Twenty some-odd years ago there were two bright young sports marketing executives toiling for the NFL; Roger Goodell and Don Garber. Everyone knows that they each ended up as the commissioner of a professional league; Goodell at the NFL and Garber at MLS.
But until last week nobody suspected that it was MLS who got the stupid one.
First of all, let's dispense with Garber's patent lies about how Anthony "Fratboy McTrustfund" Precourt is simply "exploring his options in Austin" but that "no decision has been made":
In 2013 when Precourt bought the team, he was granted the legal right to move the Crew to Texas. He has decided to exercise that right and nobody can stop him. Garber arranged it, Garber got the owners to approve it and Garber has worked hard to make sure it happens.
Is that plain enough for you?
There's no real point in rehearsing the litany of lies and deceits that Precourt and Garber have engaged in: how Precourt registered his sports company in Austin, not in Columbus. Or how in 2014 he switched the Crew's USL affiliate from Dayton (90miles away) to Austin (2000 miles away) where no team even existed. Or how Precourt signed a TV deal that made it impossible for most fans to ever see a game. Or how he cancelled all team advertising, fired most of the office staff and cancelled the traditional team promotions which had been highly successful for years and replaced them with: nothing.
It's hardly surprising that when Twellman and Delacamera invited Fratboy to the booth at halftime last Thursday to explain what is going on he refused to speak with them. Hard to blame him.
Then of course there's Garber himself whose only comment has been the aforementioned "nothing has been decided" lie and the claim that he himself will be meeting with officials in Columbus "in the next couple of weeks".
Except that "officials in Columbus" have been unable to get him to actually commit to a meeting or set a date. His only apparent response to their request for a meeting has been to inform the "Columbus Partners" group that if they didn't stop talking to the media about all of this he would refuse to EVER talk with them.
So they shut up but Garber is still refusing to respond to their requests.
Meanwhile, Garber and other MLS staff have met with officials in Austin on numerous occasions over the past year while Precourt has spent so much time there that he's going to have to get his driver's license changed over. Now they're promoting a fan event in Austin tomorrow called "An Evening with Dave Greeley", the utterly creepy Grima Wormtongue of Precourt Sports Ventures and the man whom Peter Wilt famously called a m**********r to his face before stomping out of a meeting in Chicago.
I ran across this picture last week.
It's a photo of a "fan meetup" in support of MLS2ATX, the Astroturf supporters group that PSV created last August before any of this was made public.
I'll leave aside the snark about the massive outpouring of support (this was immediately after Precourt announced the move; there must be literally a dozen people there), or the Austin "hipsters" we keep hearing about who seem to be out taking a leak (probably from all those ultra-hip cans of Coors) and instead focus on the brand new scarves that were apparently for sale.
Something about them look familiar?
It displays an MLS trademarked logo - try that yourself and see how long it takes their lawyers to send you a threat - that's been professionally adopted for Austin, it's identical to the "split logo" style used for MLS teams and from the obvious quality and heft it would appear to actually be an adidas-made, MLS designed and approved licensed product for MLS Austin.
Which didn't happen in the 3 days between the announcement and the event.
Wanting to be fair, I contacted numerous normally quite responsive MLS officials inquiring as to whether this was indeed MLS merch. Today marks a week with no reply whatsoever.
So how bad a "PR disaster" (to borrow a phrase from Taylor Twellman) has this whole thing become?
Bad enough that #savethecrew was the theme of ESPN College Football Gameday last Saturday.
Bad enough that the Men in Blazers show used a Crew logo as a backdrop for their entire show this week. (They even used the old Construction Workers version which has become a fan symbol of resistance since Precourt got rid of it).
Bad enough so that every single MLS stadium had #savethecrew signage up last weekend and broadcasters weren't at all shy about showing them. Other fan groups wore black armbands or yellow hardhats or shirts.
At least Goodell can get the networks to break for commercial during National Anthem protests, but Garber doesn't get anything like that kind of deference from his TV partners.
Which brings us to tonight's game in Columbus. How hard was Garber pulling for the Five Stripes last week to make going back to CBus unnecessary? Fortunately for him of course he can - and certainly will - be absent this evening. But one wonders how Precourt can possibly show his fat, smirking little crapweasel face anywhere in the building.
That, as much as anything, is Garber's current legacy in all of this: he has cleverly arranged it so that an MLS owner doesn't dare show up in his own stadium.
Great work Don.
Still, when it comes to weapons-grade stupid, nothing can top Don's self-inflicted problem with San Antonio, which will surely end up in court, generating even more bad PR and probably costing the league a fortune.
Last December, with the deadline for expansion applications looming, our boy Don assembled a committee to evaluate the bids and, inexplicably, he made Precourt one of the members.
He then solicited, encouraged and accepted a bid from San Antonio, who - based on Garber's assurances of good faith - committed five million bucks to the purchase of Toyota Stadium. Garber also assured them that the league would not be taking teams from both Austin and SA.
What they weren't told was that a member of the committee responsible for evaluating the bids was a guy who already had a signed contract with MLS allowing him to put a team in Austin. In other words, before they ever spent a dime on a bid for a team, they had already lost.
This is known politely as "not negotiating in good faith". Not so politely, it's called fraud.
Apparently Garber thought San Antonio would overlook the fact that he had stacked the deck against them. He was mistaken.
A powerful Judge and politician in San Antonio - he's a former member of the Texas house and senate as well as a former Mayor of SA - Nelson Wolff, has instructed the district attorney to explore this whole deal with a view to filing both civil and criminal charges against MLS in general and Don Garber in particular.
He feels they were cheated and lied to. And he's entirely correct: they were.
Yesterday, the Mayor of San Antonio announced that his legal people would be conducting an investigation as well. And that's not even getting into the fact that the City of Columbus and the State of Ohio may also have grounds for a lawsuit.
You can't just go through life lying to everybody about everything because you're determined to rid your little league of a town in flyover country that your Queens New York ass doesn't feel adds to your personal perception of "Major League".
MLS issued a brief response yesterday saying that they disagree that San Antonio was ever promised a team. Which is not, of course, what San Antonio is claiming, but never mind. It's lies all the way down.
So what the hell happened here?
Well, it's not really complicated.
Garber made this secret deal with Precourt to mug Columbus and move their team to Austin Texas but he didn't want anyone to know about it.
Then, when they opened up the bidding process for expansion teams and San Antonio wanted in, our man Don was stuck between a rock and a hard place. So Garber actually sent league officials, including league President Mark Abbott - I can recommend a good lawyer, bud - to meet with local government and Spurs officials, tour the facilities and say nice sounding things about SA landing a team.
It was all a lie. A fraud. Call it Expansion Kabuki.
Garber couldn't tell SA that Austin was already going to get a team since that would let the cat out of the bag vis a vie Columbus and he wasn't ready to play that card. Apparently he planned on waiting until after the expansion process was completed, SA had been turned down for some reason they would make up when necessary and then, when the dust had settled, they'd go ahead and have Precourt announce that he was going to "exercise his option".
Maybe they planned on claiming that Precourt had held off on his move out of respect for San Antonio's bid. Once you start lying to everybody,it all starts to come easily.
Apparently, Precourt jumped the gun. We have no idea why.
Garber told the Spurs that Precourt had "gone rogue" and Merritt Paulson Tweeted that "nobody is happy about this", but what it really amounted to was that Fratboy decided he didn't want to wait for permission. He has a contract that says he can move the team and thats what he's going to do.
So what's the end game here?
Well, there aren't a lot of good options.
They can't make Precourt stay in Columbus. He has a contract that says he gets to move to Austin and that's what he is going to do. Anyone tells you different or that nothing has been decided, they're - yes - lying.
They could try and force Precourt to sell the team to Columbus Partners, who offered to buy it and, failing that, offered to buy half of it for $75 million. Since Richie Rich paid $68 million for the thing four years ago that's a pretty healthy return.
They also offered him an immediate $ 2 million sponsorship package, land for a stadium and much more to come on top of that. This is the offer which Precourt rejected as "not serious".
If they can't make him sell, then it's likely they're going to have to pay a big stack of money to San Antonio to settle a case which is a sure loser in court. This will undoubtedly infuriate the other owners, but they're the ones who let Garber run this game and they're stuck with him.
Either way, Garber's contract only has a little over a year left to run, and when this is allover his credibility with the entire soccer community will be so shot to hell that he'll almost certainly decide that he needs to spend more time with his grandchildren.
Which will be cold consolation for Columbus, who deserved much better than this public knifing from a couple of liars who set them up four years ago, and that includes, sadly, Clark Hunt.
Betrayal is an ugly thing.
*Edited to reflect that it was MLS President Mark Abbott who met with San Antonio officials in Texas, not Dan Courtemanche.