We’ve seen this movie before. The housekeeper finds the jewels that the Fratellis missed in the marble bag and the Goonies don’t have to move. Eddie Valiant figures out where Marvin Acme’s will is, and Toontown won’t be turned into a freeway. It’s a tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Beauty and th— oh, wait, that one’s a different metaphor.
And this is where Women’s Professional Soccer sits now. Waiting for a marble bag full of One Eyed Willie’s treasure or that curmudgeonly Eddie Valiant to do a song and dance number and figure out that he had the will the whole time and – oh em gee! – it was just written in disappearing and reappearing ink! 
Players and fans have been coming out of the woodwork to beg and plead and hashtag and make petitions and write heartfelt things . If Twitter existed in 1985, Mikey, Data, Chunk and the rest of the Goonies could have just done a quick #savetheGoonDocks hashtag and not had to worry about that whole pirate ship business. It’s pretty unlikely that anyone has an actual marble bag full of actual treasure, so we’ll call that the Dan Borislow and the League Kiss and Make Up Option. Otherwise, sometime in the very near future WPS’s fate will be decided.
First off, the league (or its coaches, at least) seem determined to trudge on, with or without the USSF’s blessing. The difference between sanctioning and not is more about what names are on the backs of the jerseys than if there will be jerseys for those names to be on the backs of. Without sanctioning from U.S. Soccer there’s a chance that the 2012 season will not feature players from either the USWNT or other National Teams, as playing in an unsanctioned league would put those players on rocky ground with their respective national federations. A 2012 season without those players is certainly feasible and really wouldn’t look that different from the large chunk of the 2011 season that was played while those players trained for and participated in the World Cup.
Of course, the league would have to do some serious work behind the scenes to bring in new investors and new teams for 2013 and beyond. But even one season of unsanctioned play doesn’t come without risk. While a rogue league might be admirable for its nobility, idealism isn’t the thing that’s going to make money, and at the end of the day WPS is still a business – not a charity. Committed followers of the league know that the level of play in WPS is extremely high, even without those big names. And once people come to a game and see that, they might come back, regardless of whether Abby Wambach and Hope Solo are on the field or not.
But 2011’s post-World Cup attendance numbers reveal an undeniable fact  – those players are the ones who get the first-timers and casual fans through the gates. Without them, the whole thing could come to a screeching halt. No stars, no new interest, no new money, no more league. I’m sorry if I made you sad with that last part, but that’s where we’re at. I’d love to think that Scrooge McDuck appreciated the play of McCall Zerboni and Jen Buczkowski , but he’s not even coming to check out a game in this “world’s best league” that can’t even guarantee the world’s best players.
So, how did we get here? Well…
U.S. Soccer has become the target of much of the anger of this whole situation, and certainly the federation’s decision seems on its face kind of like they’re just being jerks about the whole thing because they can. And there’s certainly some merit to that anger – hell, it was my initial reaction too, although I was far less eloquent about it . But it isn’t that simple. According to US Soccer’s official policy (on pages 14-15 of the PDF titled “Policy Manual” that you can find here):
(d) The competitive divisions referred to in subsections (a) – (c) of this section shall consist of professional leagues. Each professional league shall be:
(1) certified by the Board of Directors (BOD) based on standards established under these policies;
(2) subject to the authority of the Federation;
(3) comprised of at least 8 professional teams certified by the Board of Directors; and
(4) subject to all rules and regulations of the Federation, autonomous in its operations.
Oops. In the history of WPS the league has had played just one-quarter of one season with the required eight teams, the first six games of the 2010 season – when St. Louis Athletica was still a thing. Technically, the league once made it to nine teams, but L.A. never made it much further than the 2010 draft. If only that rule said “comprised of 8 teams ever in your history.” Because that number is eleven and then it would all be okay. But the USSF doesn’t roll that way, and it’s apparently based on teams that actually exist now. U.S. Soccer has, in fact, been letting WPS slide on the whole eight teams thing for three years. Why the federation made this decision now, why five is too low and six is okay, who knows. If the USWNT had really crashed and burned at the World Cup, U.S. Soccer could have made the argument that the league was somehow a problem for the National Team. Except the U.S. made it to the final and despite the loss in PKs, it was probably the team’s best complete game of the tournament and overall, one of the greatest World Cup matches ever. So, there goes that.
It is understandable that U.S. Soccer would want total control over its players heading into another major tournament – in this case the 2012 Summer Olympics – but would the federation really sink the entire WPS ship on a premise that’s already been proven to not really be a problem? Or is it that U.S. Soccer is asking the question that all of us are, maybe not out loud but in the backs of our minds – is anyone going to take a five-team league seriously? And is it worth risking injury and fatigue for USWNT players for that? Or maybe it’s that all the crazy infighting and wars of words do nothing to help the game and can you really blame U.S. Soccer, and the USWNT – who are still riding the good feelings of the World Cup – for wanting to distance themselves from a whole lot of nonsense and legal battles? Of course, the argument can certainly be made that U.S. Soccer doesn’t actually lose anything – and maybe even gains something (a better system for scouting players, a larger pool to cull players from, a way to avoid the costs of residency, etc.) by sanctioning a five-team WPS, even if it’s as a Division Two league. And it would be easy to blame U.S. Soccer, to say the federation is just flexing its governing muscles and reminding WPS who really is boss, but take a step back: U.S. Soccer didn’t really create this whole mess. Or really create this mess at all. In the end they’re the parent who’s got to come in and ground the kids because they just can’t. stop. fighting.
WPS, for its part, isn’t exactly innocent in this either. After losing L.A. in 2009 and St. Louis midway through 2010, the league was going to make sure that that didn’t happen again. And that meant making sure that whoever came in next had money. It apparently did not mean making sure that that person was going to be cooperative or not a crazy person. The league’s relationship with Dan Borislow was kind of like a drunken Vegas wedding – it all seemed pretty awesome at first, but once the haze and hangover went away…uh oh.
The early disagreements between the league and Borislow seemed to have WPS on the right side and the new owner playing the part of the rebellious child. Simple things like signboards and submitting the video that other teams use for scouting seemed like no-brainers and Borislow’s continued refusals to comply seemed petulant and stupid. And he did nothing to help his case by communicating only via rant-y comments on pieces that mentioned his name or team on various sites, and with interviews where he did things like call people working for WPS “infidels.” The league’s recent legal filings in response to Borislow’s lawsuit only reveal more about just what kind of guy Borislow is, and having read all 46 pages – it does not make him look good. At all.
But WPS also knew that Dan Borislow was a little “different” from the start, and got into bed with the guy anyway. Back in January at the 2011 WPS draft in Baltimore I asked then-CEO Anne-Marie Eileraas if she had any concerns about the fact that as of then magicJack still had nowhere to play. Her answer: “Sports team owners are a colorful bunch and they come in with their own view of how to run a team and there’s a learning curve and ultimately they shape the team in the way that they shape it and that’s really up to them to figure that out.” That was ten months ago. And in those ten months, no one’s seemed to really learn or figure out anything. Borislow certainly had his “own view of how to run a team” and while those of us sitting there then certainly didn’t know just how different that view was, one has to wonder now just how much of this had been going on since the very beginning.
Of course, Anne-Marie Eileraas is gone now, and so is Dan Borislow. The CEO stepped down relatively quietly as the 2011 season came to an end. The magicJack owner on the other hand… In an interview on this site on October 21st new WPS CEO Jennifer O’Sullivan and Philadelphia Independence owner David Halstead said that all six teams were moving forward for 2012. Five days later the league released a statement that read:
After careful consideration, the Board of Governors of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) voted on Tuesday to terminate the Boca Raton based magicJack franchise. WPS will continue to deliver to its players and fans the world’s top women’s soccer league, with plans to make 2012 the most competitive and successful season to date.
At the time there were rumors that seemed as good as confirmed that the league was ready to bring in a franchise in Connecticut to replace the outgoing magicJack as the sixth team. Except that never happened, with word eventually coming not to expect any expansion until 2013. Everyone assumed the Board of Governors had some kind of plan. Would they just show magicJack the door without a contingency plan? Did they really think a five-team league would get the okay from U.S. Soccer? Was the Board of Governors counting their Connecticut-based chickens before they hatched? Did the rumored new owners in the Nutmeg State back out at the last second? Whatever happened, the decision now seems nothing but hasty and, well, kind of stupid. And one of the biggest bombshells in the league’s legal documents comes from those other owners. On pages 1-2:
Should this Court order that Mr. Borislow be reinstated in the League, it will most likely cause the League to disband, because the majority of the other owners would rather leave the league then suffer through another tumultuous year with Mr. Borislow and his franchise.
Without magicJack, the league now teeters very close to the edge of demotion at the very least, and extinction at the very worst. It was hard to defend Dan Borislow after some of what he said and did during the course of the 2011 season, and even harder to defend him after reading some of the excerpts from exchanges he had with league officials and other owners that are presented in the legal documents, but when it comes down to it the choice seems simple: put up with the guy for another season with the added bonus of actually getting to have another season or push him out and what? Hold on tight and hope for the best? If the other owners don’t want to – or can’t – play nice with Dan Borislow anymore, fine. But there should have been a better contingency plan in place – and that there isn’t should earn the league some blame for this whole debacle. WPS and its Board of Governors probably have their hearts in the right place, but is the league really the poor innocent victim or do we just want it to be that way because it’s…easier?
If you haven’t read the court documents – and maybe even if you have – you’d sort-of almost feel bad for Dan Borislow, like maybe he really was the one wronged in all of this. You see a guy who, despite a somewhat unique approach, really does want to see women’s soccer succeed in this country. Whatever his reasons are, and however strange, selfish, nationalistic or ill-conceived those reasons may seem, does the why really matter that much? Why did you start following this league, start caring about it? Why did I? The answer might be the same, but it might not be. Ultimately, we’re both here now. It was hard to feel bad for a guy who seemed to want to break the rules just for the sake of breaking the rules. But now he’s the guy that wants to save WPS [again] and those big Board of Governors meanies would rather take their toys and just go home before they would even think of letting him in the sandbox.
But Dan Borislow is hardly the victim here, either. Mostly because the guy cannot stop talking. Or more specifically, typing. There was this fantastic piece of satir— oh, that was a serious thing? – on Beau Dure’s Sports Myriad where Mr. Borislow proclaimed that the league was, among other things, “anti-USA.” When he talks about magicJack being the big draw, I have to agree, and I’m with him when he says that the players should be paid more. But I can’t figure out why he seems so dead set on this idea that maybe the other owners aren’t paying the players a lot of money just because they don’t feel like it. I want to say the Board of Governors was wrong and maybe petty to terminate magicJack, but than I read the part about how there wasn’t a team in the league that mJ didn’t beat “convincingly.”  I want to be on his side, to say he deserves a second chance, because WPS deserves a second (or fourth) chance, but I can’t shake that “infidels” thing. I imagine him in the courtroom, forcing his lawyer to file motion after motion to have WPS Counsel Pamela Fulmer referred to as “the lawyer for the infidels” rather than the lawyer for the defendants.  But just like the league, Borislow can’t play the victim card if he’s no more willing to compromise than they are – and for as long as he keeps typing.
I have no doubt Mr. Borislow believes he’s doing the right thing. But I wonder if he realizes the hypocrisy of filing a lawsuit that could potentially be very expensive, that could possibly bankrupt the very thing he wants to save. I have no doubt that the Board of Governors believed they were doing the right thing when they made the decision they did. But I wonder if they realize that that decision could essentially kill the very thing they were trying to save. I wonder if anyone remembers what they’re really fighting for anymore. The Goonies only found One Eyed Willie’s treasure because they stuck together, because they realized they were all fighting for the same thing. Because from here, it only looks like more egos. It looks like a bunch of people – from all three sides – risking an entire league’s future just to prove how tough they are and just how much power they really do wield.
WPS as whole, and like it or not that includes Dan Borislow, has only a little bit of time left to figure out that the Fratellis forgot to check the marble bag, that they’ve had the answer – even a though it’s maybe a little flawed and a little worse for the wear – all along. If not, Judge Doom douses Toontown in Dip.
 If I just ruined either The Goonies and/or Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for you, honestly, I’m not sorry. They’re both more than 20 years old and really, if you haven’t seen them by now I can’t help you.
 I forgive you all for the incorrect article “the,” which, if you say it the long way (“Save the Women’s Professional Soccer”), makes little sense. Unless you’re an old person who puts “the” before everything. In that case, fine, I am sorry, and I have made a horrible and wrong assumption about the demographics of both WPS and Twitter.
 And Jenna can tell you just how much I absolutely HATE talking about attendance numbers.
 To be 100% clear, I mean no disrespect to either of those players. In fact, I voted for both for 2011’s Best XI.
 As in I said “the USSF was kind of being dicks about the whole thing.” (Ahem. To whom it may concern: yes, my phone number is still the same.)
 Seriously, Mr. Borislow, I have a spreadsheet of the head-to-head results including goals for and against between every WPS team ever, including magicJack. I can totally hook you up.
 I also imagine him firing his lawyer and deciding to defend himself because he says he’s a lawyer but then the judge finds out that he doesn’t have the proper credentials. But that’s a whole other thing.