In 1969, Major League Baseball player Curt Flood refused to accept a trade. He spent a season away from the game in a challenge to the reserve clause. Flood’s example ultimately created free agency in American professional sports. Prior to Flood’s move against the reserve clause, players remained the property of their clubs even after their contracts expired. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Major League Soccer is one of the last holdouts keeping a version of the reserve clause in place.
For MLS, this was initially an attempt to enforce the aspect of single-entity that keeps teams from competing with each other for player contracts. In MLS’s view of the professional sports marketplace, this drives up costs unnecessarily. It also controls player movement in a way that’s a throwback to pro sports under the reserve clause. Without free agency, MLS strictly controls the future of its players. The league takes that an additional step, imposing the reserve clause for players long after they’ve left the league.
That’s the situation they’re facing with Robbie Rogers, who left the league to play in England. While he was away, his old club traded his MLS rights to Chicago. Now, Rogers would like to play again in MLS, but has no interest in Chicago. Enter the MLS reserve clause, that will require some form of compensation for Chicago losing the rights to Rogers even though they’ve never had any reasonable relationship with the player. Rogers found out he was Chicago property through the internet, tweeting the ridiculousness of the situation.
MLS, more than any other league, would very much like its fans to ignore the business side of the operation. Yet MLS, again more than any other league, almost obligates fans to follow the business side. It’s not just Rogers, it’s not the first time this type of scenario plays out in MLS, and it’s not defensible. Free agency happened in every other major professional sports league before most current players were born. MLS is hanging onto an antiquated system that undervalues players, gives them next to no choice, and creates situations that only serve to remind us of why single-entity exists in the first place. It’s to limit players, limit compensation, and limit choice.
Corner Rating: (with 1 MLS continuing with business as usual and 11 reconsidering the place of single-entity and adopting true free agency) 2.
Last Week’s Corner: Stoke City are safe enough in the Premier League and Aston Villa followed Stoke’s example by winning back-to-back games. We’re raising Stoke’s ranking to 11.
Here’s how The Corner works. Not counting the title, we’re limited to 400 words to make a case for our Corner Rating.