An impartial arbitrator ruled that 22 NWSL players are eligible for free agency, beginning immediately. The news was announced on Monday by the NWSL and NWSL Players Association.
Arbitration was required after the NWSL and NWSLPA disagreed about the interpretation of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The NWSL argued that players whose contract included a pending option year (I.e. their club had the option to extend their 2022 contract through 2023) were not eligible for free agency until November 15, while the NWSLPA argued that the option year needed to have been exercised prior to the start of free agency (August 26), otherwise the player was a free agent.
The arbitrator ruled in favor of the NWSLPA. Because none of the 22 players whose status was in dispute received written notice from the NWSL about their club’s intent to exercise the option on their contract, they are all free agents, retroactive to August 26. 2022.
“Those days were in the middle of a pretty hectic week for the players,” NWSLPA executive director Meghann Burke told On Her Turf. “… It feels good to have a decision and have this finality. And, of course, we’re happy that these 22 veterans are officially free agents.”
While the dispute went to arbitration, both the NWSL and NWSLPA praised the process.
“This was an honest and respectful disagreement, and we utilized the dispute resolution mechanism in our collective bargaining agreement which is fair and impartial,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement.
“Every once in a while, there’s going to be an issue that comes along where we just have an honest, good faith disagreement on an interpretation of the contract. And that’s what this was,” echoed Burke. “… It’s refreshing to have (the arbitration process) and we’re happy to have it.”
Free agency was one of the NWSLPA’s major wins in the league’s first ever CBA, signed earlier this year. Thanks to the CBA, 48 NWSL players (the 22 announced today, plus 26 whose status was undisputed) are able to solicit offers from other teams and negotiate new contracts. They may begin signing contracts with new clubs beginning on November 15.
There are another 50-plus NWSL players who have six or more years of service, but because they are in the middle of multi-year contracts that expire after December 31, 2022, they are not eligible for free agency until the year their contract expires.
Prior to the CBA signing, there was no official process that allowed NWSL players — no matter how many years they had played in the league — to solicit offers from other teams and decide where they want to continue their careers. While some players tried — and succeeded — to negotiate trades behind-the-scenes or request that their club release them, there were no guarantees.
“The club might respect [a player’s] opinion on being traded and may choose [to listen], but overall, we don’t have that right,” NWSLPA President Tori Huster told On Her Turf last year, amid CBA negotiations.
The newly declared NWSL free agents are:
- Lauren Barnes
- Katie Bowen
- Danielle Colaprico
- Jaelene Daniels
- Vanessa DiBernardo
- Makenzy Doniak
- Morgan Gautrat
- Tobin Heath
- Rachel Hill
- Kaitlyn Johnson
- Estelle Johnson
- Domi Richardson
- Katelyn Rowland
- Sophie Schmidt
- Christine Sinclair
- Meredith Speck
- Jasmyne Spencer
- Nicole Stanton
- Jodie Taylor
- Arin Wright
- McCall Zerboni
These 22 players join the 26 whose free agency status was not in dispute (full list here). Beginning next year, NWSL players with five years of service will become eligible for free agency.
Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC