New Division III league begins to take shape
THE SET UP
An ecological niche is the response of an organism and/or species to changes in its environment. If an apex predator (a lion, for example) loses numbers rapidly, a new predator (a wolf) might dominate that niche. Or, alternatively, the population of the prey species (deer) might increase due to less predation.
Once the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) awarded co-Division II status to the NASL and USL, Division III became an unoccupied habitat which was eventually going to be populated one way or another. Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated provided us with the identity of the first new species to enter the fray: a new USL-aligned DIII league in 2019.
Well, there can be more than one species fulfilling a niche.
Soc Takes has learned via multiple sources that an alternate DIII league is currently in its formative stages. The creators and executives of this project are Peter Wilt and Club 9 Sports. Other yet-to-be-identified players are involved in the project as well. Wilt declined to comment on this story.
The target date of launch is 2018, although the ultimate date of realization is “flexible,” according to sources. If the 2018 season is realized, it would be a year before the expected 2019 USL-DIII launch. A pivotal meeting for this project took place in Chicago recently.
Soc Takes understands that various clubs within NPSL and PDL were approached to be a part of this league. To the best of our knowledge, PDL clubs have not shown any interest in switching allegiances. However, some NPSL clubs and other non-PDL markets have shown an interest in joining the new league.
Soc Takes spoke with two teams approached for the project who believed the proposal was promising, but unrealistic for them. Concerns were geared towards the financial requirements of making the jump to DIII.
Last year, USSF’s DIII requirements were:
- Minimum of eight teams
- U.S.-based teams must participate in the U.S. Open Cup
- Minimum stadium capacity of 1,000
- A performance bond (or something similar) of $250,000
- One principal owner (owning at least 35 percent of the team) with an individual net worth of $10 million or more
- Other requirements, such as USSF “A” licenses for coaches within two years of approval, centralized league offices with a hierarchical structure, etc.
Additionally, based on documentation obtained that outlines the initial investment into the USL (then DIII), it is possible to estimate what owners might spend in order to start a new team. Assuming there is no expansion fee (a reasonable assumption given it is a brand new league), teams — if they incur somewhat similar front office/player/travel/stadium costs — should expect to spend between $2.5-$5.5 million in their first year of operation, out of which between $200K – $400K would go toward player wages. Only a handful of NPSL teams currently pay their players.
As a comparison, Dennis Crowley’s fantastic explanation of operating an NPSL team estimated that Stockade FC spent $125K in its first year. While much variance exists (Crowley estimates a range of $30K – $250K), based on those numbers, a conservative estimate would suggest that a current NPSL club would expect to spend 20x more in the new DIII league.
(Caveat: The above analysis is based on the assumption that this new league would have operational costs similar to the USL’s 2016 expected costs.)
THE NPSL CONNECTION
What they will not incur is an exit fee from the NPSL. Jef Thiffault, managing director of the NPSL, confirmed that Club 9 had previously spoken to NPSL teams about “various opportunities,” but could not confirm the status or identities of any of the bids. Thiffault also confirmed that any teams leaving the NPSL for this DIII league would go with the blessing of the league, and without incurring any financial penalties, stating that “upward growth of teams is good for the game, so we support it.”
In spite of the assumed increase in spending, a source close to the situation claimed that close to 30 teams “in various stages of discussions” have shown an interest in joining the league — comprised of both NPSL as well as other non-PDL markets. Even if half of that number materializes, the league will be off to a strong start, at least in terms of pure numbers.
THE SPECULATION ZONE
While skepticism among teams is understandable, the involvement of Peter Wilt seems to be a consistently cited reason for belief in the project. Wilt has previously helped realize the promise of the Chicago Fire and Indy Eleven, and his partners Club 9 Sports are seemingly involved in the recruitment of potential NASL expansion teams. The NASL declined to comment on this story.
Given Wilt’s involvement, one cannot help speculate on the possibility of a promotion-relegation system between DII and the new DIII. NPSL chairman Joe Barone previously informed Bob Williams of The Telegraph that he was interested in discussing pro-rel with the NASL. Meanwhile, more recently, Wilt wrote a controversial and expansive pro-rel manifesto in Howler Magazine and New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso declared his desire to implement pro-rel in U.S. Soccer as reported on This is Cosmos Country. Soc Takes couldn’t confirm that this is a reason behind the planned DIII league, however.
Another important question is whether this increases or reduces stability in the divisions/leagues. This question is impossible to answer without knowing the detailed plans, but prima facie, a new league aligned with the NASL should increase the stability of the NASL.
Ownership groups in Jacksonville, Chattanooga, Birmingham and Greenville are said to be interested in the project. It is unclear if these groups are associated with existing teams or are novel projects entirely.
Ultimately, much like DII, we may well end up with two DIII leagues.
Gause’s law states that given limited resources, two species cannot occupy the same niche indefinitely. Eventually, one either goes extinct or shifts towards another niche. In the mad world of lower league soccer, we may soon have two similar species (NASL/USL) occupying similar niches (DII/DIII). And as long as there are sufficient resources (expansion cities) to support them, all will be OK. But that supply is not infinite, and therefore, the competition for resources will likely defeat one or the other.
Here’s to hoping that such a day is far, far away. For now, the soccer wars have occupied another niche.