on-one with a Mississippi player — looks like Payden Benning (#18). They tumble off the bench onto the ice, and LeBlond rightly lets him go. Then LeBlond goes back to the bench and grabs another player.

13. Meanwhile, still around the 1:12 mark, Mississippi goalie Smiley is trying to get into the left side of the bench, through the door that started it all. Huntsville goalie Dan McWhinney holds him back.  Smiley flings a punch or two, but another Huntsville player helps to hold him back.

14. By 1:20, most of the action — including a fight on the bench involving Huntsville’s Cannata — has died down except for a one-on-one battle in which Huntsville’s Boots has VanderMale on the ground. He half-slams him as if to assert position. The official nearby does nothing. Boots stands and lets VanderMale go.

15. So for about 20-30 seconds, everything is calm. Huntsville players clear the area. One Mississippi player flings a couple of sticks in anger, but they hit no one.

16. But Fulton, the original Huntsville combatant, comes back to the bench — either to retrieve a glove or say something (or both). So a Mississippi player punches him from the bench. Cannata comes in, presumably to pull Fulton away, and another Mississippi player hits him. A few other players push and shove.

17. Finally, the biggest punk move by far — Kosolofsky gives Cannata a couple of punches as he leaves, then picks up a stick and starts poking people. That’s a massive no-no in hockey fights.

The penalties:


  • LeBlond (#18): fighting, game misconduct for continuing altercation. He did fight more than one guy, so that seems fair.
  • Baker (#67): fighting, game misconduct for continuing altercation. Same deal.
  • McGill (#16): same penalties. Seems harsh since the ref tackled him before he could get in there.
  • Cannata (#8): same penalties. He was the most active on the Mississippi bench, so that seems OK.
  • Fulton (#44): leaving players’ bench, game misconduct. Wait, wasn’t he the original guy?


  • Edmondson (#27): fighting, game/continuing altercation. Seems harsh unless something happened off-screen.
  • Collins (#11): fighting, game/continuing altercation. Absolutely.
  • Kosolofsky (#20): fighting, game/continuing altercation, spearing, match penalty for throwing equipment. Yeah, they got him.

So the refs got most of it right, though they missed Huntsville’s Doerrsam (the ground-and-pound guy fighting Edmondson) and Mississippi’s Smiley (the pugilistic goaltender).

If you’re the league office, you should probably hand out additional punishment for Huntsville’s Fulton (skating back to the scene, which got everything restarted), Huntsville’s Doerrsam (the fight the refs missed), Mississippi’s Collins (third man into a fight on the bench) and especially Mississippi’s Kosolofsky. And also the Mississippi coaching staff. Right?


The SPHL did the following:

Mississippi: Kosolofsky 6 games, Collins 3. That sounds good, though there’s nothing for the staff. A better video angle may also have shown some other shenanigans on the bench, but perhaps nothing else was available.

Huntsville: LeBlond 5, Smyth 5, Fulton 4, Baker 3, head coach Glenn Detulleo 2. Wait, what?

Oh, and they fined Doerrsam (fair enough), Boots (what?) and trainer Billy Welker (whatever). And the Huntsville organization.

So the moral of the story: If one of your players is getting beaten up by three or more guys on the opposing bench, just sit back and let it happen. Even if the refs aren’t really breaking it up.

The most interesting commentary so far is on the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer‘s “Snakes Blog.” Not sure who writes it, though in the post complaining about the league’s action, he identifies himself as “a shareholder in this league since its inception.” He thinks Kosolofsky’s suspension should’ve been much longer, and he wonders how Mississippi got off so easily after the “Surge-vs.-Fulton” phase of the fight.

Perhaps some of it is reputation. Fulton has compiled more than 1,000 penalty minutes dating back to his junior days, including a whopping 323 in 49 games before going pro. And in any case, some of the Huntsville players look like they were punished for winning their fights, not starting them.

I miss the NHL.