The National Women's Soccer League has announced its official roster rules and competition rules and regulations for the 2018 season just nine days before the regular season starts on March 24. The vast majority of the documents have remained the same over the past few seasons, but there are notable changes to the system.
The short and skinny of unchanged rules
The main body of the text is the same as it was in 2017. Teams are still allowed to carry 18-20 players, and all allocated players have their salaries paid by their respective federations - either the United States or Canadian soccer federations. If a team has fewer than 18 players being paid by the team, the team's salary cap will be reduced by one minimum salary player for every player under 18. This prevents teams blessed with extra allocated players from gaining an unfair salary advantage over the rest of the league.
Each team is still allowed four international player slots. Those slots have been traded around the league so thoroughly that nobody really knows where they are, but there are a total of 36 (four slots and nine teams) international players permitted to play in the NWSL in 2018.
The folding of the Boston Breakers and subsequent Dispersal Draft may impact these numbers, but it is not enshrined in the document.
Continued improvement in player pay?
The salary cap in 2018 has been raised from $315,000 to $350,000 per team. That improvement is certainly welcomed by the players, but upon further analysis, you might note that the total salary cap of all NWSL teams is the exact same as it was in 2017. In 2017 there were 10 teams with $315k (or $3.15 million) and in 2018 there are 9 teams with $350k (or $3.15 million). Thus, the NWSL lost one team and redistributed their cap amongst the remaining teams. It's the right thing to do, but it doesn't change the bottom line player pay.
With the increase in salary cap came an increase in minimum and maximum salaries. The minimum salary increased from $15,000 to $15,750 while the maximum salary increased from $41,700 to $44,000. In conjunction with the increased salary cap, this means that teams are better able to pay players above the minimum salary. This season teams have an extra $67,400 above minimum salary, assuming each team pays 20 players, but last season they had just $45,000 to distribute above minimum.
The newly founded players union for non-allocated players will certainly push for an increase in the net salary cap in 2019 instead of a redistribution of the same money.
A pre-determined championship site
While this is not a change from 2017, it is worth noting that the NWSL has once again decided to determine the location of the 2018 NWSL Championship Game in advance. There are both advocates and opponents of the system, but the decision to choose the location of the game rather than leaving it up to chance has definite benefits.
For one, it is easier for the league and LifeTime to market the championship if they know where it will be held months in advance. Second, it removes the possibility of poorly equipped or low-capacity stadiums hosting the league's championship.
Opponents of the plan suggest that the atmosphere of a home crowd and the enthusiasm it brings are enough to overcome those potential deficits.
Increased heat-related precautions
After Rachel Daly collapsed after a midday game broadcast on LifeTime in Houston last season the league became more strict about water breaks and which games were played during the hottest hours of the day. The 2018 NWSL season schedule already reflected these changes by moving the vast majority of Southern state games out of the 3:30 pm window. In addition to planning changes, the NWSL developed an extensive "Extreme Heat Policy" section of their regulations. In that section of the document, the league has specifically outlined circumstances and protocols to following in the event of extreme heat. With the NWSL season played over the summer, it was a necessary addition.