The soccer landscape in the U.S. is slowly progressing and with this, every tier in the American soccer pyramid (MLS, NASL, USL, NCAA, Development Academy, etc), must adapt to stay relevant. In Europe many players turn professional by the age of 16 or 17, but in America there’s limited options for high quality players. Besides the small percentage of American players who become pros early, the primary option is playing collegiate soccer. While college soccer is at a relatively high level, these players are only playing competitively for 3-4 months out of the year. If you compare that to the same aged players (18-22) in Europe or the MLS; they’re playing 10-11 months of the year. The disadvantage for these college players is vast and the college coaches are seeking to close the gap.
There’s been a proposed schedule change made by the likes of some of the nation’s top coaches including Sasho Cirovski, Marlon LeBlanc, Dave Masur, and Bobby Clark, amongst others. This revision of the current schedule is being made with the purpose of improving:
– The overall academic, athletic, & social quality of the student-athlete collegiate experience;
– Positively impacting the recruitment, & retention of prospective, & current student-athletes, respectively, by
offering them a model which meets their expectations for both academic & sport development;
– Modernizing the collegiate paradigm from its’ current state, to better parallel the administration of the sport
of soccer, both domestically, and internationally;
– Growing the sport of soccer domestically at the collegiate level, and in particular growing the NCAA College Cup to a level in which many believe can become can become an NCAA revenue sport;
– Reforming an archaic collegiate soccer model for the good of the student-athletes, the fans, the institutions, & the NCAA.
The committee has the beginning date for this new schedule starting for the 2016-17 season, which would see drastic changes across the board. One of the biggest being the 20+ games a team plays in a short 3 month fall season being spread out across two sports seasons (Fall & Spring). The current schedule is overcrowded and unfortunately sees players getting fatigued and injured more frequently than they should be. These injuries also force players to miss the entire season, while this new schedule would allow more time for players to recover.
This prolonged model would see each team play 15 competitions in the fall (2 exhibitions) and 10 (1 exhibition) in the spring with some regulations. Among these regulations would be allowing a maximum of three midweek games per semester and more importantly forcing teams to have a minimum of three nights between games. The latter regulation is essential to recovery and allows players to be playing at 100% all the time. Currently, a team could travel on a Thursday, play a game on a Friday, travel Saturday and then play another game on Sunday. It wears the athletes down and doesn’t allow them to compete at the high level every time they step on the field. This isn’t U-12 soccer; where kids can play four games in a weekend. The point is these student-athletes need a proper restoration period.
Another major component to the model is having the College Cup being moved from December to June. This would make the final weekend a sought-after event at a warm climate enabling college soccer to become a profit sport. The current format where the College Cup is played in December doesn’t provide the athletes or the fans with the best quality of soccer on display. This past College Cup, located in Philadelphia’s PPL Park was played in below freezing conditions, not ideal soccer weather.
Maybe the most crucial factor to the model is the educational benefits. The reduced mid week games and more balanced schedule allow students to minimize their missed class time, therefore positively affecting their grades.
The proposed change has some adversaries of course, citing the sharing of fields in the spring and other details as reasons they are opposed to the model. In general the proposal has received positive feedback from both fans and the student athletes themselves. In fact, 86% of current men’s soccer players from ten different institutions approved of the schedule change.
Regardless, I feel the schedule would be a great step forward for the NCAA and American soccer in general. Share your thoughts.
Ben Roth is a contributing writer for College Soccer News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the proposed model visit, http://www.wvusports.com/content/files/General/Mens-Soccer-Presentation.pdf