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  • WPS to retain Division 1 status in 2012


    ccs-3097-140264010782_thumb.jpgDepending on who you ask, the very future of women's soccer in North America may well have been hanging in the balance on Monday night, when the U.S. Soccer Federation sat down to decide whether or not to grant Women's Professional Soccer Division 1 status for 2012. The WPS was already operating under a special waiver from the USSF in 2011 with only six teams -- a number chopped to five after the utter debacle that was magicJack.

    But as Beau Dure reports for ESPNW, this provisional sanctioning is a big deal for WPS and its players:


    Division 1 status is important for the WPS, as it will allow the league to continue attracting top professional international players, such as Brazil's Marta, and members of the U.S. national team such as Abby Wambach. The WPS is expected to act quickly in wake of U.S. Soccer's decision and help make it final.

    Another of the league's top players is, of course, Canadian women's national team captain Christine Sinclair (a teammate of Marta's, incidentally). The Canadian contingent in WPS in 2011 also included Candace Chapman, Karina LeBlanc, Erin McLeod, Kelly Parker, Sophie Schmidt and Lauren Sesselmann.

    Now, whether a new investor will step up to add a sixth team prior to the start of the new campaign is unknown. But even the league's most ardent fans would have a tough time justifying a five-team league retaining Division 1 status over the long term. So clearly, something needs to change in order for WPS to bring itself to the level that its current owners, players and fans envision.

    Some would say that WPS's current model is untenable (CSN's Duane Rollins among them), pointing to the W-League (where a number of other Canadian national team members currently play) as a viable -- or preferable -- alternative. But as Canadian-born defender Ciara McCormack, who's had several tours of duty with the Vancouver Whitecaps, pointed out in a blog post late last week, conditions on teams in that league can certainly be less than ideal as well:

    In addition to our training, we were also promoting the team in various capacities for free, going out to schools, and running evening clinics as examples. Feeling stressed out about money, and seeing that we were starting to attract crowds as a team, we started getting frustrated as a group with the fact that we were getting no money. With friends on the men’s team, we came to find out that their bench players were making $1500 a month.

    Ultimately, both the WPS and W-League model appear to be fraught with real or potential problems -- though that, of course, describes any organization as large and complex as a nationwide sports league. The important takeaway from the WPS announcement, though, is that the league has been given, as Dure puts it, "a big reprieve".

    The WPS announcement isn't a long-term solution. Far from it. What it is -- or what it should be -- is one big, solid and perhaps final reminder to those invested in the game on these shores that if a coast-to-coast professional women's league is to be viable, it's going to take work, and that work needs to happen now.

    But it's also important to remember, as Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly.com said on Twitter:

    women's soccer should not be a charity. For you, for me, for fans, for owners, for the men's game, for FIFA, for anyone.

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