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USA Curling flings one through the house

If you’ve read a lot of my writing over the years, you know that I’m the opposite of a knee-jerk institution-basher. I’ve never had a lot of patience for lazy opinion writing that follows this pattern:

  1. Something is wrong.
  2. The (organization/government/referee) needs to fix it.
  3. Time for lunch.

Call it “The Narrative.” The Institution is always oppressing The Insurgent. It’s often valid, and the best journalism exposes the abuses that stem from power imbalances.

In sports, The Narrative has gone off the rails. In a typical conflict of labor vs. management, most people avoid “punching down,” siding instead with labor. In soccer, especially women’s soccer players in the “equal pay” dispute, The Narrative is that players are always right and everyone else is wrong. The purveyors of this narrative don’t grasp the nuance or think about which direction is “punching down.” They don’t realize the US national teams — men as well as women — are actually siphoning resources that would be better spent building up the next generations, lest the men fall further behind and the decline in women’s youth teams turns into a championship drought that stops a star-making machine in its tracks. They also side with players who mock and flip off referees, who aren’t exactly wealthy fat cats oppressing the poor players.

But when it comes to the abuse issues detailed in the Yates Report, there’s no question that the players deserve sympathy — and a whole lot more. Like all too many sports (see swimming’s “what do you mean we can’t date the swimmers we coach?” attitude if you want to shake your head; see what happened in gymnastics if you want to be sick to your stomach), soccer needs institutional and cultural changes.

And that leads us to Jeff Plush, former National Women’s Soccer League commissioner and current (as of this writing) CEO of USA Curling.

If you’ve gone beyond the superficial reporting and opinion pieces in the media and read the full text of the Yates Report on sexual misconduct in the NWSL, you’ve noticed that Plush comes across a bit better than some of the people around him. If you’ve followed the NWSL, you know that Plush was part of a league office that operated on a shoestring budget.

So Plush could make plausible excuses for the fact that Paul Riley was able to gain other employment after being terminated by the Portland Thorns. The Thorns, the best-supported team in the league for years, did their own investigation that led to Riley being pushed out but may not have justified any other punishment. Plush’s underfunded league didn’t have a lot of resources to go any further. Plush still sounded the alarm a few times while Riley was seeking other employment with other NWSL clubs, and he and general counsel Lisa Levine shared some details with another club that then decided not to hire Riley.

But then what happened? In the Yates Report, Plush’s emails of concern fade from the story at this point, and Riley wound up employed again.

Again, Plush might have a plausible answer for this. Did the risk-averse lawyers at US Soccer and the NWSL (neither of them still in their jobs) advise him that he couldn’t torpedo Riley’s career any more than he already had?

We’ll never know.

Why?

Because he didn’t cooperate with the investigation.

You would think this refusal would be of grave concern to USA Curling, where Plush is still a relatively new CEO, especially given the fact that much of his tenure has taken place in the shadow of a pandemic.

Instead … well, consider an analogy. Remember when allegedly moderate Republican senator Susan Collins defended her vote in Donald Trump’s first impeachment by saying the then-president had learned his lesson and surely wouldn’t repeat those mistakes? That’s basically what USA Curling’s board did.

Like Collins, USA Curling’s board thinks Plush has learned his lesson.

“(T)he Board is encouraged by Jeff’s willingness to fully cooperate in the ongoing NWSL and its Players Association investigation,” according to a USA Curling statement that has landed in the curling community with a thud.

So he didn’t respond to Yates, who was investigating at the behest of US Soccer. But he’ll do it this time?

The statement says the board “called a special session and immediately commissioned an investigation.” It does not say whom they commissioned or how that group digested a lengthy report and conducted a follow-up probe in record time.

Sure, some investigations can drag on too long. To go back to women’s soccer a bit — Houston Dash coach James Clarkson has spent six months in limbo over a supposed investigation over a supposed case of unspecified abuse (a term taken to mean everything from disgusting acts of sexual harassment to temper tantrums), and again, The Narrative of “players good, authority figures bad” dictates that no one can question why glaciers move and melt faster than this investigation has moved.

But one of the lessons from the Yates Report is that complex questions deserve more than a cursory check. And if Plush really did answer the looming questions to the Board’s satisfaction, it would be nice to hear those answers.

Plush was already in trouble because of the conflict with the Grand National Curling Club, a regional affiliate of USA Curling that governs the entire East Coast. In that case, he’s not entirely wrong, and The Narrative strikes again here by positing the GNCC as an oppressed angelic underdog. The situation is nuanced, and Buffalo Springfield put it best: “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.” But Plush and the USA Curling board/executives have been heavy-handed and opaque.

Curling is the friendliest sport I know. I spent much of my weekend at Potomac Curling Club’s Glitter Bombspiel, which has an LGBTQ+ theme and is so effective at creating a supportive environment that some participants were close to tears.

And the curling community is indeed united.

Against its national governing body.

And for once, I can offer no defense of The Institution. In this case, The Narrative is accurate and apt.

A petition to remove Plush now has the support of more than 500 people, including many high-level athletes. I don’t fully support every point raised — I think SafeSport cases are better discussed with the Center for SafeSport, another flawed institution and one that came along after Plush’s tenure with the NWSL. And as a journalist who still skews toward analysis rather than opinion, I generally don’t take part is this sort of activism. But in this case, well, here’s the letter, and here’s the link to sign.

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How a sprawling US Soccer investigation affects USA Curling

Some time ago, in the in-fighting between USA Curling and the GNCC, GNCC officials asked for USA Curling CEO Jeff Plush to be set aside from the proceedings while everyone awaited results of investigations into sexual misconduct allegations involving National Women’s Soccer League coaches during his tenure as that league’s commissioner.

At the time, that suggestion was a bit premature. There was little reason to think Plush did anything other than fail to investigate claims any more than he could at the time, given the lack of resources at an underfunded NWSL office. The US Center for SafeSport was officially launched, by complete coincidence, the month he left the NWSL (March 2017).

Now that a two-year investigation has yielded a 319-page report, is there anything in Plush’s tenure that should cause USA Curling any concern? Or maybe the hiring of CFO Eric Gleason, who is also mentioned a couple of times in this report?

Here are the 39 mentions of Plush in the report, with my annotations in italics …

p. 10: “Certain witnesses—including the former Commissioner of the NWSL, Jeff Plush—never responded to our outreach.”

I had figured Plush might not be willing to speak on advice on counsel. But I think this report would have said whether he had given them such a response. Instead, it says “never responded.”

The first case of note here

PAUL RILEY

p. 15: “The following year, in 2015, Meleana Shim emailed the Portland Thorns’ front office and Jeff Plush, NWSL Commissioner, reporting Riley’s persistent and unwanted advances and his retaliation against her when she asked him to stop. Plush shared Shim’s email with USSF leadership.”

Meleana Shim is also known as Mana Shim, and her accusations in a story in The Athletic were a bombshell that led to former Thorns coach Paul Riley — until then, one of the most respected coaches in youth and pro women’s soccer — being fired as coach of the North Carolina Courage.

These revelations led me to write a piece about whether those of us in the media at the time — primarily cis hetero men — should have known. The tl;dr — I wish players would have felt comfortable telling people like me rather than waiting a few years and speaking, but I fully understand if they were more comfortable speaking with people who weren’t middle-aged cis hetero men.

The Thorns let Riley go but said nothing about the charges at the time. His record with the team was mildly disappointing, so letting him go didn’t raise any eyebrows.

p. 15: “Within a few months of being terminated from the Thorns, in early 2016, Riley was coaching again in the NWSL, this time at the Western New York Flash (“WNY Flash” or “the Flash”). In an email to Gulati, Flynn, and Levine, Plush conveyed his understanding that Gavin Wilkinson (Thorns General Manager) told the Flash that Riley was “put in a bad position by the player,” and that Wilkinson would “hire [Riley] in a heartbeat.” Although Plush, Gulati, Flynn, and Levine all had received Shim’s detailed complaint—and Plush and Levine received the 2015 Thorns Report—none appeared to provide the Flash with additional information.”

The Flash would later move to North Carolina to become the Courage.

This seems to reflect more poorly on Wilkinson than it does on Plush, but it does raise a question of the role of a commissioner in making sure teams are apprised of such things.

p. 30: “Jeff Plush, former Commissioner of the League, and B.J. Snow, former Head Coach of the U-23 National Team and Director of Talent Identification for the National Team, did not respond to our repeated outreach.”

In case you missed it before.

p. 43: “In 2016, NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush and Levine took initial steps to devise a set of workplace policies, including an anti-harassment policy, and engaged an external firm to provide initial drafts.”

The report goes on to state there’s no evidence this was ever distributed beyond the front office of the NWSL and NWSL Media in 2017. Reminder: Plush left in 2017. Lisa Levine, the longtime NWSL general counsel, left under pressure in 2021.

p. 71-72 (detailing the Shim complaint in September 2015): “Shim forwarded her email complaint to NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush a few hours after sending. Within minutes of receiving the email, Plush forwarded it to Levine, commenting: “See below. Not good.” An hour later, Plush forwarded the complaint to Gulati and Flynn; the following day, he forwarded it to USSF CFO Eric Gleason. All agreed it was important to monitor the situation. Plush spoke with the Thorns (with Paulson) the evening he received the complaint, and the following morning (with Wilkinson). Plush emailed Paulson: ‘“Let’s stay in close communication going forward.'”

Gulati is longtime USSF president Sunil Gulati. Flynn is longtime USSF CEO Dan Flynn. They’re no longer in those positions. Flynn retired. Gulati left soon after the US men’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup led to a plethora of candidates for the presidential election a few months later. Paulson is Merritt Paulson, owner of the Portland Timbers (MLS) and Thorns (NWSL). His father is former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson.

p. 76: “On September 22, 2015, the day before Riley was terminated from Portland, Sky Blue expressed interest in hiring him. When Paulson informed Wilkinson that Sky Blue had reached out to Mike Golub to ask to interview Riley, Paulson responded: “Good and thanks.” That same day, Plush (NWSL) emailed Dan Flynn (USSF), Sunil Gulati (USSF), and Lisa Levine (USSF) regarding “Coaching Updates,” and noted that the Sky Blue General Manager, Tony Novo, had asked about approaching Riley. Plush noted, “[o]bviously [Riley’s] situation is [] complicated.” Gulati responded, “Let’s make sure we are up to speed on how the Portland situation is being handled/investigated.”

Sky Blue is now NJ/NY Gotham FC. I don’t make these names.

p. 77: “After Riley was terminated, Plush and Levine discussed the need to inform Sky Blue about the reasons for Riley’s termination. Levine’s notes from the call reflect that a player had “alleged sexual harassment against Riley,” as well as the investigation’s conclusion that Riley had “engaged in inappropriate conduct” and “violated [a] directive to maintain professional distance from players.” That day, Levine called Novo, and shared this “confidential” information. According to Levine’s notes, Novo stated that he “think[s] this changes direction for us,” and would not share this information beyond his club’s ownership.”

It’ll be interesting to see how this differs from Western New York’s hiring process.

p. 78: “On February 16, 2016, Plush emailed Gulati (USSF), Flynn (USSF) and Levine (USSF), stating, “Western New York will announce Paul Riley as head coach on Friday. Not good news.” Plush explained that he gave the Thorns President’s phone number to the WNY Flash General Manager (Rich Randall) and that his “guess is that Gavin [Wilkinson] helped Paul with Aaron [sic] Lines.” Gulati responded, “we need to discuss.”

Side note: Aaran (the correct spelling) Lines is the former Flash coach who moved into an executive job. While with the Flash, he coached his wife, Alex Sahlen, who is the daughter of then-Flash owner Joe Sahlen. It was an unusual situation but not THAT unusual — plenty of women’s soccer players married coaches. In this case, I know of no complaints from Flash players about the situation.

p. 78-79 (cont.): “On February 19, 2016, the WNY Flash publicly announced Riley as the newest Head Coach. That same day, Plush followed up with the group of USSF executives to report on his discussion with WNY Flash Vice President Lines. Plush explained that Lines had “spoken in depth” with Thorns General Manager Wilkinson who “specifically brought up the ‘human resource issue.’ Gavin [Wilkinson] told [Lines] that he felt Paul ‘was put in a bad position by the player’ and he ‘would hire him in a heartbeat.’” Plush further wrote that “Aaran [Lines] spoke directly with Paul about the situation and Paul said ‘I shouldn’t have put myself in that situation.’ Aaran specifically told him he can not [sic] allow that the of [sic] situation to happen again. They are very comfortable with the situation at this point.”

Wilkinson was suspended from his duties in the wake of the Riley allegations going public but was reinstated when an investigation by DLA Piper turned up no wrongdoing. We’ll see if he keeps his job now.

p. 79 (cont.) “Besides this conversation between Plush and Lines, it does not appear that anyone from the League or the Federation communicated directly with WNY Flash regarding their hire of Riley. Levine noted that she did not recall any requests to provide the 2015 Thorns Report to the WNY Flash, or any consideration that this might be important. (Indeed, she could not recall if it came up or crossed her mind to share the 2015 Thorns Report outside of USSF or NWSL at any point.) Levine did not believe NWSL Commissioner Plush shared the 2015 Thorns Report externally, which she stated was not the responsibility of the League or USSF. Gulati and Flynn both do not recall speaking with anyone at the WNY Flash regarding Riley.”

I’d like to see a definition of “externally.”

p. 79-80: “No further action was taken regarding Riley’s hire. As Levine recalled, the League’s and USSF’s collective view at that time was that their role in coach hiring was limited. (“Club staff was club staff.”) Dan Flynn (USSF CEO), however, responded to the chain: “didn’t we discuss the need for a league policy and training?” Plush confirmed there was a prior conversation, and later that month Levine began compiling anti-fraternization and anti-nepotism policies from other professional sports leagues for use in the NWSL.”

Here’s where your opinion of Plush’s actions or inactions may vary. Should he have taken a bolder stance at this point? Or, given his general counsel’s laissez-faire attitude and no further action from US Soccer, did he feel he had little power to act?

I’ll say, from my experience covering the league, that I don’t think the commissioner had a ton of power. The league was still under the USSF thumb at this point, and it wasn’t exactly swimming in sponsorship money that would help it build a more robust front office. (It has more money now, and still, the public relations staffs throughout the league aren’t really dynamos.)

p. 82: “Johnson also spoke to NWSL Commissioner Plush early in the process. According to Johnson, Plush (like Flynn) focused on an ongoing issue Riley had with referees that might lead to a “likely” suspension.”

Johnson is North Carolina Courage president Curt Johnson, a veteran soccer executive.

Plush focusing on referees is … certainly bad optics. Maybe he could have addressed that if he had spoken with the investigators.

p. 82: Passing mention of Plush passing along a phone number that shouldn’t be some sort of secret. Both of the people are NWSL team executives.

p. 83: “Malik stated he followed up with Plush to request a copy of the report that allegedly “cleared” Riley. Malik’s best recollection was that Plush either demurred that he would look into it or declined to share the 2015 Thorns Report in light of confidentiality issues.”

p. 83: “Duffy, too, recalled discussions in 2017 with Paulson, Flynn, Gulati, and
Plush about whether to share the 2015 Thorns Report with Malik.”

Duffy is Amanda Duffy, then the NWSL Managing Director of Operations and de facto boss after Plush left. She’s a highly respected veteran of several leagues and clubs.

p. 93: “In her interview with this investigation, Levine stated that she did not understand why these players were reaching out again about events from 2015. Specifically, Levine said that Shim and Farrelly had been given the opportunity then to speak with the Commissioner (then Plush).”

Again, Levine was forced out years later.

Second case …

RORY DAMES

Another coach who, until allegations were made public, was considered one of the best in the business. Players raved about him, as they did about Riley. In November 2021, a sports psychologist said Dames had “created a culture of fear and engaged in emotional and verbal abuse which is psychologically and emotionally harmful to players and staff.”

Some concerns had been raised years before.

p. 117: “A few months later, on February 25, 2015, Bailey forwarded internally at NWSL (to Jeff Plush, Commissioner) her October 2, 2014 email to Whisler.”

Not much context to add here.

p. 118: “On November 13, 2015, Jeff Plush (NWSL Commissioner) emailed Jay Berhalter (USSF CCO), Jill Ellis (National Team Head Coach), and Dan Flynn (USSF CEO) the 2015 NWSL Player Survey results. Plush stated, “The comments section provides the most specific information . . . some is quite disturbing . . . .””

And that’s about it. The other mentions are in a footnote.

So Plush knew about the accusations about Riley and Dames. He made sure other people knew. Should he have done more?

It’d be nice if he would address the question.

The USA Curling breakdown

I hadn’t planned to write anything about USA Curling outside Reddit, but I think it’s important to clear up a few things and reframe some of the discussion.

Let’s start with this. The following two things can be true, and they are true:

  1. USA Curling has every right to insist that its regional associations admit only USA Curling member clubs.
  2. USA Curling is likely violating its own bylaws, along with the USOPC’s bylaws and maybe even Wisconsin statutes, and souring its relationships with the curling community in the way it is pursuing the GNCC matter.

More detail …

USA Curling’s regional associations

One argument from GNCC and its backers is that one nonprofit can’t tell another to change its bylaws. Specifically, USA Curling can’t tell GNCC to kick out members who aren’t paying dues to USAC.

OK. But then GNCC can’t tell USAC to change its bylaws. Specifically, GNCC can’t tell USAC to accept it as the regional association of the national governing body.

Think of it this way. If you’re running the United Way, you can’t tell a specific charity how to keep its books — unless that charity wants to be part of the United Way.

Back in the realm of Olympic sports, the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC, formerly USOC) is under pressure from Congress to have tighter control of things from the top down. USA Curling is beholden to the USOPC, which threatened it with decertification a few years ago because the national teams weren’t doing well enough, and it has a big audit coming up.

So USA Curling has every right, if not an outright responsibility, to demand that its regional associations toe the line. A lot of people in the GNCC orbit simply don’t get this.

Now here’s the problem for USA Curling (first, the legal part) …

USA Curling bylaws

First point: USA Curling is absolutely in the wrong when it comes to voting rights.

Potomac Curling Club (my club, but I’m not involved with this) has asserted that clubs do not need to leave GNCC and declare themselves “At-Large” to protect their votes in the upcoming Members Assembly, where USAC’s move to expel GNCC needs two-thirds approval and clearly will not get it without some shenanigans.

Another simple citation here from USCA Bylaws, Section 10.4. – Member’s Vote: Regional Curling Associations, At-Large Clubs, and Member Clubs which are Members of USA Curling in good standing shall be entitled to vote at the meeting of the Members’ Assembly in accordance with USA Curling policy.

Mediate, alleviate, arbitrate …

Where was I? Oh, right. Not listening to an INXS single from back in the day.

Joe Calabrese writes, and I’ve heard from elsewhere, that USAC rejected the idea of an independent mediator.

There’s a difference, of course, between mediation and arbitration. In the latter, USAC won’t have a choice. USOPC bylaws make that quite clear, and if it somehow doesn’t come up with the current fiasco, it will come up when an athlete from a club that has left the inner circle isn’t allowed to play in a national championship. Or when clubs move to decertify USA Curling.

Now or later?

As explained above, USA Curling can demand that GNCC expel members who aren’t USAC members.

But can USA Curling’s board and staff demand GNCC’s ouster now?

I think not.

In December 2020, a special Members Assembly approved Bylaw 5.0, a temporary amnesty on dues for clubs that had shut down during COVID.

The policy outlining why GNCC is facing the boot is USCA Policy 21-08 (5.d.i): “The date of compliance shall be January 31st of the current year using the final membership numbers provided by USA Curling.”

But given the one-year amnesty, dues were only in arrears as of Jan. 31, 2022, not 2021. USCA Policy 21-08 (5.d.ii) states that punishment kicks in one year later. That would be Jan. 31, 2023. In fact, you could make an argument under USCA Policy 21-08 (5.d.iii) that the Regional Association’s membership cannot be terminated until the end of the next fiscal year, which would be June 30, 2023.

So GNCC should have another year. (Disclaimer: Not a lawyer.)

The question: How would everyone use that extra year?

The way forward

There’s no evidence is anyone is really talking here. The point of the member uprising should be to change that.

And the discussion should center on answering these questions …

What are the roles of a national federation and a regional association?

I asked this on Reddit a month ago, noting that GNCC charges much more than Minnesota charges and also provides many more services. Great, if you’re taking advantage of those services. If you’re not, you (I) may be wondering why you’re paying so much to two organizations that haven’t sorted out who’s in charge of training, playdowns, insurance and whatnot.

Can USA Curling redefine “membership”?

A bylaw proposal from Orlando (with assistance from elsewhere) essentially eliminates club memberships in favor of individual memberships. Personally, I’m uneasy with this, in part because it makes voting an absolute ******. Like Joe Calabrese, I’d prefer a model akin to what USA Fencing does, offering a hybrid model of club and individual memberships. (I spelled it out in another long Reddit post.)

Either way, though, a discussion of what constitutes membership is worth having.

Can USA Curling regain enough trust to remind people of its importance?

As someone with more than a passing familiarity with international sports governance (hey, stay awake!), I’ve been frustrated that a lot of the discussion on the topic has compared GNCC with USA Curling. That’s apples and oranges. Or apples and bicycles. (In a Reddit post, I said “ice cream to concrete.”)

Did GNCC weather the COVID storm financially better than USA Curling? Sure. That’s because GNCC basically had no expenses. USA Curling has obligations that don’t go away.

And it’s important to have a strong national body. That’s how you effectively market the sport, a large chunk of USAC’s budget. That’s how you get your sport on TV, another large chunk of the budget. That’s how you can potentially build a grassroots foundation akin to the US Soccer Foundation, which was spun off from (and later sued over IP, but that’s another story) the US Soccer Federation. That’s how you make sure your sport is covered in SafeSport’s databases, and that’s how you build strong national teams from the grassroots up.

Hopefully, USA Curling will do a better job with the TV aspect of it and be more responsive to its members.

Then, hopefully, its members will rally around it.

The Timbers/Polo saga—what did we learn?

On June 3, 2021, a woman who wasn’t sure whether to pursue misdemeanor harassment charges against her husband sat in her home with two people pledging to help, along with a good friend who was serving as translator.

In an audio recording of the session, the two visitors come across as kind and compassionate, trying their best to solve her interconnected problems. She’s dependent on her husband financially and otherwise. She needs to get her kids to school. She wants to go to school herself and get a job. All of these things are difficult, and the visitors offer solutions.

Here’s the problem … 

The husband is Andy Polo, then a player for the Portland Timbers. The two visitors are Jim McCausland, a retired Portland police detective now serving as the Timbers’ director of security, and Christine Mascal, a lawyer retained by the Timbers to represent Polo. McCausland and Timbers executive Gabriel Jaimes also raced to Polo’s home May 23 while police were still on the scene gathering evidence, having been called to investigate a report of a man hitting a woman. 

Anyone who has listened to the June 3 recording would agree that the friend and translator is a saint. But she is not a lawyer. And she is not a social worker sitting there on behalf of a government agency.

So the advice Génessis Alarcón received for dealing with this dire predicament came from two people who, well-intended or not, were representing parties Alarcón would later sue — Polo and the Timbers.

The Timbers are free from that suit, thanks to an undisclosed settlement in late March. Polo, not the Timbers, is the primary target for Alarcón and her lawyers in the United States and Peru, where Polo returned after his dismissal from Portland in February. 

The club also won’t face any further punishment from MLS, which turned to Proskauer Rose to investigate the Timbers’ actions. The law firm, which counts MLS as a frequent client, said the team didn’t induce Alarcón to forgo pursuing charges. MLS fined the Timbers a pittance of $25,000 for not realizing they were supposed to report the Polo incident to the league under the MLS Constitution, as improbable as that seems for a club that employs a general counsel as well as an HR staff. 

But this isn’t going away so easily. 

Start with Madison Shanley, who has frequently sung the national anthem before Timbers for more than a decade and for their wildly popular NWSL team, the Portland Thorns, since the women’s league launched in 2013. On April 3, she sang while wearing a T-shirt with the message “YOU KNEW,” directed at the organization over its handling of the Polo incident and of the case of Paul Riley, the former Thorns coach who was allowed to leave the club and sign elsewhere without anyone revealing that he had been accused of abuse and inappropriate behavior. Last fall, two players came forward to accuse Riley of sexual coercion. 

Shanley has since said she won’t sing the anthem again until she’s satisfied the club has made solid institutional changes. At the Timbers’ April 22 home game, supporters made it clear that they support Shanley and not team management. 

The club did indeed release a list of changes, including community initiatives and anonymous reporting lines. Those changes, though, don’t address the circumstances that put the Timbers in such a terrible situation in the first place. 

Nor do we see any reason to believe the Timbers or any MLS club — for that matter, any employer anywhere — learned a lesson about when and when not to intervene when police show up at a player or employee’s home while a spouse or partner is pleading for help. And to understand why, we have to ask a few questions about the Proskauer Rose report, which reads more like a list of excuses than the result of an exhaustive investigation. 

The Proskauer Rose report had no contact information, and a media spokesperson for the firm did not return an email. The Timbers declined to comment beyond what is publicly available.

To be sure, the Timbers did a few things right. The club had been helping Alarcón adjust to life in a new country well before the May 23 incident. When McCausland and Mascal visited June 3, they urged Alarcón to seek more help from the Department of Human Services and/or Catholic Charities.

But the Proskauer Rose report takes these actions as proof that the Timbers didn’t offer a quid pro quo for help. That might be literally true, but anyone looking at the situation from Alarcón’s perspective might have felt underlying pressure to back off. Mascal points out in the June 3 meeting that Polo could face a year in prison. She may not have meant that as an implied threat. But would anyone blame Alarcón for hearing “one year in prison” and thinking that if she pursues charges, she’ll lose her financial lifeline?

That’s one of several head-scratchers in the Proskauer Rose report: 

“Ms. Mascal explained to the investigators that she had not been provided with a copy of the police report from the May 23, 2021 incident, and therefore wanted to talk to Ms. Alarcon to better understand what had happened from Ms. Alarcon’s perspective.”

Reporters have a copy of the police report. Mascal couldn’t get it? 

Also, Proskauer Rose said its investigators spoke with six Timbers employees (including the CEO), Mascal, Polo and Alarcón while also checking out Alarcón’s audio recordings and “text messages, emails, and other relevant documents provided by the Timbers.” The report says nothing about speaking with the police or the DA. 

(Worth noting: Mascal resigned from the board of the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center in 2019 for what was seen as a “victim-blaming” approach to representing sexual abuse defendants. One sample question she asked in court: “You don’t bring up threesomes with someone you just met, or is that who you are?”) 

“Mr. McCausland and Ms. Mascal each provided credible reasons for being present at the [June 3] meeting.”

Fine, but again, what was the “credible reason” for proceeding with no one representing Alarcón but a good friend who was translating?

The Proskauer Rose investigation was limited to (a) whether the Timbers tried to induce Alarcón not to pursue charges and (b) the Timbers’ failure to report the incident, so it didn’t cover the reason for Alarcón’s since-settled complaint against the club. That document shows another thing from which the Timbers and anyone similarly situated simply have to learn a lesson.

Polo didn’t go to jail May 23. He was given a citation and a June 23 court date. Police were satisfied that Alarcón’s friend and the Timbers staff could keep the couple safe. And that meant, Alarcón’s lawyer argued, that the team assumed responsibility for the situation. 

“Mr. Polo was permitted to be released to his household in part because of the safety plan that was promised by the Portland Timbers,” the complaint read. “Ms. Alarcon and law enforcement relied on the promises above made by the Portland Timbers management. The Portland Timbers failed to honor their responsibilities and duties outlined above, and further abuse and incidents and domestic disturbances occurred within the household after May 23, 2021, causing Ms. Alarcon continued pain and discomfort and significant emotional harm.”

In another action with unfortunate optics, MLS, under pressure from the MLS Players Association, paid his contract in full even though he was terminated and set free to return to Universitario de Deportes, his first pro club in Peru. You’d think that would mean Polo has plenty of money to hand over to Alarcón, but even though Universitario originally said he had to sort things out with her before making his debut, reports from Peru say he turned down one deal and hasn’t settled anything

“We have more than a decade of outstanding work in the community and off the pitch of which we are extremely proud,” read a Timbers press release when the investigation report was made public. “However, we are not perfect and will make mistakes occasionally. When that happens, corrections will be made, and we will learn from them.”

Those corrections can only be made if the mistakes are fully understood. From all available evidence, that is not yet the case. 

When it comes to legal liability, the Polo case may be closed. But it’s not going away.

MLS, the Timbers and all soccer clubs need a serious rethink of what they can and can’t do to assist players’ families, particularly when their relationships turn abusive. If they don’t learn from the past, they’ll be condemned to repeat it.

And then we’ll see more supporters groups holding “YOU KNEW” banners.

Cross-posting to beaudure.medium.com

US Soccer money (and bylaws!), 2022 edition

With the settlement of the WNT lawsuit (pending CBA) and the upcoming AGM, it’s time to CYA and BYOB and too many abbreviations.

Let’s try that again …

The women’s lawsuit is over as long as they can finish up their contract. Also, the Annual General Meeting is coming up, where the big event will be the alliterative presidential election between Cindy Cone and Carlos Cordeiro, but other orders of business include some intriguing proposals.

How to digest this?

First: Read my Guardian story on the lawsuit settlement and why there’s still a lot to do it. I won’t rest easy until the CBA is signed.

Second: Check out the women’s pay resource page, which has a lot of analysis that gives the lawsuit’s history and an analysis of why the suit was doomed. I’ve added a tl;dr high-level summary.

Next: Dig through the updated financial numbers as best you can. They’ve completely changed the way they report the numbers in the AGM book this year, so I just punted on that part, but you can still compare 990s and Audited Financial Statements for the last … many years.

Observations on those numbers:

  • There’s a case to be made that the Cindy Cone/Will Wilson cuts were too drastic. Yes, revenues fell by more than 50%. But so did expenses. Funny how that happens when the national teams aren’t playing.
  • The answer to the “will sponsors pay less in the COVID year?” question is “Yes,” though not as much as you might think. SUM paid $22.2m, down from $30.25m. Nike paid $17.644m, down from $22.65m.
  • Jurgen Klinsmann is, at least, no longer on the federation’s books. But others such as former executive Brian Remedi got severance packages.
  • Former CEO Dan Flynn and former WNT coach Jill Ellis are now listed as “ambassadors” making considerable sums of money. Where’s the embassy?
  • The legal bill in FY 2021 was barely half of the FY 2020 bill. I’m guessing it’s because fewer things were filed. The WNT case had the summary judgment. The NASL case has been on hold like a caller trying to reach the cable company.
  • One massive line item cut in FY 2021: Travel dropped from $34.1m to $5.2m.
  • Aside from that, it’s the wrong year to draw any conclusions.

And some notes from the AGM book

  • The Athletes Council has put forward a bylaw proposal to pay the president $125,000 a year. That has pros and cons, but the primary rationale is that there are only so many people who can do the job for free. Maybe they don’t want to have so many economists running the fed now.
  • A couple of longtime board members/life members are pushing for stricter term limits.
  • The UPSL is applying for recognition as a National Affiliate. As far as I can tell, its peer organizations are not, but they might not be in enough states. The UPSL is now in 38 states.
  • I don’t see non-Para players on the Disability Soccer Committee. It’d be nice to see someone from the MNT or WNT take an interest.
  • Nicole Barnhart is on a couple of financial committees now.
  • Becky Sauerbrunn is on the Rules Committee, which reviews the bylaw and policy proposals and comes up with polite ways of saying “you seriously can’t expect this to be passed.”
  • John O’Brien continues to be the only member of the Sports Medicine committee without “Dr.” in front of his name.
  • Lori Lindsey and Oguchi Onyewu are co-chairs of the Technical Development committee.

Cordeiro, the states, sexism, the WNT, etc.

First order of business: It is vitally important that you read my story for The Guardian on Carlos Cordeiro’s surprising candidacy for US Soccer president.

Done? OK, let’s move on …

You read a lot about the Cordeiro record in that piece. To wit …

  1. Business relationships turned sour.
  2. He failed to assemble a management team and left a void, which may partially explain how the legal brief that forced him to resign got through. You could make a case that the USSF president, an unpaid volunteer, should be more focused on vision-setting than day-to-day work like reading legal briefs. But Cordeiro didn’t delegate well, according to many of my sources, and even if he wanted to, he didn’t have people in place to help out.
  3. His public statements were tone-deaf. When he was vice president, that wasn’t an issue. But the presidency is a public-facing job. Maybe the federation doesn’t want another outspoken person like Sunil Gulati, but the president has to be able to communicate with the masses.
  4. He didn’t settle any part of the lawsuit with the women’s national team. Cone did.
  5. According to the US Soccer Foundation, he picked an unnecessary fight with them that wound up in court. And he didn’t settle it. Cone did.

So you may still be wondering why state associations are supporting Cordeiro.

First, let’s give credit where it’s due. State associations train coaches and refs. They run player development programs. They run TOPSoccer for players with disabilities. They maintain lists of suspended coaches and players. All of this is important, and it’s only getting more complicated as other organizations come in with competing programs, the vast majority of which are designed for the “elite.” My experiences with Virginia’s youth association have been overwhelmingly positive, as have my conversations over the years with representatives from other states.

So when they complain that their needs aren’t being met, those complaints deserve a hearing. Whether Cone is hearing them is difficult to judge from afar.

But what I can tell you is that some misinformation is affecting some states’ judgment, and I’m a bit confused in some cases about what the states want.

The states

Grant programs: The Innovate to Grow program is relatively new. It started with $467,303 in FY 2018 and grew to $3m annually.

Dave Guthrie from Indiana Soccer says that program was cut. Cindy Cone says it was redirected to COVID relief and is now back in place.

Either way, one thing to consider is that if sponsors bail, programs like this will be more difficult to fund.

General programming: Spending on players, coaches and referees increased under Cordeiro. But this was planned before Cordeiro took office — in fact, he mentioned it during the 2018 campaign.

Development Academy: Guthrie also pointed to the DA as something that was cut with no warning and left states in a lurch. The communication angle of it is worth questioning. Cutting the program — to me, at least — was a no-brainer. It wasn’t working on the girls’ side because the ECNL was already so firmly entrenched, and having a big program for boys without a comparable program for girls … well, that’s not going to fly.

And the DA undercut a lot of other programs and added to a plethora of “national” leagues and tournaments — which, coincidentally, I just wrote about. (Not yet published.)

Voting power: This is a case of misinformation and mistrust, and Alan Rothenberg said he thinks Cordeiro is tapping into resentment over something that was forced by Congress via the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Athletes need to have 33.3% of the vote. Congress still hasn’t updated archaic language referring to national team players as “amateur athletes,” and I have indeed encountered some people who think “amateur” means “over-30 player for the Milwaukee Bavarians” rather than “recently retired women’s national team player” or “Paralympian.” In any other context, yes. In Congress, no.

Let’s run through USOPC bylaws, shall we?

p. 4:

ee) “10 Year Athlete” means an athlete who has represented the United States in a Delegation Event, World Championships, or another event designated by the USOPC (together with the AAC) and the relevant NGB (together with that NGB’s athlete advisory council) as an elite-level event for purposes of this definition, within the previous 10 years; and

ff) “10 Year+ Athlete” means an athlete who has represented the United States in a Delegation Event, World Championships, or another event designated by the USOPC (together with the AAC) and the relevant NGB (together with that NGB’s athlete advisory council) as an elite-level event for purposes of this definition, but not within the previous 10 years.

p. 42

i) Athlete representatives will equal at least 33.3% of all NGB boards of directors, executive Boards, and other governing Boards.

a. At least 20% will be 10 Year Athlete representatives; the remaining will be either 10 Year or 10 Year+ Athlete representatives

p. 2

“Delegation Event” means, individually or collectively as applicable, the Olympic Games, the Olympic Winter Games, the Paralympic Games, the Paralympic Winter Games, the Pan American Games, and the Parapan Am Games;

So there’s no wiggle room to define an “athlete” as you or me (unless you’re a former national teamer, in which case, hi and thanks for reading).

Yes, there’s some squabbling over the remaining 66.7%. For the National Council, the main voting body, the Youth Council, Adult Council and Pro Council were equally whacked, down to 20% each.

Some states would be happy to cut the pros down a bit more. I think that’s a hard case, though you could (and the progressive association in West Virginia did) make a case that the men’s and women’s Division 1 leagues should have an equal share of that vote.

The elephant in the room, frankly, is the Adult Council vote. Barring a Vardy-esque ascension from the UPSL to the national team, no elite-level players will come from this group. Elite players come from the youth ranks, as do the lion’s share of recreational players. Registration revenue from the various youth associations runs roughly five to eight times that of the adult associations.

So why does the Adult Council have an equal vote to the Youth Council? Why don’t state associations have 40% of the vote, allocated to each association (whether youth, adult or combined) according to number of registrants?

But I digress. There are two more quotes from Guthrie I’d like to share:

On whether some issues were more of an issue with the CEO, or lack thereof: “The President of U.S. Soccer sets the vision, the strategy, the plan and the priorities. A lot of members are very frustrated with Cindy because she’s basically ignored us. We don’t seem to be part of her vision. She clearly doesn’t see us as a priority. Just look at how she cut the DA and gutted grants for youth and adults. Even worse, in the debate over the board structure, we were made to feel like we didn’t belong. We deserve a president that includes us, and that’s why we’re backing Carlos.”

On whether sponsors would bail if Cordeiro is elected: “Actually, we should thank Carlos. He was the one who created the Commercial Committee under an independent director, which ultimately recommended that the commercial rights be brought back in-house. That means 2026 will bring huge opportunities for the Federation. We believe that, given his business background, Carlos is the best person to drive our commercial strategy over the coming years. I haven’t heard of a single sponsor getting involved in this election and, frankly, I don’t think it would be appropriate for them to get involved. The decision of who is our president belongs to the voting members. Our Federation is bigger than any one person, and all of us—including Carlos—are focused on one thing: making sure 2026 is a huge success.”

Women’s national team and sexism

Is sexism playing a role here?

It’s difficult to dismiss, especially when states that supported Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino are suddenly saying USSF needs someone with “business acumen.”

Is resentment toward the WNT playing a role here?

Obviously, no one’s going to say so publicly. Maybe some voters have done the math and are concerned that their programs will suffer more cuts if the federation has to shell out a massive settlement, or they’re concerned that they’re already being cut because the federation has to pay for lawyers to face off against the armada of lawyers the women have assembled.

But this much is clear: The WNT does not hold sway over the rank-and-file of US Soccer. If it did, no one would’ve called Carlos Cordeiro to come back.

The media

Cordeiro has never been at ease with the media. I’ve certainly seen it first-hand. I had to work pretty hard to get comments from him for my story, and I’ve seen complaints elsewhere that he hasn’t talked with other reporters.

That said, I got no response whatsoever from the women’s national team’s players association or a PR rep from an NWSL team. None. We’re talking about people whose job it is to respond to such queries. And this was an opportunity for these people to tee off on Cordeiro. (Or to surprise me and say they suddenly support him.)

Bottom line: People in soccer are getting more and more brazen about choosing sympathetic, unquestioning audiences. It’s one thing to do that when you have deeply personal stories to tell, and you’re more comfortable telling someone who can more directly empathize for reasons of age, gender or any other commonality. It’s another when it’s your job to be held accountable.

Finally, FIFA

Cordeiro touts his relationship with FIFA — he’s FIFA’s senior advisor for global strategy and governance — and how that would help with the World Cup. Rothenberg argues that Cordeiro is essentially FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s right-hand man, and that’s more of a conflict of interest than an asset.

Cone says her priority is wrapping up the selection of host cities, which she expects in the second quarter this year, and then working with those host cities on the goals of growing the game. FIFA is taking a more active role in overall organization of World Cups than it used to, regardless of the host.

Most of the stories I wrote for NBC during the Olympics

I didn’t keep track while I was working, so this is a retroactive search that may have missed a few stories.

For the most part, writers were also responsible for headlines, photos, videos, “related” tags and other production.

Pre-Games

Podcast: In the Village gives a glimpse of Games’ most exclusive zone


July 24 (Day 1 roundup)

Handball: Spain survives for one-point win over No. 1 Germany

Cycling: Carapaz outlasts Pogacar, U.S. rider McNulty to win road race

Shooting: China’s Yang Qian claims first gold in Tokyo


July 25 (Day 2 roundup)

Boxing: Keyshawn Davis opens with dominant decision

Shooting: Will Shaner takes air rifle gold

Basketball: Australia pulls away from Nigeria


July 26 (Day 3 roundup)

Table tennis: Japan spoils China’s run with rally in mixed doubles

Shooting: U.S. shooters Hancock and English sweep in skeet


July 27 (Day 4 roundup)

Boxing: Delante Johnson controls fight to reach quarterfinals

Diving: Parratto and Schnell land first U.S. medals in women’s synchro platform diving

Weightlifting: Canadian Charron takes gold


July 28 (Day 5 roundup)

Weightlifting: China’s Shi Zhiyong sets weightlifting

Boxing: Duke Ragan blasts his way to featherweight quarterfinals

3×3 (earlier in the day): U.S. women survive French challenge

Archery: Ellison, Brown cruise through early stages


July 29 (Day 6 roundup)

Table tennis: Chen wins all-Chinese final

Boxing: Richard Torrez Jr. puts super heavy U.S. presence in quarterfinals

Basketball: Spain beats Serbia to stay unbeaten

Archery: Jacob Wukie advances to all-U.S. matchup

Sailing: Dutch sailor Badloe closes in on windsurfing gold

Canoe slalom: Australian Fox takes elusive gold


July 30 (Day 7 roundup)

Diving: Hailey Hernandez advances to next round on springboard

Boxing: Oshae Jones clinches medal to buoy U.S. contingent

Shooting: ROC shooter Batsarashkina doubles up on pistol gold

Canoe slalom: Czech Republic’s Prskavek adds gold to trophy case

Baseball: Dominican Republic pitches shutout against Mexico


July 31 (Day 8 roundup)

Shooting: First mixed trap medal falls to U.S. shooters Bernau and Burrows

Shooting: Swiss shooter Nina Christen wins women’s 3-position event

Archery: Turkey’s Gazoz wins gold; Ellison upset in quarterfinals

Boxing: Day 8: British, Cuban favorites roll on


August 1 (Day 9 roundup)

Water polo: Women’s Day 9: Upset gives U.S. group win

Sailing: Australia, Denmark sail to dinghy medals


August 2 (Day 10 roundup)

Sailing: Lack of wind postponed medal match

Shooting: France’s Quiquampoix wins rapid-fire pistol

Weightlifting: Sarah Robles repeats as bronze medalist


August 3 (Day 11 roundup)

Baseball: Dominican Republic ends Israel’s run

Cycling: Kenny family adds two medals as crash controversy rocks cycling track


August 4 (Day 12 roundup)

Cycling: Italy sets world record in team pursuit to stun Denmark

Weightlifting: Lasha Talakhadze sweeps world weightlifting records

Boxing: Day 12: Torrez powers his way to final


August 5 (Day 13 roundup)

Cycling: Day 13: Dutch win, mixed bag for GB

Handball: Denmark to defend men’s gold against France

Modern pentathlon: German, British, Russian athletes take early lead

Boxing: Albert Batyrgaziev wins featherweight gold; USA’s Duke Ragan claims silver


August 6 (Day 14 roundup)

Field hockey: Netherlands’ women take gold

Boxing: Keyshawn Davis earns opportunity to break U.S. gold medal drought

Modern pentathlon: Women’s pentathlon yields another British gold

Cycling: Day 14: Denmark takes men’s Madison


August 7 (Day 15 roundup)

Wrestling: Sadulaev defeats Snyder in gold medal showdown

Handball: Spain edges Egypt for men’s bronze

Wrestling: USA’s Hildebrandt rebounds for bronze


August 8 (can’t find roundup)

Tokyo Olympics Archery in Review: South Korea nearly sweeps

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.

Fixing the curling calendar

What was the big curling event of the past weekend?

Was it the third leg of the Curling World Cup? How about the provincial qualifiers for the Scotties and the Brier? Maybe the made-for-TV Skins Game?

If you’re curling in Canada, the Scotties and the Brier take top priority. To explain this to an American audience — this is the equivalent of the U.S. Open Cup or FA Cup in the sense that it’s a national championship in which unheralded entries can beat the big names. Qualification for the national event, which is broadcast on TSN (and therefore to a U.S. audience on ESPN), is a tournament in each of Canada’s provinces. Qualifying for those events tends to be based on subregional qualifiers and the handy Canadian Team Ranking System — basically, the year-to-date Order of Merit.

This looks like one of those shorts Mystery Science Theater 3000 plays before a feature.

It’s really wonderful. Check out the ESPN3 streams starting Feb. 16.

So the Skins Game proceeded this past weekend without any of the teams that were occupied with various qualifiers. Top-ranked Kevin Koe doesn’t have his Alberta qualifier until this week, so he was able to play in the Skins. Brad Jacobs, ranked second, had to take care of Brier business in Northern Ontario. Three top-eight teams were busy in Ontario, so No. 9 Reid Carruthers got the call. The women’s competition had four of the top six in Canada but not top-ranked Rachel Homan.

The World Cup? Canada sent seventh-ranked Matt Dunstone, who beat Sweden’s Niklas Edin to win the men’s event, and eighth-ranked Darcy Robertson, who duly lost all six of her games.

The Curling News is full of suggestions to revamp the calendar as well as the Scotties and the Brier. The jewels of Canadian curling have expanded to 16 teams each, incorporating all three of the sparsely populated northern provinces as well as a “wildcard” entry.

Sure, but after a few more years of climate change, Nunavut might have to build a wall to keep the rest of us out.

It’s a bit controversial because, as vast as those territories are, they’re rather sparsely populated. One survey of the population of Nunavut reports of population density of 0.0 per square kilometer.

The reason is pretty obvious. It’s cold. Really cold. Permanent polar vortex cold. From Nunavut Tourism: “The average temperature in Kugluktuk is the warmest in Nunavut, sometimes rising to 30°C in the summer and ranging from -15°C to -40°C in the winter.” The high end of that winter range is 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The low end, oddly enough, is -40 Fahrenheit. It’s the point at which they converge. It’s not better one province over. The average high temperature in January in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, is -6 degrees. Yes, Fahrenheit. The average low is -23. Regina, Saskatchewan, is downright tropical by comparison.

So this open national championship, along with its requisite qualifiers, is competing for space on the crowded curling calendar. The Scotties and Brier are part of the “Season of Champions” umbrella along with the “North America vs. the World” Continental Cup and the Canada Cup, for which the teams are determined entirely by rankings.

AND we have the Grand Slam of Curling, which has seven events of its own — one per month from September to January, then a Players’ Championship and Champions Cup right after the World Championships.

AND now we have the World Cup, a complicated four-event series in which teams represent their countries, sort of.

Naturally, I’ll have to add my own pet solution on top of the suggestions The Curling News and the Rocks Across the Pond podcast have made. I promise I’ll get to the power ranking update after that.

WORLD TEAMS

World Cup: Every four years. Obviously not the same year as the Olympics. Make it a Davis Cup/Ryder Cup/World Team Tennis sort of thing — country vs. country matchups in which men, women and mixed doubles teams face off.

Continental Cup: Odd years only. This already has a Ryder Cup vibe to it — North America vs. Europe.

CANADIAN CHAMPIONSHIPS

It’s good to be inclusive, and part of the charm here is seeing teams repping their provinces. It’s less good to spend the first five days watching Rachel Homan, Kevin Koe, Jennifer Jones and company routing Nunavut.

For a couple of years, the Scotties and Brier had a play-in round for the lowest-ranked provinces based on previous years’ results. Bring it back. And cut back the number of teams by doing away with the Ontario/Northern Ontario split and the wildcard team.

(Alternate idea: Have one representative from the northern provinces and two from the Maritimes/Newfoundland and Labrador. Add in the defending champions and the six other provinces, and you’ve got 10 teams.)

THIS YEAR’S EVENTS

The Scotties’ field is powerful. The seven top teams in the rankings are going, though two of them (No. 2 Kerri Einarson and No. 5 Casey Scheidegger) will face off in the wildcard game. The top-ranked teams won in Ontario (Rachel Homan), Alberta (Chelsea Carey), Saskatchewan (Robyn Silvernagle), Northern Ontario (Krista McCarville), Prince Edward Island (Suzanne Birt) and Northwest Territories (Kerry Galusha). Manitoba had a minor upset, with No. 6 Tracy Fleury beating Einarson. The second-ranked team also won in British Columbia (Sarah Wark), New Brunswick (Andrea Crawford) and Newfoundland/Labrador (Kelli Turpin). No one from Nunavut or Yukon is ranked.

The only mild surprises were in Nova Scotia, where Scotties veteran Jill Brothers turned back the clock a few minutes, and Quebec, where Gabrielle Lavois was the best of a low-ranked field.

The men’s qualifiers aren’t done yet, with the brutally competitive Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan provinces playing down this week. Perennial Northern Ontario representative Brad Jacobs is back, but Ontario had a bit of a surprise with Scott McDonald getting past the usually dominant John Epping and Glenn Howard teams. Brier veteran Jim Cotter beat two higher-ranked teams to win in British Columbia. Stuart Thompson edged similarly ranked Jamie Murphy in Nova Scotia. Martin Crete sprang a mild upset in Quebec. In Newfoundland and Labrador, Andrew Symonds won the battle of teams not skipped by Brad Gushue, who has the automatic bid as defending champion.

Power rankings

WOMEN

  1. Rachel Homan (CAN) – won Ontario provincials (up 1)
  2. Anna Hasselborg (SWE) – lost World Cup Jonkoping final to South Korea’s Min Ji Kim. (down 1)
  3. Jennifer Jones (CAN) – won the Skins Game, beating Fleury in the final (up 1)
  4. Chelsea Carey (CAN) – won Alberta provincials (up 3)
  5. Tracy Fleury (CAN) – won Manitoba final and reached Skins Game final (up 5)
  6. Silvana Tirinzoni (SUI) – idle (down 1)
  7. Satsuki Fujisawa (JPN) – idle (down 1)
  8. Kerri Einarson (CAN) – lost to Fleury in Manitoba final and Skins Game semi (down 5)
  9. Casey Scheidegger (CAN) – lost Skins Game semi to Jones (down 1)
  10. Sayaka Yoshimura (JPN) – idle (no change)
  11. Robyn Silvernagle (CAN) – won Saskatchewan provincials (new to top 12)
  12. Darcy Robertson (CAN) – third in Manitoba (down 1)

Dropping out: Anna Sidorova (RUS) – missed final four in Glynhill Ladies Invitational, second in group in World Cup Jonkoping

One U.S. women’s team in action — Cory Christensen was second to Kim in her World Cup group.

MEN

  1. Brad Jacobs (CAN) – won Northern Ontario provincials (no change)
  2. Niklas Edin (SWE) – lost to Matt Dunstone in World Cup Jonkoping final (no change)
  3. Kevin Koe (CAN) – runner-up to Bottcher in the Skins Game (no change)
  4. Brendan Bottcher (CAN) – Skins Game winner (up 3)
  5. Bruce Mouat (SCO) – idle (down 1)
  6. John Epping (CAN) – runner-up to McDonald in Ontario (down 1)
  7. Ross Paterson (SCO) – third behind Dunstone and Edin in Jonkoping (down 1)
  8. Brad Gushue (CAN) – lost to Bottcher in Skins Game semi (no change)
  9. Peter de Cruz (SUI) – idle (no change)
  10. Reid Carruthers (CAN) – won Ed Werenich Golden Wrench Classic in Arizona, lost to Koe in Skins Game semi (up 2)
  11. Matt Dunstone (CAN) – beat Edin to win in Jonkoping (new to top 12)
  12. Scott McDonald (CAN) – won handily in Ontario (new to top 12)

Dropped out: Glenn Howard (CAN) was third in Ontario. John Shuster (USA) has been idle for a while.

A few U.S. teams played in the Werenich Wrench Classic (not sure people call it that, but they should). Rich Ruohonen lost to Carruthers in the semis. Pete Fenson, the 2006 Olympic medalist who doesn’t play much any more, put together a young team — Mark Fenner and two more Fensons — and reached the quarterfinals. Todd Birr was 1-3 in group play. And Jared Allen’s NFL team was 0-4.

Fenner went back to skipping the next week in Jonkoping, finishing fifth.

This week, the big-time Canadian men’s provincials run through the weekend, and the U.S. Championships start Saturday.

Review: “Last Days of Knight” is flawed but essential

Cross-posting at mostlymodernmedia.com 

ESPN is gambling these days.

The new “30 for 30” documentary, Last Days of Knight, gambles on three levels:

  1. It’s being shown exclusively on ESPN+, the company’s new pay service, a good way to draw attention to it but not the best way to get this film the wide audience that many previous 30 for 30 entries have found.
  2. It tells the story of a journalist, CNN’s Robert Abbott, who pursued the story for months. As an Awful Announcing review says, the film attempts to tell Abbott’s story and Knight’s, and it sometimes falls between the two stools.
  3. A lot of people still maintain loyalty to Bobby Knight after all these years.

Others can debate No. 1. The questions here are No. 2 and No. 3, and the disappointment of Last Days of Knight is that we get too much of No. 2 and not enough exploration of No. 3.

Like all 30 for 30 films, LDON is a slick presentation. And the story is compelling, even with the unusual focus on Abbott. CNN’s reporting became part of the story itself, for better or for worse, and you don’t have to be a journalism junkie to appreciate the insights on how everyone involved interacted with the media — Knight as one of several bullies, players and staffers afraid to speak, administrators being weasels, etc. Abbott’s reflections and the nitty-gritty at CNN, including some clumsy threats by people working on Knight’s behalf, provide a new angle to an old story.

But that story bogs down with an extended, guilt-ridden take on the post-scandal life and death of Neil Reed, the player Knight assaulted in a video that hastened his downfall. It’s a sad and yet sweet story of someone who reclaimed his own life and was clearly loved before his untimely death from a heart attack, but its placement in this film is odd, as if it’s suggesting Reed’s death was somehow collateral damage from Knight’s antics and/or the media coverage. Abbott regrets making Reed uncomfortable in his pursuit of the story, but it seems a bit much for him to interpose himself in the family’s mourning process.

And we’re left wanting something more. Abbott and some of his colleagues are seeing the old story in a new light. Anyone else?

Perhaps it’s me — I wrote about irrational mobs in my review of Jesus Christ Superstar — but I really wanted to see some reflection from the people who defended Knight when he was quite clearly indefensible. Knight, predictably, wasn’t interested in participating. But what about the students? Former players? Now that the heat has died down, what would they do differently?

But even if we don’t see such reflection on camera, we have to hope it’s happening elsewhere. It’s not happening in this dismissive review from The Daily Hoosier.

The value of a story like Knight’s is that it holds up a mirror to us. How much are we willing to excuse if a guy wins some basketball games? Can a man impart military-style discipline and behavioral values if he doesn’t live up to it himself or hold himself accountable?

We see hints of these questions in Last Days of Knight. Just not quite enough.