A Case of the Mondays

The Conundrum in Colorado

Mondays can be tough. For those who follow lower division soccer in the US, and in particular those who follow the UPSL and its Colorado Conference, this past Monday was downright jarring. Most people woke up to a post by Athletic Club Sloan’s Lake’s (ACSL) Director Max Fowler. This tweet laid out two pieces of information. The first, that ACSL had been expelled from the UPSL with immediate effect. This was particularly shocking given the fact that ACSL had just hosted the UPSL Spring Playoffs. The second, was that ACSL, along with FC Boulder (FCB) and FC Greeley (FCG, also referred to in documents as FC Colorado) had founded an organization known as the ProRel United States Footballing Association (ProRelUSFA). Later in the day, the UPSL made this news official by announcing:

“Colorado-based clubs ACSL, FCB, and FCG have each had their respective UPSL memberships terminated, effective immediately, due to the conflict of interest these teams represent. Specifically, the league no longer associates with the individuals Max Fowler, Don Harmon, or Lance Williams, nor the clubs they own, direct or manage.

The UPSL now considers this a legal matter and will not make any further statements at this time.” True to word, UPSL has not released further statement in any form, and despite some thinking that it may be discussed on The UPSL Podcast the League has maintained silence. They declined to respond to an inquiry for comment.

This issue raised some pretty big questions. First, this was an odd introduction to the organization known as ProRelUSFA. It is obvious that UPSL saw this organization as a conflict of interest, and maybe the start of a potential competitor, but the founders do not see it that way. Max Fowler described ProRelUSFA as, “…a trade organization founded by and made up of professionally run clubs across the competitive pyramids and across all league, nationally, regionally and locally, to help new and established clubs better meet best practices and procedures.” With lower league soccer fraught with danger due to the razor-thin margins most clubs operate on, as we found out recently with Kitsap Pumas, it’s easy to see why clubs might want to share what works to help those clubs around them. “It’s no different than a Realtor’s Association or trade guild [that] helps maintain and teach standards that ensure the survival of all,” added Fowler, showcasing the fact that ProRelUSFA had no desire to compete with UPSL as a league.

Don Harmon, who’s cut ties with the UPSL is seemingly even more impactful, given the fact that he is the director of FCB, the UPSL Colorado Conference, and the Women’s Division National Director, painted the organization in a slightly different light when reached for comment on their goals. “That’s the beauty of it, the members decide how it works best when applied…It can be an association sanctioned by or parallel to USSF…why not if that’s what the members propose and agree to.” This type of thinking would certainly explain UPSL’s concern to a greater degree, but if it is member-run, the UPSL could become a stakeholder in this type of venture.

That is not how UPSL saw it, obviously. Fowler stated plainly, “We believe it is very clear that we are not in breach of any of the UPSL’s stated rules or regulations…We have never been reprimanded or engaged in any formal process before this email. There was no formal process or procedures, no form or due process, and no form of appeal.” This was seemingly a case of a misunderstanding between UPSL and its member clubs. However, the nature of ProRelUSFA’s formation may have muddied the waters a bit.

“We were never called to clarify our actions, there was no due process or procedures, and it was wholly a result of rumors and innuendo as the document in question was under a non-disclosure agreement as we were establishing the trade association. Mainly because we felt it a good idea and wanted to protect our intellectual property.” This quote from Fowler indicates that the three founding members were under an NDA concerning the formation of ProRelUSFA. This, along with contact with clubs across UPSL and indeed all American lower division soccer leagues, could easily have lead UPSL leadership to believe their member clubs were planning a revolution inside their walls. This does not explain the lack of communication between the parties, but it could explain their concern.

Ultimately, the swiftness and opacity of UPSL’s response, coupled with the equal swiftness and transparency of ProRelUSFA has driven a strong response from many lower division fans on social media and UPSL are looking at a potentially long and tricky Fall Season which had been looking so promising given the Spring Season’s exciting conclusion.

- Phil Baki

Lola Vaughn