Pro/Rel: Let’s Talk about the Real Elephant in the Room

Sean Flynn – CEO of the NASL’s Miami FC – and Denis Crowley – founder of Kingston Stockade FC – filed a claim against CONCACAF and USSF on Aug. 3, 2017. I have spent the past month reflecting upon the promotion-and-regulation debate as a whole and I noticed a discrepancy. Throughout history, social, cultural and political movements have featured patriarchal leadership and male-centric concerns. Aside from the women’s suffrage and the women’s liberation movements, men typically control the conversation and lead the fight for change. The same can be observed in both sides (for and against) of the Pro/Rel argument in the United States. Men lead the discussions on Twitter and dominate the conversations.


This article neither opposes nor supports the movement, but instead it addresses a largely nonexistent aspect of the situation: women’s soccer.

woso pro/rel
Soccer is soccer. Get rid of the labels.

Where does it fit into the debate about promotion-and-relegation in US Soccer? In my research, I have yet to find any articulation of how it might affect women’s soccer. The discourse surrounding pro/rel hinges on Major League Soccer and the men’s soccer pyramid. Both sides of the debate profess a desire to grow soccer in the United States, despite their differing opinions on exactly how to do so. Yet, in their aim to achieve their goals, both disregard women’s soccer and its role in the sport’s development across the nation.


Men’s soccer is at a point where it has reached a high level of growth and development across the country from the grassroots level to Division 1 (albeit still needs improvement), whereas, society still shifts women’s soccer to the background despite the USWNT’s success. Right now, women’s soccer has gained stability, as Alicia DelGallo pointed out in her April 2017 Orlando Sentinel article, “Newfound Stability Allows National Women’s Soccer League to Look Toward Future.” It still needs tremendous growth and development, in addition to more support from the United States soccer community. A further increase in development will come from equal pay, better field conditions and more funding, much of which will be provided by the USSF.


The USWNT’s fan base consists of both men and women who regularly support the team and women’s soccer outside of the World Cup, compared to fans of the USMNT when thousands cheer every four years but afterwards disappear. A considerable portion of male soccer fans make interactions between women and the sporting community difficult because of toxic masculinity and chauvinism. It is an ironic situation considering critics of soccer often called the sport a “feminine sport” or a “gay sport” because women and men who were supposedly not masculine enough to play American football, participate in soccer to which fans responded with vitriol. When women join the conversation in men’s sports on Twitter, some sections of the male fan base degrade women’s knowledge of sports because of their gender. Women obviously love sports as much as men, but some men feel threatened by their knowledge and would rather women not participate and return to the 1950s’ stereotypical household duties. At the same time, those same men (regardless of whether they watch it or not) criticize women’s soccer for what they consider an inferior product of lesser skill and entertainment value.


This rejection of women’s soccer hinders the sport’s potential growth and displays blatant sexism.


The pro/rel movement advocates equality for all clubs, but it has become understood that this statement primarily refers to men’s soccer. In their strive to improve men’s soccer, men on both sides of the debate forget about women’s sports. Will opening the system improve women’s soccer, or will keeping the system closed improve women’s soccer? This question is left out of the conversation. Men on both sides argue about pro/rel without acknowledging how it might affect the NWSL, the UWS, or the WPSL. This exclusion displays a subconscious sexism within the debate. Relative stability offers men’s soccer fans the opportunity to discuss the topic. Women’s soccer faced a tumultuous existence until the NWSL – the longest lasting professional women’s league in US history (currently in its fifth season). The uncertainty of a league’s continued operation makes it difficult to have a conversation about opening the system, but as the aforementioned article demonstrates, the NWSL is on the rise. US Soccer also needs to sanction more women’s soccer leagues and divisions, but that action requires growth in the number of teams and owners that want to invest in the sport.


The pro/rel debate shows, once again, that women’s soccer takes a back seat to men’s soccer within the American soccer community, but to improve soccer in the United States overall, women’s soccer must be included in the conversation and the community must change the sexism within its fan base and operations.

2 thoughts on “Pro/Rel: Let’s Talk about the Real Elephant in the Room

  • September 11, 2017 at 12:56 am

    We’re a long way from pro/rel in the women’s game because the women’s second tier is completely different from the first tier. The WPSL and UWS teams who make up the second tier are composed almost entirely of college students who would lose their NCAA eligibility the moment they competed professionally – not to mention they’re only available to play from late May to mid-July, the brief period when their college coaches don’t want them.

    • September 11, 2017 at 1:12 am

      I’m not suggesting women’s soccer implement pro/rel. I’m simply addressing the issue that men who debate pro/rel overlook how pro/rel in men’s soccer might affect women’s soccer.


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