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What Happens if the NWSL Folds?

Updated: Jan 1, 2020

This piece is one I don’t want to write. And for a long time I didn’t think I would ever write something like this.

And then I watched the Canadian Women’s Hockey League fold. Quickly too.

Take something as simple as their Wiki entry, which went from “The Canadian Women’s Hockey League are a professional women’s ice hockey league” to “The Canadian Women’s Hockey League was a professional women’s ice hockey league.”

It’s just one word, but that “was” terrifies me.

This league is strong enough to have me spending thousands of dollars to cover games and hundreds of hours writing and talking about the NWSL. It’s strong enough to push a lot of talented people to do a lot of work to try to keep this whole thing going.

But what if it isn’t strong enough?

What happens if the house of cards finally falls? If the neglect from media deals and sponsorships that never came to be eventually add up to enough of a breeze to send the cards flying?

Shock happens first, right? Trauma from the body blow puts the whole system into crisis. However it happens, it’s likely that the ax won’t come down cleanly. Even in death, the league would probably find the least graceful way to go. So it would begin with an avalanche of tweets from the media. Then the official statement and the tweets from players come next. Each confused and angry and trying to figure out if they will ever put a jersey on again.

Anger is next. Righteous and white hot. Anger at the system and at the NWSL and at USSF for not saving this league. For knowing they could and not saving the third attempt at a women’s pro league in the most successful women’s soccer country.

Anger at those who would blow $70,000,000 on second men’s pro football league, which the NFL will crush under their heel before breakfast, while even a tenth of that money could have stabilized the NWSL for good.

But the anger can only burn for so long. Because life has to go on.

Some players would head overseas. They would find a team, any team, to take them on. For the top players, it will be fine. There will still be leagues with the money to pay for Alex Morgan or Rachel Daly or Lydia Williams. But for the average player, it will be tougher. There are only so many spots out there, and most of them are full.

Some might play for a semi pro team, figuring that it’s worth sacrificing a bit to keep playing, in hope that another league will come. WPS players had to wait less than 2 years for the NWSL. It’ll happen this time too. Right? Well, maybe.

For a lot of players though, this would be it. They would just retire. How many times can we expect them to change their lives for an uncaring sport, anyway? How many times can we ask them to pack up little boxes and move to another place? At some point they pack up their kits for the last time and get on with their lives. And down the road they can tell stories about how they used to play professional soccer.

If another league does form–a few months later, maybe a few years later–then we all get to start the count down all over again. Hold our breaths every time a mistake is made, feel our hearts pound when one season ends, wondering if that will be the last one.

Backline Soccer won’t determine if the NWSL survives. Neither will any of the SB Nation sites or the Equalizer. We can post 5 pieces a day about each of the NWSL teams for the rest of time and wouldn’t get half the eyeballs that the New York Times sports section would get if they wrote a piece about every Sky Blue game.

The NWSL needs people watching and a deal to allow that to happen. They need good people doing excellent work week in and week out in their front office and with each of the teams. They need money. From new owners coming in, from deals that give them a chance for real growth.

I wasn’t a writer when the WPS folded. I didn’t follow the league. I don’t know what it must have been like when the ax came swinging down.

I hope I never find out either.



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