Photo: Brian Bahr/Getty

The Columbus Crew’s season is over, but the fight over where they’ll play the 2019 season is becoming increasingly heated. Despite it being a horrendous breach of trust with the city of Columbus and an affront to MLS’ bizarre, artificially deflated business model, MLS czar Don Garber is apparently content with allowing Crew owner Anthony Precourt to pull up stakes and move the team to Austin. Residents of Columbus are not happy with how MLS has facilitated the potential move, and neither is USMNT legend Brian McBride. It’s a mess.

Throughout the process, Columbus leaders have expressed bafflement and frustration with Precourt and Garber over what they see as a complete unwillingness to collaborate. Both sides are accusing each other of negotiating in bad faith. This week, Precourt Sports Ventures released designs for a new stadium in Austin, which their faux grassroots MLS2ATX Facebook page (where I am still banned from commenting) “called an intimate, but open possibility.” The lack of parking is concerning, though Austin residents are probably cool with that since the building would be privately financed and city owned.

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However, a shiny stadium design in Texas doesn’t mean Columbus is done yet. Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine released a statement yesterday on the potential move, and he noted that a law put on the books after Art Modell moved the Browns in 1996 could have bearing on the Crew’s case. The law cited by DeWine states that a sports owner can’t move a team that receives financial assistance from the public without six months notice and can only move after giving the city or another private owner a chance to buy the team:

“The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has reviewed the law passed after the Browns’ move. We believe the evidence will show that this law would apply to the Columbus Crew and Mapfre Stadium. As Attorney General, should ownership of the Columbus Crew initiate a move of the team without complying with Ohio law, I am prepared to take the necessary legal action under this law to protect the interests of the State of Ohio and the central Ohio communities which have all invested to make the Columbus Crew a proud part of our Ohio sports tradition and help Mapfre Stadium earn its reputation as ‘Fortress Columbus.’”

DeWine also sent Precourt a letter claiming his office was “prepared to take the necessary legal action under this law to protect the interests of the State of Ohio.” The law has never been tested in court, and State Representative Mike Duffey, who asked DeWine to look into using the Modell law, really would not like to see the Crew move:

“The fact is, the law is the law, and they’ve got to follow it just like everybody else. They’ve been jerks about everything they’ve done about it. If we want to purchase the team as a town, we’re afforded that right under state law.”

The question of who would take over ownership for Precourt is still an open one, however, and though the Crew do not need a new stadium in the immediate future (despite what Precourt says), using hefty sums of public money isn’t really a better solution. The Ohio chapter of the Koch-funded Americans For Prosperity came out against the state using the Modell law, which means it’s probably a good idea, but even so, it must come with a new ownership group attached, or else Columbus will have to pay up to keep its team in town.

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