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Time Running Out for MLS to Avoid Strike

So I wrote this Wednesday afternoon before MLS and the players reached a deal and when things seemed like they weren’t going anywhere. Obviously now there’s a new CBA in place. But here’s what I would have said today had no deal been reached yet.

As I write this post on Wednesday, there is still no new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players.

And that’s a dangerous proposition for the upcoming season.

The 2015 MLS season is set to begin with a bang Friday night where the defending MLS champions Los Angeles Galaxy will host the Chicago Fire. That will be followed by a full slate of games Saturday and three games on Sunday.

But at this moment, those games are in serious jeopardy of not being played. There’s still a strong chance that the players will strike if a CBA is not in place come by day’s end today. And that would be catastrophic for the league, as well as the players, that would undo all of the progress the league has made over the past few years.

So now the league and the players are going to have to make some sort of last-minute, 11th-hour deal in order to keep things on the right track.

I mentioned in a post about the MLS CBA debate last week that I wasn’t taking sides in this, and to a degree I still don’t have a firm side. But with time running out, I’m tending to side with the players. I do believe that there needs to be some sort of free agency for the players to move around the league and for the teams to have a little bit more freedom. And no, having free agency will not hurt the league’s single-entity model. The Arena Football League, though significantly smaller, is also a single-entity league, which, in simple terms, means that the league technically owns the teams and the players. But the AFL also has free agency, allowing players to bounce from team to team in the league. And while the terminology used in the transaction list is odd, which will read such and such player “is assigned to” such and such team, it is effective.

But at the same time, the players, as well as the fans, have to realize that the league has a vested interested in keeping team and league expenses from outgrowing the income it’s receiving to keep the ship afloat, and that’s just as important as free agency. Going back to the AFL, the old version of the league, pre-2009 cancellation, ran into the exact same situation. The league went to free agency with all salaries negotiable. The result? Salaries went up. Spending went up. Revenue roughly stayed the same. And eventually the league went under. While MLS is much bigger than the AFL and things are going way up for the league, that serves a cautionary tale.

Eventually, both sides are going to have to come together and make compromises. Unfortunately, it seems that they’re taking the Congress route and going to wait until the last moment to strike a deal.

However it gets done, a new CBA deal has to be reached soon and it has to happen without a work stoppage. There’s not much more time left.