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A Look By Conference At The Current Status Of The 2020 College Soccer Season

A new season is dawning for college soccer coast to coast. Conferences across the country have begun to clarify their plans for the upcoming 2020 season. The new normal due to COVID-19 results in somewhat different approaches to ensure the health, safety and well-being of student-athletes. The information below is an effort to sort out the current status of individual conferences based on the information currently available. Uncertain and unprecedented times mean that conferene plans, including season start dates, are subject to change. In addition, some conference's have not finalized their plans which could impact the information provided below.   


On August 13 the NCAA annoucned that they will not hold D1 fall championships this year. This impacts both men's and women's soccer. On August 21 the NCAA anounced that they would work toward hosting scaled back fall championships in the spring.

On September 21 the NCAA Divsion 1 Counsel approved a proposal to move the 2020 fall championships to the spring of 2021 for men's and women's soccer. That proposal now goes to the Division 1 Board of Directors for approval. The proposal provides that the men's tournament field would be reduced from forty-eight to thirty-six teams. The women's tournament field would change from sixty-four teams to forty-eight.  


American Athletic - On August 25 the American Athletic Conference postoponed all competition and conference championships in men's and women's soccer until the spring of 2021.  


America East - Season postponed for the duration of the first semester. Training and practices wil be permitted at each institution's discretion in adherance with NCAA rules and local and state health and safety guidelines. 


Atlantic Coast - Conference schedules must include six games. Any additional games against conference opponents are at the school's discretion. Schools can continue to schedule regular season cross country competition at their discretion.  Competition may begin on September 10.  On September 1 the Boston College men's soccer team made the decison not to compete in any matches in the Fall.  


Atlantic Sun -  On August 14 the ASUN Conference postponed all ASUN Regular Season and Championship competition for the 2020 fall semester. This includes men's and women's soccer. Providing a sprind season for the fall sports remains an ASUN priority.  


Atlantic 10 - All fall contests have been postponed. The conference has agreed to a "look-in" window mid-September, allowing for a potentially truncated competitive schedule amongst conference opponents if the COVID-19 risk has substantly been reduced. 


Big East -  On August 12 the Big East Conference announed fall sports and competition will not be conducted in 2020. This includes both men's and womens soccer. The Big East will begin to explore conducting fall sports during the spring season if conditions allow.   


Big South - On August 12 the Big South Conference announced it is delaying its fall sports season with the intent of playing in the spring. This includes men's and women's soccer. Member institutions may continue with permissable athletics activities, as defined by NCAA regulations and with the exception of fall sport competition, at their own discretion and in accordance with applicable local and state regulations and procedures.  


Big Ten - On August 11 the Big Ten Conference  announced the postponement of the 2020-21 fall sports season including all regular-season contests and Big Ten Championships and Tournaments. This includes men's and women's soccer. The Big Ten Conference will continue to evaluate a number of options including the possibility of competition in the spring. 


Big West - Fall sports competition postponed through the end of the calendar year. Whether fall sport competition will be feasible in the spring will be determined by the Board of Directors at a later date based on conditions in existence. 


Colonial Athletic Association - No fall conference schedule. Members of the conference, however, are allowed to purse independent schedules. 


Conference USA - On August 21 Conference USA moved all sports to the spring of 2021 with the exception of college football.  


Horizon League - On August 13 the Horizon League postponed fall competiton for the fall season. This includes men's and women's soccer. A decision on whether fall sport competion can take place in the spring will be determined at a later date. Decisions relating to training and practices will be left to individual institutions in accoradance with NCAA regulations, state and institutional guidelines.  


Ivy League - The fall sports season has been cancelled. No determination has been made as to whether fall sports will be eventually re-scheduled for the spring semester, or cancelled altogether. Training and some organized team practices will be permitted provided they are structured in accordance with each institution's procedures and applicable state regulations.


Metro Atlantic Athletic - The fall sports season has been cancelled. A decision on whether fall sports competition will be feasible in the spring will be determined by the conference presidents at a later date. 


Mid-American - On August 8 the MAC announced the postponement of all fall sports. 


Missouri Valley -  On August 14 the MVC postponed conference schedules and championships in all MVC sponsored fall sports. This includes men's and women's soccer. The MVC will continue to evaluate options for conductiong MVC competion for fall sports in the spring. Participation in nonconference competiton, practices, strength and conditioning sessions, will be allowed consistent with institutional polices, public health guidelines and NCAA and Conference regulations. 


Northeast - No competition in the fall season. A decision regarding the possibility of fall teams playing in the spring semester has not been made.


Pacific-12 - On August 11 the Pac-12 Conference postponed all sport competitions through the end of the 2020 calendar year. 


Patriot League - No competition in the fall season. However Army and Navy may continue to engage in competitive opportunities as considered appropriate by their respective superintendents. Conditioning, strength training and other practice opportunities will be permitted provided health and safety conditions support such activities.  Decisions regarding the possibility of conducting fall sports during the spring semester will be made at a later date. 


Southern - On August 13 the Southern Conference postponed fall conference competition, allowing for nonconference contests if desired. This impacts men's and women's soccer. The intention if feasible is to move the fall sports' regular-season competition and championships to the spring. 


Summit League - On August 10 the Summit League voted to postpone the regular season and championships for all sports to the spring of 2021. This includes men's and women's soccer. Training and practice opportuniteis for the affected sports will be based upon NCAA regularions and local health and safety guidelines.  


Sun Belt - First permissable date of competition is September 3. Rescheduling of contests due to these adjustments will be determined by each member institution.


Western Athletic - On August 13 the Western Athletic Conference voted to suspend all fall championship and non-championship competition through the end of the calendar year. This includes men's and women's soccer.  Conditioning, strength training and other practice opportunities will be permitted per institutional discretion.   


West Coast - On August 13 the WCC postponed all conference fall competition. This includes both men's and womens soccer. The WCC intends to explore various models for conducting WEE competition in fall sports in the spring of 2021.  


The 2020 College Soccer Season. How The Coronavirus May Shake Things Up.

There are still a lot of big picture unknowns. Much is in limbo right now as reflected in the recent decison of Ivy League to place all sports on hold until at least January. Whether other conferences follow suit remains to be seen. The coronavirus crisis will eventually be in the rearview mirror but in the meantime there will be a new normal during the 2020 college soccer season.

Projecting ahead, the impact of the abbreviated spring season, the inability of players to participate in team related play during the offseason, and the changes that will occur in preseason training sessions will likely vary among programs. The new normal may shift the relative standing of teams and conferences in 2020.

The following factors are among those that have the potential to have a greater impact on team performance in 2020 than in the past.

Learning Curves could be extended further into regular season play for those teams that have a lot of newcomers in key roles. Teams with a solid core of returning players that have played together will not likely require the same length of time to gel. Establishing the desired balance between offense and defense may take a little longer this year. 

Style of Play may make a difference. Teams with a more direct style of play may settle into a rhythm faster than those that are more possession oriented. Touch on the ball and the ability to put together combinations sometimes takes a little longer to fall into place. 

Team Chemistry could be impacted. Programs with a solid core of returning leaders could have a greater edge than in the past. Some teams could take longer than in the past to sort out their identity which could impact their play in the early going.  

Depth may have more of an impact in 2020 than in years past due to physical conditioning. Individual players may not be as game ready from a physical and stamina perspective in 2020. More may have to play their way into top condition. Team depth could be a significant difference maker from the get-go.  

Change Management. The ability of coaches to adapt their practice sessions and preparation in general to the new normal will likely vary among programs. The facilities available could impact this.   

Staying Healthy. Additional factors will be in play this year. Avoidance of the virus and the maintenance of a healthy roster will be impacted by the diligence of individual players, the procedures and processes individual programs put in place, and local conditions.  

Physical Conditioning. Individual players were much more responsible for conditioning during the off season than ever before in the past. Competitive athletes know that their workouts are more productive and accountable when participaing with others. The ability of individual players to put together a full ninety minutes of play is dependent on being in shape. Lapses in play can occur when players are not fit. Poor conditioning could lead to early season upsets and more injuries. 

International Student Athletes. Many teams build their rosters around international players. This could be a diffucult situation because US Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently announced that international students will need to leave the country or risk deportation if their school transitions to online only learning. Unless an exception is made for college athletes, this could result in the loss of international players that might have a significant impact on some programs.  

The Recruiting Process. The restrictions preventing in-person contact in recruiting may result in more misses on the recruiting trail. The impact of this will likely vary among programs. 

Recruiting Classes. Restrictions on traning sessions and player interaction may increase the amount of time it takes and make it more difficult for teams with large recruiting classes to seamlessly merge their newcomers in with returning players .

New Head Coaches. There are seventeen new head coaches in 2020. The transition period for teams with new head coaches could be prolonged in 2020.   

Transfers. It may take a longer period of time after the season has begun for transfers to make the transifion to a different style of play and new teammates. 

Trial and Error. Soccer is among the first sports to get undeway after the start of the school year. Soccer will not have the benefit of learning from the experience of other sports. 

Celebrations. Celebrations will no doubt be different. Some individuals and teams will be better able to adjust to changes like this than others.

Travel - Playing on the road could be more cumbersome than in the past due to precautions needed to keep players healthy. This could make away contests even more difficult.  

Home Cooking - The fact that the crowds on hand at venues like Akron, Connecticut, Creighton, Indiana, Maryland, South Carolina, and Wake Forest among others may not be as large and perhaps as vocal as in the past might take away a little of the edge that some programs have when playing at home. 


 

The Challenges of International Recruitment in College Soccer - By Justin Sousa

College soccer has been a long-standing platform for youth players to continue playing at a high level and receive a valuable secondary education. Even in the age of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, the college system continued to pump out MLS and USMNT caliber players such as Jordan Morris, Jackson Yueill and Miles Robinson. Over the last decade, it’s also become a platform for international players to continue their journeys to the professional game while also planning for a future after their careers are over.

Since 2012, there have been at least two international players drafted within the first 10 picks of each MLS SuperDraft. They have accounted for about 37% of all top ten picks since 2012, and 27 of the 59 Generation Adidas contracts awarded between 2012 to 2020 have gone to international players. There were also five consecutive first overall picks awarded to international players between 2014 and 2018 when there had previously only been one – Steve Zakuani of the Akron Zips in 2009 – in SuperDraft history.

Yet, even with the growing number of international college soccer players, the actual process of recruiting such players remains a difficult one. The same financial aid provided to American citizens often does not extend to those coming to these programs from different countries. Investing large sums of academic scholarship money on international players that coaches may not be familiar with is also a big risk for any college soccer program.

“We have athletic aid to help kids pay for things, we have need-based aid to help kids pay for things based on family finances, but the need-based aid doesn’t extend beyond U.S. citizens,” Brian Wiese, head coach of Georgetown men’s soccer, said. “That makes it harder to extend our dollars to some of the international kids because they either have to be able to afford it, or we have to use a lot of athletic aid, and those funds run out pretty quickly. Luckily for Georgetown, we have great brand recognition, great degrees, it’s in a great conference and it’s got a lot of appeal for domestic kids.”

Georgetown rostered four international players in 2019, and only two of them featured in the national championship game against Virginia. Three of those players have now graduated, and goalkeeper Giannis Nikopolidis will be the sole international player at Georgetown as their incoming freshman class consists of nine domestic recruits.

Schools like Harvard, however, have the financial backing to recruit players outside of the United States. Their freshman class for next season features players from Costa Rica, Germany, Canada, Japan and England with only two of them having previous ties to the United States. The school’s global name recognition also helps sway international players to play for them over other Ivy League schools or competition in the ACC, AAC or Big East. Head coach Josh Shapiro’s experience working at the Division III level allows him to understand and appreciate the benefit of having strong financial support for a program.

“I think a lot of it has to do with your ability to attract players in a way that makes sense,” Shapiro said. “I didn’t have a lot of international financial aid while at Tufts, but I have phenomenal international financial aid at Harvard. Most [international] families are not prepared to spend money like American families are, so that $70,000 price tag can scare them. At Harvard, our ability to give full-grant packages and cover so much of the need for people makes it much more feasible.”

Harvard’s assistant head coach Mike Fucito also heralds the connections the school and the coaching staff have made both within the United States and overseas. Though the program has benefited from players taking the initiative of reaching out to the school on their own, a trusted contact who supports those players can go a long way in easing the recruitment process.

“As a starting point, it always helps to establish contact with people that we trust to send us players that we think are on the level,” Fucito said. “We also have a couple of guys who played for their respective national teams at youth level who just reached out to us. If we think it makes sense to go and see them, then we will definitely make an effort to go and do so. There’s more and more showcases popping up, but I think that’s still where we try to establish connections in different areas because it helps streamline the process a little bit.”

Still the ability to find players willing to buy into a coach’s philosophy and manage the egos some international players have can add to an already difficult task. Butler head coach Paul Snape emphasized the ability to judge a player’s character is as important as being able to assess whether they are good enough to play in college. The mental and emotional hardship of acclimatizing to a new country and the inevitable culture shock that comes with it also cannot be underestimated when contemplating the recruitment of an international player.

When programs can find these good international players, it compensates for the small pull of top domestic players going to college. The growth and development of youth systems within the United States has pushed top prospects towards signing professional contracts earlier instead of playing in college. If the talent pool just isn’t strong enough to maintain a competitive squad during conference and national tournament games, coaches are forced to explore their options outside of the U.S.

“If you can go and get a kid that’s been in a Bundesliga, Premier League, or La Liga academy for four or five years, he’s going to be exposed to all this high level competition and all this methodology even if he hasn’t made it to the first team,” Snape said. “What we’ve seen in the last decade is that the best kids are usually one-and-done, or the Christian Pulisics and Gio Reynas are going to Europe early.”

Shapiro shares a similar viewpoint on the ever-changing windows of opportunity to the professional game for players around the world. While Americans are acclimatized to their opportunities coming around their college years, youth players in Europe and South America are used to signing their first professional contracts when they’re 16, 17, or 18 years old. Those players know they can get a second chance at 22 years old, but they also know a college degree can provide future benefits if a professional career doesn’t materialize.

“Before the Coronavirus came in, I would call it an epidemic of early signings with kids signing USL contracts or MLS contracts,” Wiese said. “They think that the only way to succeed in the path to being a pro is to bypass college completely, but that just isn’t true. The coronavirus situation had quelled that because there’s no point in signing into an environment where nobody is playing, or the uncertainty is too high. There’s much more security in the college soccer ranks than there is right now in the pro soccer ranks.”

That uncertainty will undoubtedly have long-lasting effects on the pathways and development of soccer players across the country. What it does pose is an interesting challenge for college coaches to hone their recruitment skills and maximize their networks to continue building competitive rosters. Whether they do so through the inclusion of more or less international players is still to be seen as normalcy slowly resumes in the sports realm.



Justin Sousa is a contributing writer for College Soccer News. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.