The Women’s Professional Soccer League will conclude the regular season with three games tomorrow.
In one of them, The Philadelphia Independence will visit magicJack, which used to be the Freedom, located in Washington, D.C. Now, and perhaps very temporarily, magicJack, which bears the name of the phone service company run by owner Dan Borislow, plays on the campus of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
The field on that campus has been a problem for the league. The facility’s capacity is too small, even by WPS standards. And that’s only one of the reasons for the season-long conflict between the league and Mr. Borislow, who’s in the running for most eccentric owner of a pro sports franchise, ever.
He fired his coach, Mike Lyons, three games into the season, though the team was 3-0. Since then, several players have taken turns coaching magicJack on a rotating, volunteer basis. For a while Mr. Borislow did it himself, until someone in the league office pointed out that he didn’t have the requisite coach’s license.
All this seemed to have the makings of an intriguing story, so on the eve of last weekend’s game between magicJack and the Breakers in Boston, I tried calling the Florida team to set up an interview.
Via a pleasant but curiously impersonal recording, a woman told me the number had been disconnected.
I subsequently learned that my failure to contact anyone at magicJack put me at the end of a long line:
“There’s no website, there’s no phone number, there’s no front office, there’s no ticket office, and there’s no way to get a hold of the team,” Michelle Kaufman to told me.
Kaufman, a reporter with the Miami Herald, has been covering Dan Borislow’s team…a sometimes frustrating exercise
“I get lots of calls from people who want to reach the team,” she told me. “I got a call from the vice president of the Miami Dolphins, who was trying to get a hold of magicJack because the Dolphins wanted to honor the players who were in the World Cup at a Dolphins game, and they couldn’t even get through.”
The finances of WPS might charitably be described as fragile. The league needs all the publicity it can get. It’s no surprise that WPS is dismayed with an owner who not only doesn’t employ a general manager or a public relations person, but who is alleged to have forbidden his players to use social media, which the rest of the WPS teams embrace. Dan Borislow’s team is also the only one to have points deducted for the owner’s transgressions against league rules and standards…but magicJack will be going to the playoffs anyway.
By beating the Breakers, 2-0, on Saturday night, magicJack clinched third place. Abby Wambach headed in both goals. Megan Rapinoe set Wambach up on one of them. Hope Solo did not play, due to injury. Do these names ring a bell? All three represented the U.S. at this summer’s World Cup in Germany, as did four other magicJack players. After Saturday’s game, Wambach, currently coaching as well as scoring for Borislow’s team, was asked to comment on the disputes between the owner and the league.
“There’s always a time and place where things need to be dealt with,” she said. “But the truth is, we’ve let Dan deal with this stuff off the field. None of the players have a say. We have nothing to do with this stuff that’s between Dan and the league. That’s his business, and for us, it may effect us down the road, but we’re not focusing on that.”
“Not focusing” on the circumstances Dan Borislow has created can’t have been easy. Last Saturday, magicJack arrived at the Breakers’ field without a trainer. Several of the players asked the Breakers’ staff if they’d tape their ankles before the game.
“Sure,” they were told. “Do you have tape?”
“Nope,” said the magicJack players. “Could you bring some with you?”
Two former magicJack players now with the Breakers are living with Claire Masinton and her family. I met Ms. Masinton on the sideline before the game and asked her about the rumor that one of Mr. Borislow’s former employees had compared leaving his team to escaping from North Korea:
“I don’t want to be too impolitic,” she said, “but she said she was quite relieved to be with the Breakers, and she mentioned something about enjoying such a structured practice when she got here.”
Dan Borislow’s position has been that he’s losing a lot of money running the team, and he’s not willing to fund any personnel beyond the players or spend frivolously on such items as athletic tape. The league’s position, according to a statement sent to “Only A Game” on Thursday, is that “Mr. Borislow has disrupted the league’s business by creating conflicts with national partners, presenting an unprofessional product, negatively influencing fans, and adversely affecting players due to his mistreatment of his own team and staff.”
That last contention is bolstered by a grievance filed in July by some of the players, who accused Borislow of bullying them, as well as failing to live up to league standards of professionalism.
Last week, Dan Borislow filed a law suit to prevent the league from taking the team away from him before this season ends, which the league has said it never intended to do…though Michelle Kaufman thinks things might be different once the playoffs end:
“I don’t imagine that this team is going to last after this season,” she told me. “I just can’t imagine that the league is going to allow a team to be run this way. I understand Dan Borislow is saying, ‘Hey, it’s my team. It’s my money. They should be happy that I’m promoting women’s soccer with money out of my pocket.’ But it’s really very, very unprofessional. You go to the league website, and it lists six teams, and you can click on a link to all the five other teams, and when you get to magicJack, you don’t get anything.”
The current status of Dan Borislow’s law suit against the league is foggy, and Mr. Borislow has not responded to inquiries, via his personal e-mail address, which Michelle Kaufman thinks might still work. The league has limited its response to “Only A Game’s” inquiry to the aforementioned three paragraph statement, which concludes with the contention that it “will not and cannot tolerate owners whose actions jeopardize the future of WPS.” Beyond that, fans of magicJack and the WPS can only wait to see what will happen, although Michelle Kaufman can’t help fantasizing about the scene that would transpire if Abby Wambach and her teammates keep scoring often enough to win the league’s championship.
“I can’t even imagine that trophy ceremony with the commissioner of the league and Dan Borislow standing on the same podium,” she said. “That would be a sight to see.”
The WPS post-season begins on either August 17th or 18th, depending on whether the Breakers or Sky Blue FC wins tomorrow. One of those teams will gain the opportunity to play magicJack…whose players may or may not be able to count on getting a ride to the game.