A soccer news round up in Monday's online edition of the New York Daily News starts with a mention of Gareth Bale's back problems and then, as something of an afterthought, throws in word that Major League Soccer wants to go to a European-style schedule as early as next year.
The news gets worse. The same report posits that MLS league play would start in August and stretch through May or June like the major European club leagues do, but with one significant departure in the form of a six-to-eight week break in December and January on account of the obvious weather problems in cities like Toronto, Montreal, Seattle, Portland, Denver, Kansas City...and most other teams in the league.
Stories built on the backs of unnamed sources should usually be treated with a healthy amount of skepticism, but the half-hearted manner in which the MLS tried to shoot down the story suggests there may be something to it.
The schedule change has always been the subject of conjecture because FIFA has made its disdain for the MLS summer format no secret over the years.
But why would the MLS take suggestions from a man like Sepp Blatter, the visionary who decided that a World Cup in Qatar was a good idea, despite all its conspicuous problems? For all the strides MLS has made in boosting attendance for many of its clubs, a switch to a winter schedule would be disastrous.
The first reason is obvious and stated above: Who wants to brave 15-degree days to head out to Dick's Sporting Goods Park to watch the Colorado Rapids take on Toronto FC? Worse, what if that game is played in Toronto? Sure, the hardcore supporters might enjoy it. But MLS attendance is supported in no insignificant way by parents who bring their children in tow. For some of them, MLS is a nice way to sit outside during a nice summer evening while their kids take in a game.
The token two-month break contemplated for December and January accomplishes little to solving the North American winter weather riddle. February is often the worst weather month in Midwestern cities like Kansas City and Chicago, to say nothing of places like Salt Lake, Denver and further north into Philadelphia and Montreal.
The other obvious problem is television. The MLS is a league that hasn't made meaningful strides in boosting television ratings during a schedule format where it usually competes largely against baseball. To have weekend games track against the National Football League, NCAA football and basketball, the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association (and others we're probably missing) surely can't thrill the league's television partners. Or maybe they won't care that much because sports networks typically have little trouble filling air time with live competition during those months. And given MLS ratings compared to say, ACC basketball, it's clear that the domestic soccer league won't win in a scheduling conflict against Duke-Georgia Tech hoops.
The current MLS schedule has never been a dream scenario and the league's refusal at times to consider international breaks has been a problem for the league. But it's the best that the relatively nascent league can and should do. And the way it handled last November's snowy playoff tilt between the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United suggests the league is not ready to handle a higher volume of bad weather.
And does anyone remember how empty the stands looked after the Rapids home opener against the Philadelphia Union this year after days of heavy snow?
It would be a shame if Don Garber is indeed exploring a change in format for any upcoming season. To do so could unravel much of the progress MLS has made under his watch.