Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Making Sense of USSF Electoral Math

OK, I'm diving into the challenge of trying to understand that incredibly arcane mathematics of the upcoming US Soccer Federation presidential election. As a reminder and disclaimer, I am the co-President of the Board of Directors of FC Boulder, a member of the Colorado Soccer Association, which in turn is a member of USSF. This analysis however is done in my professional capacity as a professor who studies arcane things like US Olympic NGB elections.

The below analysis is preliminary and I welcome corrections or clarifying information. I'll update this post as new information becomes available. Some details on the election process can be found in the Office Election Abstract (here in PDF) prepared by US Soccer. This post by Anthony DiCicco is also a useful resource. Paul Kennedy has some similar data from the 2017 USSF AGM here.

Those eligible to vote in the upcoming USSF election are called "delegates" as members of the USSF "National Council" as defined by the 2017-2018 USSF Bylaws. In 2016 USSF identified 534 delegates eligible to vote, as indicated in the memo reproduced below. These numbers will no doubt be slightly different for 2018, but they give us a basis to explore weightings.

US federal law (Ted Stephens Amateur Athletics Act 1978) under which USSF operates as an Olympic sport governing body requires that athletes have at least 20% of voting authority. To fulfill this requirement USSF employs weights to the votes of its delegates. Not every individual delegate's vote is equal to another's - a shocker, I know.

There are five categories of delegates, listed below with their allocated 2016 delegates, each represents a person:
  • Youth Council (291)
  • Adult Council (191)
  • Professional Council (14)
  • Athletes (4)
  • Other (34)
These totaled 534 delegates. 

Because athletes have only 4/534 of the delegates (0.75%) USSF in 2016 implemented a weighting system that gives 20% of the vote to the athlete delegates as follows (USSF uses two decimal places so I will also). Each number below represents a vote:
  • Youth Council (291 - 25.64%)
  • Adult Council (291 - 25.64%)
  • Professional Council (291 - 25.64%)
  • Athletes (228 -20.09%)
  • Other (34 - 3.00%)
After the 2016 weighting, there were 1135 possible votes. The three councils each get 25.64% of the vote and are tasked under USSF Bylaws with determining how each allocates the votes of their delegates. 

For the Professional Council's 25.64% share, the vote weighting inside the Pro Council is interesting:
  • MLS 9 - 64.29%
  • NWSL 3 - 21.43%
  • NASL 1 - 7.14%
  • USLPRO 1 - 7.14%
The MLS and its minor league USL together get 71.43% of the 14 votes that it uses to determine the overall Professional Council vote. This means that MLS/USL is responsible for 18.31% of the overall presidential vote (that is 71.43% of 25.64%). The NWSL (the professional woman's league) gets 5.49% of the overall presidential vote (a bias pointed out by Anthony DiCicco among others).

We can do some rough math as to how many other votes are possibly controlled by MLS. 

  • Among the "Other" votes (which include USSF Board members, past presidents, life members etc.) MLS clearly has 3/34 and could easily have half or more of the total, or between 0.26% and >1.5% of the overall presidential vote.
  • Each of the 4 Athlete delegates is responsible for about 5% of the overall presidential vote. There are 8 of 20 members of the USSF Athlete Council who played in the MLS pyramid. While it is not clear how the council allocates its votes or who (or how many) the delegates will be (or who they might vote for), it is reasonable to assume that half or more of the delegates (maybe as much as 15% of the overall presidential vote) will come from former players in the MLS pyramid. It is not difficult to imagine an interest among some in supporting MLS priorities.
So without even considering the Youth or Adult Councils we can estimate that MLS interests control 18.31% + 1.5% + 15% or about 35% of the overall vote (on the lower end this is about 29%).

If so, this would mean that MLS may only need 24% of delegates among Youth and Adult Councils to secure a 50% majority for its preferred candidate. Put another way, 75% of the Youth and Adult Councils could vote against MLS interests and still lose the election. That is just math.

Some initial conclusions:
  • The USSF election procedure is ridiculously and unnecessarily complicated;
  • There is a huge bias against women;
  • There is a huge bias in favor of MLS;
  • Some of the potential problems in the arcane process could be mitigated with open (not secret) ballots. Let's see who everyone votes for;
  • I'll be surprised if MLS does not get their preferred candidate.
Comments welcomed!


  1. Certainly some issues to consider here, but also a few points to correct:

    1. The Athletes Council has only seven (not 12) players with MLS experience: Bocanegra, Ching, Guzan, Holden, John, O'Brien and Spector. Of those, only Ching spent more than half his career in MLS. John has spent the last 10 years in Europe; Spector just joined MLS after a long career in Europe.

    The rest of the Athletes' Council:

    10 former WNT players: Boxx, Holiday, Hucles, Lindsay, Markgraf, O'Reilly, Osborne, Rampone, Tarpley, Wagner

    2 Paralympians: Ahrens, Sibayan

    1 indoor / beach soccer player: Perera

    2. I'm not sure I agree that the USSF procedure is unnecessarily complicated. There are a lot of stakeholders here. The law requiring 20% representation for athletes is a necessary complication -- they could either try to get hundreds of athletes to show up as delegates so they won't be weighted as heavily or force the states to designate a small number of delegates, which wouldn't sit well.

    3. The bias against women is absolutely an issue, especially within the states (very few women involved there, which is also why only one woman (Evelyn Gill) has repped the Adult or Youth Council (or the At-Large spot) on the Board in its current incarnation. It's also an issue, as Paul Caligiuri has raised most pointedly, on the Pro Council. It's tough to make a case for more NASL representation, and NISA is not yet operational, but it's tough to defend the limited vote for the NWSL. (Which, to be clear, includes some owners who also own MLS clubs.)

    4. We've had some interesting debate about open vs. secret ballots. You make the case in favor of open ballots. The case against: Many people haven't wanted to make their opinions public for fear of reprisals. It's a dilemma.

    5. I will be surprised if Kathy Carter wins. The states have been uneasy for some time, and they have roughly 50% of the vote. The athletes -- again, not as beholden to MLS as one might think -- sound less likely to vote as a bloc, and I can report that there's certainly some discontent with the status quo there. (Also, we have several former athletes running -- athletes may be just as inclined to vote for a former teammate as they would for a past employer who no longer holds any sway over them.)

    1. Thanks, really excellent comments. Steve Bank already caught the error in MLS players (there are not even 12 men on the Athlete's Council so not sure when that gremlin came from), and I clarified in an update. The action of course will be in the subset chosen to cast the 4 or 6 or ? ballots for the athletes. I'm venturing that half of these will be MLS guys. We shall see.

      This is a really interesting comment: "Many people haven't wanted to make their opinions public for fear of reprisals."

      I have no doubt it is true, but it is a really, really sad statement about the actual or at least expected behavior of (some in) USSF.

      Impossible to read the tea leaves, but I'm guessing Carter wins, not based on any inside info, just because the math appears so favorable to her candidacy if in fact Garber and Gulati are serving as vote whips.

      Thanks again.

  2. I know that the Athletes Council is trying to get more people to the meeting this year. They might not get all 20 (Heather O'Reilly has a game in London the next day), but I wouldn't be surprised to see 10 or more.

    I haven't been able to get a sense about whether the fear of reprisals is genuine or overblown.