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Volume 24 No. 116

Leagues and Governing Bodies

U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said that he would make "no decisions about the future" of the USMNT in the immediate aftermath of last night's 2-1 defeat to Trinidad & Tobago that resulted in the U.S. failing to qualify for the '18 FIFA World Cup, according to Andrew Das of the N.Y. TIMES. Gulati declined to say whether USMNT coach Bruce Arena would "coach the team through the end of his contract," which runs through the end of the World Cup. The USMNT entered the game "needing only a win or a tie to qualify," and "even a loss would have done the trick if the results in the other two games went the Americans' way" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/11). SI.com's Grant Wahl reports Gulati "shook his head" when he was asked "whether wholesale changes were necessary." Gulati: "Wholesale changes aren’t needed if the ball that hits off the post (from Clint Dempsey) goes in? You don’t make wholesale changes based on the ball being two inches wide or two inches in. We’ll look at everything. ... But we’ve got a lot of pieces in place that we think are very good and have been coming along." Arena also "wouldn't go so far" as to "say that major changes should take place." He said, "There’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing. ... Nothing has to change. To make any kind of crazy changes I think would be foolish." Wahl writes a "full reckoning will now have to take place by U.S. Soccer" (SI.com, 10/11).

STARTS AT THE TOP
: YAHOO SPORTS' Leander Schaerlaeckens writes the failure to reach the World Cup "represents an existential crisis for U.S. Soccer," which now should "question absolutely everything it does." U.S. Soccer has to "assess an ossified leadership," from Gulati on down, that has been "lodged in its jobs for years and years, with very rare injections of fresh blood or ideas." U.S. Soccer "can’t seem to get out of a years-long rut in spite of benefiting from players of ever-increasing caliber" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/11). YAHOO SPORTS' Henry Bushnell notes Gulati’s presence in powerful positions in global soccer circles has "probably been a net positive for soccer in America." However, he has not "adequately invested in youth development" as well as the building blocks that "allow a national team to sustain consistent success." He and U.S. Soccer have "invested in them, but haven’t devote enough attention to actually solving real problems" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/11). USA TODAY's Martin Rogers writes Gulati "made the personnel decisions on management, and his organization ill-advisedly chose to play Costa Rica in New Jersey, where it felt like a home game for the visitors and defeat resulted" (USA TODAY, 10/11). SPORTING NEWS' Mike DeCourcy wrote many fans "have been agitating for change atop the U.S. Soccer Federation" for a while (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 10/10). FS1's Nick Wright said, "Maybe you needed this hard reset for the future of U.S. Soccer." FS1's Cris Carter: "No one plans a reset like this" ("First Things First," FS1, 10/11).

ONE MORE TERM? SOCCER AMERICA's Paul Kennedy notes Gulati will have to "decide whether he will run as president of U.S. Soccer for a fourth and last term." Boston-based attorney Steve Gans and Massachusetts-based soccer coach Paul Lapointe have "already announced their intentions on running." Gulati prior to last night was "still the heavy favorite to win re-election." Now, "not so much" (SOCCERAMERICA.com, 10/11). In L.A., Dylan Hernandez writes FS1's Eric Wynalda has "dropped hints he could run for president of U.S. Soccer next year." Hernandez: "Some think it’s a crazy idea. Only what’s crazy would be to maintain the status quo. Change is necessary" (L.A. TIMES, 10/11). But ESPN's Taylor Twellman said, "You hire a new coach and you hire a new U.S. Soccer president. Does that really change things? I don't know if it does" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 10/11). He added, "You don't want to make any drastic changes overnight because this is not an overnight fix" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 10/11).

RED CARDS ALL AROUND: The L.A. TIMES' Hernandez writes the "myth of progress was created and nurtured by the sport’s establishment in this country," which has a vested interest in "promoting soccer as America’s 'sport of the future.'" Only the reality "doesn’t match up to the story." Considering MLS has "existed in this country for more than two decades, the lack of progress is baffling" (L.A. TIMES, 10/11). YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel writes "low standards, weak accountability and administrative cheerleading have allowed the U.S. to claim success when there really wasn’t any." That includes at the '14 World Cup, where "simply limping out of group play was deemed acceptable" by Gulati (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/11). USA TODAY's Rogers notes the USMNT has "missed the World Cup before but that was back before hardly anyone cared, before the USA figured to have the biggest travelling support of any nation." This new army of fans has to "wake up to a new reality" (USA TODAY, 10/11). In N.Y., Frank Isola writes it "took 90-plus minutes" for U.S. soccer to "regress 30 years" (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 10/11).

JUST AN UGLY SITUATION: ESPN FC's Jeff Carlisle writes last night's loss is the "most embarrassing defeat in U.S. soccer history and one that will be impossible for this group of players and coaches to live down" (ESPNFC.com, 10/11). Carlisle added, "This was a debacle on a countless number of levels" (ESPNFC.com, 10/10). SI.com's Wahl writes the "most embarrassing failure in U.S. Soccer history was consummated" with last night's defeat (SI.com, 10/11). NBC's Matt Lauer called it an "embarrassing loss to the tiny nation of Trinidad & Tobago" ("Today," NBC, 10/11). ESPN's Twellman: "It's the most embarrassing moment in U.S. Soccer history because of the amount of resources U.S. Soccer has at its disposal" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 10/11). ESPN's Stephen A. Smith: "It's a national embarrassment. We're the greatest country on the planet Earth, we're the richest country in the world, we have all the requisite resources, etc., but we can't even make the World Cup. It's an absolute disgrace on an international and global level ("First Take," ESPN, 10/11). THE RINGER's Zach Kram notes the latest USMNT "fiasco is the most acute, and disastrous, in decades, maybe ever" (THERINGER.com, 10/10). USA TODAY's Andrew Joseph wrote the USMNT "gave a nation the lowest point in its sporting history, and it’s not really close." It is "really difficult to quantify how bad this loss was for U.S. Soccer" (USATODAY.com, 10/10). The AP's Ronald Blum writes the loss was "stunning, crushing, almost farcical" (AP, 10/11). ESPN's Bob Ley: "It's impossible to overstate the dimensions of this disaster" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 10/11). In N.Y., Mark Cannizzaro writes yesterday will go down as "one of the most sickening days in US soccer history." However, it also could "represent a day that sparks change that helps not only push the floundering national program into relevance, but possibly even international prominence" (N.Y. POST, 10/11).

THE ROAD AHEAD: Univ. of Miami professor Donna Shalala tweeted last night's result was "unacceptable." Shalala: "For us in USSoccer more than a wake up call. Time for a revolution. Need a long term plan that is smart." Fox Sports' Rob Stone: "We had a window where young talent wasn’t there to push others out. Need to learn why & make sure that never happens again. ... We’ve been spoiled by 7 straight World Cups. This failure needs to fuel constructive change." NBC Sports' Arlo White: "I love #MLS. Not their fault. But now so many #USMNT players have been brought back/kept from leaving, is it time to review the structure?" Golf Channel's Terry Gannon: "In large part, it’s the #1 sport in the world because all it takes is a ball and a goal. In the US, it takes money. That must change."

The USMNT's failure to qualify for the '18 FIFA World Cup after losing to Trinidad & Tobago last night will be "damaging for soccer, and particularly men’s soccer," in the U.S., according to Henry Bushnell of YAHOO SPORTS. It will "not be catastrophic or disastrous," but it "will be harmful." The sport has "progressed to a point where it does not need a World Cup to survive, or even to sustain long-term growth." However, the "beneficial offshoots of World Cups are plentiful." If the ultimate goals are "thriving professional leagues and world-class national team programs, World Cups contribute to the mission in many ways." They generate "interest in the sport," which "takes many shapes." The failure to qualify likely will "shrink future player pools" and could be "detrimental to development efforts, and to the talent level and depth of future national teams." It will by "no means cripple the men’s national team program," but the effects probably "wouldn’t be negligible either" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/11). SOCCER AMERICA's Paul Kennedy writes soccer in the U.S. "isn't so popular that it can afford to miss an opportunity to grow the support, especially among young fans in their late teens and early 20s who are such huge soccer fans" (SOCCERAMERICA.com, 10/11). ESPN's Mike Greenberg called missing the World Cup a "devastating blow to soccer in this country, a gut punch to the growth of soccer in this country" ("Mike & Mike," ESPN Radio, 10/11). USA TODAY's Andrew Joseph wrote the sport of soccer in the U.S. is going to "feel the lasting effects the most." Every World Cup is an "opportunity to grow the sport on the biggest stage" (USATODAY.com, 10/10).

THE PAIN GOES DEEP:The AP's Ronald Blum writes missing the World Cup is a "devastating blow" to the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has "steadily built the sport in the last quarter-century with the help of sponsors and television partners." It also is a "trauma for Fox, which broadcasts the next three World Cups after taking the U.S. rights from ESPN" (AP, 10/11). ESPN.com's Darren Rovell notes the "biggest losers" from last night include Fox, Nike and MLS. Nike's current deal with the USMNT runs through the '22 World Cup, but the brand "can't capitalize for another four years" with yesterday's loss. Meanwhile, U.S. players "doing well on the big stage help the MLS gain relevance." Not having that stage could make it "less important" for players like USMNT MF Christian Pulisic to "feel the need to possibly leave Europe and play in the U.S." (ESPNFC.com, 10/11).

TWITTER REAX: One of the themes that emerged on Twitter was how crushed U.S. soccer fans are by this result. Yahoo Sports' Leander Schaerlaeckens: "A reader sent me a 4,705-word email about the state of U.S. Soccer at 3.50 a.m. In case you were wondering where things stand with the fans." CBS News: "American soccer fans are in shock." Galvanize VP/Digital Marketing Andy Glockner: "I'm really at a loss for words. This is abject failure. A disaster of huge proportions for U.S. soccer. Utter embarrassment and disgrace." Another theme was how far the U.S. women's program is ahead of the men. ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach: "The bright side of the U.S. soccer debacle: Maybe now they'll finally pay the women's team what it deserves." CONCACAF broadcaster Juan Arango: "One of the major issues in USMNT program is this hubris, this arrogance that they were better than everyone else. No, they aren’t the women."

The NFL is considering "requiring all of its personnel to stand for the national anthem, a move that could defuse a dispute" with President Trump but "create a showdown with players over their right to protest," according to Futterman & Beaton of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The decision to consider a change comes after "weeks of persistent criticism" from Trump about players protesting during the anthem. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday in a memo said the controversy is "threatening to erode the unifying power of our game." He added that the league "believes that all players should stand for the anthem." The league will "suggest other ways it could support social-justice issues that players want to champion." Futterman & Beaton note the decision to consider an adjustment "reflects the mounting concern among owners that the controversy could have long-term financial implications" for the league. The NFL game operations manual says "players 'should' stand during the national anthem." It does not state they "'must' stand, even though that word is used in numerous instances in the manual regarding player behavior during games." Team owners will meet next week in N.Y., and NFL Exec VP/Communications Joe Lockhart said, "I fully expect this to be front and center on the agenda" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/11). NFL.com's Judy Battista said, "They want to get away from the anthem protest, that is what is clear. They do not want players kneeling or sitting during the national anthem. ... They are obviously concerned these ongoing protests are impacting the business of the league” (“Inside the NFL,” Showtime, 10/10).

ALL ABOUT THE BOTTOM LINE: CBSSPORTS.com's Kevin Skiver wrote the owners meeting "will be telling." If the NFL "implements a rule change regarding the anthem, the fallout would be huge." That means it "makes sense that the owners want to find a way to stop them" (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/10). ESPN's Louis Riddick said, “It has moved so far away from what the original message was that now it's become a business issue." Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones has threatened to bench players who disrespect the flag, and Riddick said Jones “does not want to drive away people who are coming into his stadium” and spending money. Riddick: "He feels as though the longer this remains at the front of the conversation, he’s putting that at risk, and he doesn't want that” ("OTL," ESPN, 10/10). NBC Sports Bay Area’s Kelli Johnson said Goodell’s memo is "all about money." Johnson: "The league is getting hurt by fans ... selling their tickets and not showing up. Ratings are down. This is a reaction not about what’s right and wrong, it is simply about the NFL losing money now” (“The Happy Hour,” NBCS Bay Area, 10/10). ESPN's Adam Schefter noted owners "recognize the threat that this posed to their business." He said, "As soon as sponsors begin to pull out -- and that hasn't happened yet -- then the NFL knows it's got a major problem on its hand" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 10/10). ESPN's Dan Le Batard said, “Once the president gets involved with all of this and keeps making a mess week to week, you have to meet with your players -- even though they don’t trust you -- and figure out how to solve this” (“Highly Questionable,” ESPN, 10/10).

MORE OWNERS LIKE JERRY? ESPN's Darren Woodson said there likely will be more owners who "get involved with their players in the locker room and start telling them, like Jerry Jones, exactly what the bottom line is" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 10/10). ESPN's Domonique Foxworth said, "I’d be very proud and impressed if some owners were willing to stand up and stand between the president pushing the NFL in the direction that he wants to go in and using our game and our league as a political football for his own personal gain” ("OTL," ESPN, 10/10).

PLAYERS WANT SOME INPUT
: Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins, who has raised a fist while the anthem has been played during every game this season, said the players and the NFLPA "would definitely want to have some input" in whether the league should enact an anthem policy (PHILADELPHIA INQURIER, 10/11). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote a policy change "could spark a legal battle with the union over whether that change can be made without submitting the issue" to collective bargaining (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 10/10). But ESPN's Bob Ley said of the owners, "They’ll probably change it and probably just inform the union this has happened." ESPN's Tim Hasselbeck: “I would expect that's what they would do, that’s their best course of action" ("OTL," ESPN, 10/10). FS1's Jason Whitlock: "This is the appropriate step for the NFL. You can't take the time to explain this to everybody. Sometimes you just got to make rules and move on" ("Speak For Yourself," FS1, 10/10).

FLIPPING THE SWITCH
: In N.Y., Ken Belson writes the NFL was "one big family two weeks ago," when Goodell and many team owners "locked arms, in many cases literally, in defiance and unity" after Trump's initial comments about firing protesting players. However, that "unanimity has all but vanished," as a "growing pool of owners is trying to defuse the politically charged issue, even if it means confronting the players the owners previously sympathized with." The league "might find resistance from players for any new directive on the anthem, setting the course for more public tension." Goodell's memo was sent two days after Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones said in "no uncertain terms that he would bench any players who 'disrespect the flag.'" Belson: "This about-face should not be shocking." Owners "want to make money," and anything that draws attention from the game "could put the television networks that broadcast the games and the league's corporate sponsors in an awkward spot." However, the owners "also want to avoid a showdown with the players' union, and even some of their best players" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/11). ESPN's Ley said, "In just a few short weeks, we've gone from owners linking arms on the field with their players to the specter of an owner saying if you kneel, there will be repercussions” ("OTL," ESPN, 10/10).

The NFL this morning claims President Trump’s assertion that Commissioner Roger Goodell is “demanding” players stand during the national anthem is “not accurate,” according to Jacqueline Thomsen of THE HILL. Trump tweeted this morning, “It is about time that Roger Goodell of the NFL is finally demanding that all players STAND for our great National Anthem-RESPECT OUR COUNTRY.” The tweet “appeared to be in response to a report that the NFL is considering a rule that would require players to stand during the national anthem.” The NFL in a statement said, “Commentary this morning about the Commissioner’s position on the Anthem is not accurate” (THEHILL.com, 10/11). The issue was brought up at the White House press briefing yesterday, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying, “We would certainly support the NFL coming out and asking players to stand just as the president has done. ... Our position hasn't changed on that front. We're glad to see the NFL taking positive steps in that direction” (MSNBC, 10/10). NBC's Peter Alexander said Trump is "trying to capitalize on what he sees as a political winner" ("Nightly News," NBC, 10/10). CNBC's Eamon Javers said the White House "would feel very much that that's a win for them" is the rule was changed ("Fast Money Halftime Report," CNBC, 10/10).

GOODELL GIVING IN?
It is unclear whether changing the rule in the game operations manual that states players should stand for the anthem falls under the CBA. PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio noted should a change occur without the input of the union, the league, as in other instances of "going too far and then forcing the NFLPA to push back via the court system," could tell Trump that the league has "done everything it can to force the players to stand." Along the way, the NFLPA and the players "will potentially become the villains" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 10/10). In N.Y., Denis Slattery writes under the header, "NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Caves To Trump's Fury On Kneeling" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/11). In St. Louis, Jose de Jesus Ortiz writes Goodell is "clearly moving to quash the national anthem protests." Goodell in a memo sent to all 32 teams yesterday said, "I'm very proud of our players and owners who have done the hard work over the past year to listen, understand and attempt to address the underlying issues within their communities." Ortiz: "How proud could Goodell be if he wants players to stop bringing attention to these important issues?" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 10/11). But CBS’ Tracy Wolfson said, "What they're trying to do is seek a compromise with the players. They want them to speak out but also want them to stand for the anthem and not protest during that time” (“We Need to Talk,” CBSSN, 10/11).

HOW WILL PLAYERS REACT? 
THE MMQB's Peter King writes the "tenor of the memo was clear: Although the league might feel the anthem controversy has been hijacked" by Trump and Vice President Pence, it is "not going to make progress on the issues the players care about by continuing to protest during the anthem." The NFL has "got to stand for the anthem or risk alienating a huge swath" of its fans. King: "The question will be: Will the players buy that?" (MMQB.SI.com, 10/11). USA TODAY's Nancy Armour writes the players "remain skeptical about whether the NFL actually cares or just wants them to stick to sports like good little football players." While only a "small faction of players in the NFL have protested," awareness and support for the cause has "grown this season, and players aren't likely to take too kindly to simply being told to stand up and shut up" (USA TODAY, 10/11). SI.com's Robert Klemko wrote the league "didn't realize how confident you, the players, have become in your voices in the age of social media." Klemko: "We understand now, and we want you to be quiet at the precise moment when your voices can be heard the loudest. Please?" (SI.com, 10/10).

UNION REMAINS MISSING
: ESPN’s Sarah Spain said it “might be helpful if the NFLPA releases its own letter” in response to Goodell’s letter. The union's statement could acknowledge what Goodell is attempting to accomplish and “that this isn’t just a cover-up to get the guys that are speaking out to stop” ("Highly Questionable," ESPN, 10/10). THE UNDEFEATED's William Rhoden wrote it is an "abomination and abdication of responsibility that the NFLPA has not stepped in and helped the players articulate a single-minded rationale for the protest and a way forward" (THEUNDEFEATED.com, 10/10).

NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France admitted over the weekend that the sport "could be in for some drastic changes as it looks to keep expenses from escalating out of control," according to George Diaz of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. France said, "There’s a lot more we can do, and we’re going to do it. That’s what the charter opportunity gives the chance to do. We’re working with (teams) to see how we can control expenses in a way that has not been done in motorsports before." Diaz noted the notion of a spending cap has been "floated around." Drivers are essentially "independent contractors who work out a deal with team owners and sponsors, with NASCAR having no control over the particulars." But those sponsorship deals -- "especially lucrative ones with top drivers -- have been imploding in recent months."  The cash-flow problem will "no doubt be addressed in the off-season and will likely lead to cutting a day off the weekend schedule, which will add up considerably." But it is still a "tough road economically" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 10/9). 

SHIFTING GEARS: In Greensboro, Ed Hardin wrote Charlotte Motor Speedway's hold on racing has been "slipping for years now and tour expansion has spread the playing field with lots of clone tracks in far-flung places." Two races a year at one track almost anywhere is a "stretch these days." And through the years, the fall race at CMS has been a "tough sell no matter who’s driving and winning." A year from now, NASCAR will be back at CMS with its debut of the "Roval" road course. This is a risk CMS "had to take, and NASCAR was quick to embrace it." NASCAR is now going through its "first death lurch, and no one has any ideas for saving the sport from itself." Sunday's Bank of America 500 at CMS was a race with "no buzz, a sporting event with no fans, a sad echo" of the way things used to be. Sunday at CMS, the thing that "jumped out" was the "lack of kids." Hardin: "In the stands, where we all came to this track as teenagers, there were only men. Old men mostly." NASCAR is an "aging sport." Which is why next year’s "experiment with the road course just might work" (Greensboro NEWS & RECORD, 10/9).