The USSF Board of Directors Meeting was attended by most of the Board, in person or on the phone. Sunil Gulati, John Motta, Val Ackerman, Donna Shalala, John Collins, Dan Flynn, Jesse Harrell, Tim Turney and Lisa Carnoy were among those physically present. MLS Commissioner Don Garber and USSF presidential candidate/Board member Carlos Cordeiro were among those dialing in to the Webex presentation. The meeting was in two parts, one part to the public, one part that was not.
The attendees from the public were mostly people associated with the New York Cosmos, fans and employees. In the case of myself, John from the First Team Podcast and Nick & Luis from the Pint After Podcast, Cosmos fans who are also bloggers/podcasters. In addition, Dennis Crowley of the Kingston Stockade and Rishi Sehgal, the NASL interim commissioner, attended. The contingent of spectators seemed to be larger than normal based on the remarks. I would estimate 10-20 people outside of the Board members and supporting staff.
In the public session, several topics were discussed after a roll call. A review of the Hall of Fame budget – Don Garber volunteered that MLS is contributing $250,000 per year for five years to the Hall. Budgets related to the 2026 World Cup bid – the USSF will be contributing $7.625M to the campaign to win the bidding rights, while Canada and Mexico will share a $1.5M expense. Strong international competition was cited in the discussion. A review of USSF investment portfolio performance was brought up in the PowerPoint deck.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the meeting was a debate that came up when Gulati was reviewing the status of a search firm’s work to fill the spot of an Independent Director. It seems Donna Shalala is running up on a term limit based on the discussion. Gulati reported on progress – a “medium list” being narrowed down to a short list with the search firm set to engage with short list candidates. Donna Shalala raised the her opinion that the appointment of a new Independent Director should wait until the new President was in place. Shalala expressed concern that most of the candidates for USSF president are not currently on the Board (Cordeiro being the only one) and that this was an important issue that should wait for next president’s input. Gulati appeared eager to proceed with the process, and a bit frustrated. One reason cited for approving the new Independent Director Board member sooner vs waiting for the new president was that they would go about a year before the National Council could certify the choice, though in their interim status they could act as full members, as Val Ackerman had apparently done in the past. Gulati ultimately conceded as a number of other Board members agreed with Shalala.
Another datapoint from the slide deck was that there will be an outside accounting firm monitoring the election. I did not catch the name of the firm during the presentation, but confirmed with John Collins after that it is Plante Moran. It was pointed out by John Motta that the process for vetting the nominations was not certified by the National Council. While this could theoretically be an issue on the voting floor, it seemed to be dismissed as a low probability concern.
An issue was raised about a process for handling the election results if no candidate received over 50% of votes. This is an outcome that could be likely given the number of candidates in the field, and given that several seem to have garnered a base of support. It was brought up that they could follow a FIFA precedent of dropping the results of the lowest candidate, but that idea seemed like it was dismissed. This appeared to be an unresolved issue by the end of the public session.
NASL commissioner Rishi Sehgal was allowed to present NASL’s and his position on the Pro Council’s voting allocation to the Board. Sehgal made his case consistently with content in the letter exchange between himself and Dan Flynn, asking for an equal allocation of votes among professional leagues. NASL is the only holdout on this issue as MLS, USL and NWSL have agreed to the allocation cited as proposed by MLS in the letter exchange between Sehgal and Flynn, which is based on a formula including number of teams, attendance numbers and apparently a multiplier that gives more weight to the Division I leagues. After Sehgal made his case, the public section of the meeting ended and the executive section of the meeting was to resume after a brief break. At this point, the public spectators were politely dismissed.
Issues such as divisional sanctioning for USL, and the allocation of Pro Council votes were expected to be addressed in the closed section of the meeting.
I commend the USSF Board for opening part of their meeting to the public. It seems that public interest in these meetings is not very high traditionally, based on the seating capacity in the room and the reaction to the number of spectators. I did get the sense more than once that the presence of the public might have influenced the discussion, so I would recommend that concerned US soccer fans, no matter your team/league allegiance, consider attending should the meeting take place in your area.
The presence of the public in the meetings will serve to remind the US Soccer board that it is a different age versus the past, and their actions or in-actions are being paid close attention to by the public, which would serve to hold them more accountable. If you are happy with the way things are going for your interests currently that can change in the future, as the plight of the Columbus Crew demonstrates. Even those of you whose teams are building shiny new soccer-specific stadiums should consider it, as those go out of date within 10-15 years. An accountable US Soccer Board of Directors is in every fan’s interest, and your attention on their actions helps make that happen.
The next meeting will take place in Orlando, Florida on February 9, 2018, the day before the new USSF president is elected.