Opinion Editorial by Carol McFarland McKee
When it comes to youth soccer, there are rules other than just the FIFA Laws of the Game that are important. There are playing rules, tournament event rules, player registration rules, roster rules, player definitions and so on and so forth. LOTS of rules – a virtual smorgasbord of rules. Not only those of South Dakota State Soccer Association, but also those of the US Youth Soccer Association (of which SDSSA is a member), and those of the US Soccer Federation, which governs all soccer in the United States.
The rules are designed primarily to protect the players, both on and off the field, and to protect the integrity of the sport. And if they aren’t, they should be. After all, in US Youth Soccer it is called “The Game for ALL Kids” – not the game for all associations or the game for all coaches or even the game for all parents. It’s about the Kids and the Game. Rules should be regularly examined to see if they are relevant and appropriate. Under scrutiny, some rules won’t pass the litmus test of protecting players and the integrity of the sport. And in some situations, a rule itself may pass the test, but a misinformed interpretation of the rule can go off course. One must review any given soccer rule in the context of all the guidances of the governing bodies – SD Soccer, US Youth Soccer and the US Soccer Federation. If you don’t, you could end up with a mess. This story is about one such unfortunate situation.
It all began long ago, and far away . . . well actually it was less than two weeks ago – the first weekend of May – down at the Yankton Trails Soccer Complex in Sioux Falls. The South Dakota State Cup, SDSSA’s premier competitive tournament, and the first step in the US Youth Soccer National Championship Series, was held. Club teams in the U13 to the U19 age divisions competed for the right and responsibility to represent SDSSA at the US Youth Soccer Region II Regionals. The last games of the State Cup ended and all State Champions were crowned by about 2 pm on Sunday, May 5th. Everyone went home. Some teams to prepare themselves for Regionals, other teams to find replacement events since they had lost their bid to the Regionals in Des Moines.
Mid-afternoon of Monday, May 6th, an email was sent to the South Dakota State Soccer Association office inquiring about the protocol to file a protest concerning an ineligible player “used” by a team. Later that same afternoon, a similar email was sent to the SDSSA’s Competitive Committee. The email charged that a named player was ineligible to compete at the SD State Cup and had “attempted to unfairly gain an advantage to compete at Regionals and/or on two competitive teams at the same time.”
In the playing rules for South Dakota State Soccer Association, it is implied that a player can only play for one competitive team and one recreational team. Specifically, there are three definitions of teams in the rules – Rule I-A. Club (“Competitive”); Rule I-B. Recreational (“B) Division, and Rule I.C Recreational “A” Division. Tryouts are permissible in the Club and Rec A divisions, but not in Rec B (sometimes called “pure rec”). Under all three definitions, the rules state “A player may be rostered on one Competitive team and on one Recreational team.” So one can see where the understanding might be that a player cannot be rostered on a second competitive team in South Dakota State Soccer Association. (Although a kid-friendly argument might be that the rule doesn’t say “only” one Competitive team and “only” one Recreational team, but clearly indicates that a player cannot be prohibited from playing on both a rec team and a club team.) The SD State Cup is an event for SD competitive players and teams. Our research indicates that the alleged ineligible player was and is properly registered with the club team competing at the SD State Cup and properly registered on only one team – competitive or recreational – with SDSSA. One might think that would be the end of it. Clearly there was no violation of SDSSA registration rules.
Not quite, as the filer of the protest saw it. This specific player may (or may not) also be registered on a US Club Soccer roster. US Club Soccer, though considerably smaller in numbers, is much like US Youth Soccer in that it has programs for all ages (including youth and adults) and has both rec and competitive programs. It is unknown whether the named player, who played for a US Club Soccer program at SDSSA sanctioned youth tournaments in South Dakota over the winter, was or is rostered on a US Club Soccer competitive roster or a rec roster. But it doesn’t matter. US Youth Soccer is not US Club Soccer and vice versa. Neither has jurisdiction over the other, nor rights to see one another’s rosters. SDSSA registration rules state that “A player may be rostered on one Competitive team and on one Recreational team.” The filer of the protest maintained that competitive is competitive, regardless of whether the registered player is on a US Youth Soccer roster or on a US Club Soccer roster. But SDSSA is a US Youth Soccer organization. It doesn’t have the ability to write or apply rules that govern the registration of US Club Soccer players in South Dakota.
After consulting with US Youth Soccer Region II Director Bill Podewils and US Youth Soccer Region II Cup Director Bob Hart, and back-and-forth email discussions, late in the evening of Tuesday, May 7th, SDSSA President Rich Jensen shared their opinions and his own position – that there was nothing to protest – with the Competitive Committee. Later that evening, or the morning of Wednesday, May 8th, the Competitive Committee seems to have correctly decided that they did not have cause to proceed. The protest would not go beyond the first step of the process, as laid out by Competitive Committee Chair Mark Glissendorf – “Step 1: Competitive Committee decides whether to hear and consider the protest or not.” As SDSSA President Jensen ultimately pointed out near the end of the debate: “Our rules simply do not apply to this situation. It only would apply if the player were on a roster of two competitive teams within our organization.”
A protest was filed, and the Competitive Committee found it was without merit and the matter was closed. The process worked, right? Not really. Remember, the tournament concluded by 2 pm on Sunday, May 5th. The email inquiring about the protest procedure was sent to the SDSSA office on the afternoon of Monday, May 6th. And the 2013 SD State Cup Rules, as posted on the SDSSA website, clearly state that the time for filing any kind of protest about the event had long past. Here they are, in brief:
PROTESTS AND APPEALS
Section 1. All questions relating to the qualifications of competitors, to interpretation of the rules, or any dispute or protest concerning the South Dakota State Cup competition, shall be referred to the South Dakota State Cup Committee regarding games at the state level.
Section 2. Eligible and Type – A. To be valid and eligible for consideration, each protest — 1. Must be orally lodged with the referee and with the opposing coach at the game site before entering the field of play or leaving the game site, except as provided in subsection (b) of this section; and 2. Must be filed with the South Dakota State Cup Committee within 1 hours (sic) after the completion of the game being protested . . .
There’s more to the State Cup Rules, but that’s the pertinent part. It seems that the only real rules violation that occurred here was that the protest was even considered – more than 24 hours after the last game of the State Cup had concluded. The protest should never have been accepted by the South Dakota State Cup Committee. (As a side note, we searched all available documents online and in the 2013 State Cup printed program, but were unable to find a listing of who serves or served on the South Dakota State Cup Committee.)
The deadline to file a protest had passed under the State Cup Rules, so the protest was filed in a slightly different manner. Instead of the South Dakota State Cup Committee, it was the SDSSA Competitive Committee that considered the protest. Committee Chair Mark Glissendorf, who received the protest, indicated to the Committee that the protest was “not in reference to the State Cup event rules. It is based on the ‘South Dakota Soccer Registration Rules’ which are posted on the SDSSA web site.” The Competitive Committee again missed the mark in considering the protest.
Since the protest was not about the State Cup directly, but about the SDSSA Registration Rules, then those Registration Rules should determine who would have jurisdiction over such a protest. Per SDSSA Bylaw Article VI-F, the State Registrar (not the SDSSA Competitive Committee) is given the responsibility for “the registration/rostering of players in regard to the State “A” and “B” tournaments and of the Challenge Cup”. Unless the SDSSA Board of Directors clearly carved out this responsibility from the State Registrar responsibilities, the Competitive Committee does not have authority to review club player registration protests. Since I could find no record of that action, and no committee has specifically been given that authority by SDSSA, it would appear that the applicable guiding document would be the SDSSA Conflict Resolution Policy and Procedures – which were also not followed in this situation.
I fully understand that the majority of our state youth soccer leaders are volunteers. Having walked in those shoes, I understand that volunteers may not always have the time and resources to do all the necessary research to respond in a timely fashion and get it right the first time. In this situation, I feel they got it wrong twice. First, in considering the protest after the deadline established for the event, and second, or alternatively, in considering the protest through a committee that lacked authority to do so.
At the conclusion of the protest consideration process, a member of the Competitive Committee urged the committee “to meet and discuss the verbiage of our present rules to see if we need to redraft the documents.” Great idea, to at least review and discuss the present rules! To help keep something like this from happening again and hopefully get it right the first time, youth soccer leaders – especially those who have the privilege and honor of serving on the State Competitive Committee and State Board – need to become more familiar with the youth soccer rules that are already written. We would urge the Competitive Committee Members, before re-drafting the rules, to become more familiar with at least this section of the SDSSA Bylaws:
ARTICLE II – RELATIONSHIP WITH USSF – A. Priority of USSF Rules – The United States Soccer Federation articles of incorporation, bylaws, policies and requirements take precedence over and supersede the governing documents and decisions of the Corporation and its members to the extent applicable under state law and the Corporation and its members will abide by those articles, bylaws, policies and requirements.
Also, these specific bylaws of SDSSA’s national membership organization, US Youth Soccer:
US Youth Soccer Bylaw 105. EQUAL OPPORTUNITY -Section 1. USYSA shall provide an equal opportunity to athletes, coaches, trainers, managers, administrators, and officials to participate in youth soccer competitions. Section 3. USYSA may not have eligibility criteria relating to amateur status more restrictive than those of the Federation.
US Youth Soccer Bylaw 214. STATE ASSOCIATION RESPONSIBILITIES – Section 1. In addition to other requirements of these bylaws, each State Association shall— (5) comply with requirements pertaining to regional, interstate, national, and international competition and other competitions approved or sponsored by USYSA and as required by the Federation.
And finally, study carefully this bylaw from the US Soccer Federation, the national governing body for South Dakota Soccer Association –
US Soccer Federation Bylaw 603. INTERPLAY – Section 2. An Organization Member (other than a Professional League) shall not discriminate against the participation of players, teams, coaches or clubs on the basis of that player, coach, team, or club’s membership in, or affiliation with, another organization. The Federation encourages its Organization Members to allow teams of all other Members to participate in tournaments sponsored by them or any of its organization members when the teams otherwise comply with the tournament eligibility requirements.
The lack of understanding of all of the relevant rules is one source of my frustration with this situation. But what bothers me most is that this whole process seemed to have not been about finding a way to let this kid play soccer, but about finding ways to NOT let a kid play, or at least to disqualify the SDSSA roster the player is on and set aside all games the team played while the kid was on the team’s roster – specifically, the State Cup matches. (Fortunately, that did not happen.)
If you are looking for ways to include more kids in more soccer opportunities in South Dakota, FANTASTIC! You will find other rules and bylaws to support you in the official documents of US Youth Soccer and the US Soccer Federation. But if some members of the Competitive Committee are looking to make a rules change in SDSSA soccer so that it’s the Game for ALL Kids, EXCEPT those kids who also choose to play with any other brand of youth soccer, including US Club Soccer . . . well that’s unsporting behavior, at the expense of the kids you serve. You will be on the wrong side of history. And most likely on the uncomfortable “business end” of the United States Soccer Federation.
Please remember why you undoubtedly originally got involved with youth soccer – first, for the kids, and second for the good of the game. The rest is just details.
Opposing viewpoints and constructive comments are always welcome. No fouls, misconduct or offsides. We reserve the right to not allow comments that cannot be attributed to an actual person and/or do not serve the game or the discussion, in the opinion of the referee. Which is me.