Thursday, May 05, 2005

Woman's Pyramid of Play

The Ontario Soccer Association To Conduct
"Women's Pyramid For Play" Meeting
May 5, 2005
The Ontario Soccer Association (OSA) will be holding a "Women's Pyramid For Play Meeting" at the Holiday Inn at the Toronto Airport on Saturday afternoon, April 2. The primary purpose of the meeting it to review the top of the "Women's Pyramid For Play" in Ontario. Attending the meeting will be representatives of the OSA's League Management Committee, the Ontario Women's Soccer League, Canadian Professional Soccer League, Ottawa Fury Soccer Club, Toronto Lynx Soccer Club, Sudbury Canadians Soccer Club and London Gryphons Soccer Club. The four soccer clubs are members of the United Soccer League's W-League.

This is the first of what is intended to be a series of meetings to assess the current "Women's Pyramid For Play" structure and to discuss possible changes to the Pyramid For Play to benefit female soccer players in the province. The current Pyramid recognizes the W-League at the top with the Ontario Women's Soccer League (OWSL) immediately below the W-League. The OWSL operates Provincial Divisions at the "open age'" and "Under-21" age classifications. It also operates Regional Divisions and Multi-Jurisdictional District Divisions - again at both the "open age" and "Under-21" age classifications. Its Regional Divisions serve the Central Region and South Region but in the past, teams from the West Region have also participated in the OWSL's Regional Divisions. Below the OWSL are four District Leagues: Ottawa-Carleton Soccer League, Toronto S.A. Women's District League, London & Area Women's Soccer League and the South Western Ontario Women's Soccer League. All other women's leagues in Ontario are Club League which operate for recreational teams only.

The Canadian Professional Soccer League (CPSL) has indicated interest in becoming part of the "Women's Pyramid For Play" by operating a Professional Women's Division which would be slotted above the W-League (which is an amateur league). The CPSL applied to the OSA in May 2004 for permission to operate a Professional Women's Division to commence in the 2005 season. However, the CPSL withdrew its application on November 5, 2004. In the latest discussions with the CPSL, the league has advised the OSA that it will be submitting an application to operate a Professional Women's Division to commence in the 2006 season; however, no application has been submitted to date. The CPSL's intent is to occupy the same place in the Women's Pyramid that it occupies in the "Men's Pyramid For Play" in Ontario where it is ranked as the top league within Canada and just below the United Soccer Leagues internationally.

The CPSL has also advised the OSA that it is considering operating a tournament in the 2005 season for District Women's All-Star Teams which is expected to serve as a pilot for its league slated to start in 2006. However to date, the OSA has not received an application for such a tournament. The OSA's League Management Committee has some serious concerns about the negative impact of such a tournament on the current "Women's Pyramid For Play" structure and specifically, on the OWSL. The CPSL's tournament plans call for weekend games spanning three months (June to August) which begins to take the shape of a league competition. However, the OSA is prepared to discuss this proposal as soon as an application is received.

In January, the Hamilton Avalanche Soccer Club submitted an application to play in the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL) - a rival league to the W-League in the USA. However, the Avalanche were unable to obtain club affiliation with the Hamilton & District S.A. and consequently, its application was not eligible to proceed.

Signs of strain are already evident in places like London where the London Gryphons (W-League), London City (CPSL) and London United (OWSL Provincial "Open Age" Division) are competing for the same top players. The OWSL fears that London United (which was a finalist in the 2004 Ontario Cup - Provincial Women's Soccer Championship) will lose out against its higher profile W-League and CPSL opponents.

The League Management Committee intends to address the following questions at the April 2 meeting.
      1. Is the Women's Pyramid already too "top heavy" with the W-League and OWSL at the top and with only four District Leagues at the bottom (as compared to the Men's Pyramid which includes 12 District Leagues)?
      2. Are there too many top level women's leagues being formed?
      3. Can women's soccer in Ontario support the W-League (four teams with expansion plans for six teams), CPSL (a 10-12 team women's pro league), WPSL and the OWSL (with 12 teams in its top provincial "open age" division and another 6 teams in its provincial "Under-21" division)?
      4. What is the impact on the OWSL regarding W-League expansion, introduction of a 10-12 team CPSL league, and team(s) in the WPSL?
      5. Is it time for a professional women's league in Ontario?
      6. What impact would playing in a professional women's league have on an individual player's NCAA eligibility?
      7. From where do the players come to play in a professional women's league? Does Ontario have enough quality women players to support a women's pro loop if the younger elite players opt for NCAA eligibility?
      8. Should the OSA be supporting its teams in USA league(s) or should The OSA be supporting a league developed and controlled by Canadians?
      9. Is there a place for the WPSL in Ontario?
      10. Should the OSA let the market decide by approving teams to play in the W-League, WPSL, CPSL and also endorsing the continuation of the OWSL as its Provincial Women's League and "let the strongest league survive"?
      11. What is the best structure for the women's Pyramid For Play in Ontario?
      12. Do we need a master plan for women's soccer in Ontario?
      13. Can all parties involved in "high level" women's soccer (ie., OWSL, W-League Teams, CPSL) work together and develop a plan for an effective Women's Pyramid For Play in Ontario?

What are the short term and long range plans of all these leagues? In order to answer that question, in mid-February, the OSA requested Position Papers from the CPSL, OWSL and each of the W-League Clubs. The following three Position Papers have now been received from these groups: