The U.S. Soccer president’s salary is $0. There’s a growing push to change that
The top American football official spends weeks in an endless stream of meetings and phone calls. She regularly flies planes and pores over paperwork. She scans emails and chats with supporters. She chairs a powerful board of directors and oversees a sprawling workforce, as well as negotiating controversial understandings and landmark commercial contracts – and for all of this, for more than 40 hours of hard work and several days a week, Cindy Parlow Cone gets $0.
As president of the US Football Federation, she is primarily responsible for setting the course for the world’s most popular sport in the world’s most powerful sports nation. However, this position has not been paid for more than a century. It is a relic of the federation’s humble past, with a range of modern justifications. But there is growing recognition, at least in some American football sectors, that the volunteer nature of the role is somewhere on the Venn diagram unfair, exclusionary and ridiculous.
So, ahead of the US Soccer 2023 Annual General Meeting (AGM), there is an increased push to change it.
On March 18, in the massive Sapphire Ballroom at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, US Soccer members will vote on a proposal to amend the federation’s bylaws and pay the president $150,000 a year plus benefits. A similar proposal last year missed several percentage points for the required supermajority. But sources familiar with various member delegations believe this year’s weighted vote will be closer, perhaps around the 66.7% needed to pass the bylaw amendment.
At first glance, the increasingly popular explanation seems obvious. “As the US Football Federation has continued to grow in terms of reach and prominence in recent decades, the office of president has become a full-time position,” wrote Juan Uro, the board member who proposed the amendment. an annual compendium of reports distributed to members.
However, there remains staunch resistance to a payment to the President, especially among senior administrators who run the state’s youth and senior football associations, many of whom have devoted thousands of hours of their volunteer hours to improving the sport. Their opposition in some way speaks to a wider divide between them and the federation and raises a broader question: what exactly should US Soccer be and what exactly should its president do?
‘Iit’s not without significant personal sacrifice’
Once upon a time, the presidency of US Soccer was truly volunteer work. In fact, “until very recently,” as then-president Carlos Cordeiro said in 2019, “we were still running US Soccer like it was some 50-member organization lacking some kind of kitchen.” Because for a time, before its exponential growth in the 21st century, it was.
Its CEO, who is also the General Secretary, was and is responsible for the day-to-day management and implementation of the concept. The president has always defined that vision, but “the responsibilities are more of a chairman than anything else,” said Bob Contiguglia, a now retired nephrologist who was in private practice when he was president from 1998 to 2006. “This is a ceremonial job. ”
Or at least it is was. Then Sunil Gulati came along and treated it like a full-time job from 2006 to 2018. As did his successor, Cordeiro.
So the role developed, perhaps irreversibly. Gulati and Cordeiro were able to do this because they were respectively flex-time college professors and retired Goldman Sachs executives. Many began to worry that the crowd of qualified candidates didn’t have time for an endless stream of responsibilities or wealth to prioritize or even leave their “day job” to create enough time.
“We think the way the position is currently structured is exceptional in terms of who can actually pitch,” Chris Ahrens, chairman of the influential US Soccer Athletes’ Council, said at last year’s AGM in a short speech defending amendment to the statute. He argued that by not offering the president a salary, “I think we’re missing out on some really potentially great candidates who could fill that role for us in the future.”
Cone, who has a young son and is still director of a youth football club in North Carolina, somehow found the time—but hardly. Last summer, the Athletes’ Council asked her assistant to keep a record of working hours related to football in the United States. A time study found that from July to November, she spent an average of 12-14 hours a week on scheduled meetings, 18-24 hours on unscheduled calls, and nine hours reading email or documents, Ahrens said. Then there were travels—an average of three days a week—which sometimes took her across the country or even across the ocean. And on top of that, her real work.
“Cindy made the choice to believe in her mission and she was successful,” said Michael Caron, US Soccer board member and president of the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO). “But it’s not without significant personal sacrifice.”
The charter amendment, its supporters argue, is not only fair to Cone and her possible successors. A $150,000 salary and allowance would also allow them to make the presidency their only job and therefore devote more time to the mission.
“And by the way,” Caron said, “if you really believe in things like diversity and inclusion, you can’t narrow it down. You have to expand the pool in terms of accessibility and accessibility.” In the current structure, most people without economic privilege or professional flexibility could not even think of running in elections.
“Not compensating [the] the president,” Uro wrote, “will discriminate against candidates for certain groups (for example, age, socio-economic).”
Protecting the status quo
The counterarguments to all this vary both in motive and merit.
Proponents of the status quo point to the national governing bodies of other sports in the US, most or all of which do not pay their chairman of the board. (Counterpoint: most of them are nowhere near as great as US Soccer.)
They also point out the best practices for the non-profit organizations that USSF is. “The IRS does not approve of the pay of directors of non-profit boards,” said Contiguglia, who opposes the amendment “strongly.”
And they point out that while the role doesn’t offer a salary, it does come with significant power and prestige, as well as the ability to make money elsewhere. Gulati served for many years on the boards of CONCACAF and FIFA, which pay members $125,000 and $250,000 per year, respectively. Gulati and Cordeiro also developed close ties with international football figures and have since used their relationship and experience in working with UEFA, football’s European governing body. and FIFArespectively.
Cone’s network is smaller, and her status as president of US Soccer doesn’t automatically mean either of those positions. But last month she was elected to the CONCACAF Council, essentially the board that oversees football in North and Central America. She will now receive $125,000 in annual compensation, which is another reason why some believe that US Soccer should not pay her.
The prevailing rationale, however, is partly altruistic, partly personal. Many of the people who run amateur football associations across the country and vote at annual general meetings are not paid themselves. They see service to American football, whether in the top seat of the federation or at a lower level, as an honor and a privilege, a passionate project to improve the sport.
“I would advise you that our clubs, tens of thousands of clubs led by volunteer presidents — [they] probably spend as much time in their work lives as they do in their volunteer work,” said Dave Guthrie, chief executive of Indiana Soccer, at last year’s AGM. “So I don’t know what that excuse is [for paying the USSF president] remains true if we somehow don’t want to pay all of our presidents of all of our member organizations. Which I don’t think we’re ready for.”
‘TMore important issue: are you on my side?
The natural rebuttal to this fallacious logic would be that the US Soccer presidency is a much more prestigious, highly effective, and time-consuming position. Also, the whole point of paying any federation employee, be it a high-ranking official or an entry-level coordinator, is to allow that person to grow the sport. In theory, the president will work to support and align the missions of all players in the football ecosystem; wages maximize their ability to do the job.
However, the deeper issue is that many in the ecosystem feel they are being ignored by the federation.
“Youth and adult organizations in the United States are almost completely unsupported,” North Texas Football Association president Janet Campbell said at last year’s AGM.
“If the grassroots, as a group of people, believed that what the federation was doing added value to membership, I doubt [paying the president] will be a big challenge,” said Karon, president of AYSO. “But that’s not the opinion that is widely held.”
Caron, who leans in favor of the amendment, further explains: “What do the rank and file care about? [They care about], “How can I get more referees on the field? How can I train them? How to train trainers? How to make sure children are safe? How do I create registration systems that organize children on the field with a minimum of…