Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The CBA: Yep, Nothing to Do But Wait It Out

Dude...that's Tony Beltran, right?
OK, one more issue to wrap up before rolling out 2015 season previews: the ongoing negotiations over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for Major League Soccer’s (MLS) employees. Here's that...

The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that negotiations will go down to the wire, if not run straight through it. "News" on the CBA will be more of the same – e.g. players talking solidarity as they brace for a strike, while the owners, and the league, remain silent. When I visit reddit's r/MLS (still working toward checking BigSoccer), I see frequent assertions that all the talk of impasse and strikes amount to nothing more than "posturing" (OK, not the best example, but I'm done digging.) I don't share that opinion. I believe all concerned will lose the first weekend of the season and I wouldn't be surprised if we missed more...

In totally unrelated news, I'm really excited about the USL in 2015!

It's the anticipated knock-down-drag-out over free agency that shapes my opinion. Stumptown Footy (along with several others, I hope) posted a piece about former CBA, which expired at the end of January. All the stuff about minimum salaries, playing bonuses, appearance fees, travel and moving expenses was interesting and all, but the focus belongs on the compromises that, for lack of a better word, replaced free agency in that earlier agreement.

As we all know – and regardless of whether any of us understood the mechanism – the re-entry process functioned as a half-hearted acknowledgment in the general direction of the broad vicinity where free agency lurked. In order to reach the re-entry stage, a player whose contract expired would wait to see whether his then-club would extend him a "bonafide" offer – a minimum offer of 105% of his prior salary for players over 30, and the same at 100% for a player over 24. If said offer didn't come through, the player could then receive offers from other clubs. If I understand it correctly, any new club had to extend a bonafide offer on the same terms as the player's then-club in the first round of the Re-Entry Draft, but they could go on to offer whatever the heck they wanted (well...maybe) in the Re-Entry Draft’s second round.

The whole business with guaranteed contracts and player-options came into play before and around this. I have to admit to being completely unaware – and therefore somewhat impressed – that MLS contracts were guaranteed for any player over 24 with three years' service in MLS. On the other hand, for most players that guarantee was relevant to only the current season – e.g. most player's contracts for 2014 were guaranteed for 2014 only – even though the length of the contract itself was, for example, three years. Those subsequent years were "player-option" years, which meant the club in question could opt to pick up that contract, along with any raises negotiated into it, or it could decline the option. The player would then be out of contract and here we go with the whole re-entry thing.

Or at least that's my understanding of it. If you're confused, or if this sounds completely, idiotically wrong, please, feel free to give Stumptown's article a read.

Between all the benefits, bonuses and short-term guarantees, players had it a little better under the prior CBA than I thought they did. It's also worth pointing that free agency won't do dick for many, many players who find themselves unemployed after any given. Even so, allowing a player's current team to hold his rights means allowing said team to use said player's career and future as leverage to pull a little more from another club in a trade, whether in MLS or out of it. As it stands, the players assume more of the risk in the employer-employee relationship than the league. The owners and the league are better positioned to absorb risk, generally, so I say that's where the weight should go. I’m still in favor of a cleaner system of free agency.

Bottom line, I’m still in favor of a cleaner system of free agency. If the players strike, I'll get it. I won't like it, I'll be pissy and antsy for a couple Saturdays, but I'll get it. Show me the picket line, guys, and I'll take a turn with the walking and the chanting.

UPDATE: Good article that features a free agency work-around.

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