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Momentum Builds for a Change in the Division I Men’s College Soccer Season

January 15, 2020 – The concept for a change in the time frame of the college soccer season is not a new one but it is a change whose time may have arrived. Proponents of the change have been facing an uphill battle for many years but recently the change appears to be gaining momentum. The proposed change, C-2019-90, is sponsored by the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big Ten Conference, and the Pac-12 Conference.

If you are not aware of the change proposed, the reason for it, and the obstacles it faces – now is a good time to learn a little more about it.

The proposal which is currently before the NCAA would change the college soccer season from the current fall time frame to an academic year season that would consist of fall and spring segments.  

The current fall season is a one term approach that begins in late August and ends in mid-December with the NCAA Tournament title match.

Under C-2019-90 the fall season would get underway around the end of August and would consist of twelve weeks of practice and play with up to fourteen contests. The fall segment would conclude no later than Thanksgiving Day. There would then be a break from the later part of November through the later part of February. The spring segment of the season would then get underway in late February or early March and would consist of ten weeks of play with up to nine contests. The spring segment of the season would conclude with the NCAA Tournament which would begin in early May.

Under the proposal the fall segment could include no more than two midweek games and the spring segment no more than one midweek game. The season would consist of twenty-three games. The total number of days in the season would not change. In other words, it would keep the current twenty-two week and 132 day time frame for playing and practice sessions. .   

Proponents of the change point out that injury related data supports the position that the current fall season compresses too many contests into too short a time frame which increases the likelihood of injury. By redistributing the playing and practice time into two segments, student athletes would be much less likely to sustain the types of injuries that are attributed to the wear and tear that can result from two contests in a week and the grind of playing a total of twenty-five contests in a relatively short time frame.

Advocates also point out that the two-segment season within the academic year will provide student athletes with additional time to focus on academics.

In addition, under the redistributed season, the NCAA Championship (Final Four) would be played in May instead of mid-December when weather conditions are almost always less than desirable. This would enhance the NCAA Tournament experience for participants and it is highly likely that it would enhance attendance and increase the exposure of college soccer. No data is required to support this viewpoint. Anyone who has had a child or grandchild play recreation soccer is fully aware of the drawbacks of playing or watching a soccer match when temperatures are frigid.   

The proposal was recently unanimously and enthusiastically endorsed in a letter to the NCAA Division I Council that was signed by Maryland head coach Sasho Ciroviki, Virginia head coach George Gelnovatch, Stanford head coach Jeremy Gunn, St. John’s head coach Dave Masur, Connecticut head coach Ray Reid, North Carolina head coach Carlos Somoano, Pittsburgh head coach Jay Vidovich, UC Santa Barbara head coach Tim Vom Steeg, and Indiana University head coach Todd Yeagley. Other head coaches have also expressed their support for the change.

It seems foolish to discount the viewpoint and years of experience of these individuals. It is clear that the support that they have expressed for the proposal is not based on the belief that it will give their programs some sort of competitive advantage but on the sincere belief that it is in the best interest of college soccer and the well-being of college athletes and their life as college students.      

College Soccer News has found over the years that thoughts and viewpoints regarding the primary role of college soccer vary among individuals, including those who write for us, which in turn impacts the way in which they measure the success of college soccer.  Some focus more on the role of college soccer in developing players for the professional level. Others focus more on the impact, the value, and the growth it has for the vast majority of individuals who play college soccer but don’t seek to play professionally.  While our viewpoint is more aligned with what is best for the vast majority of student athletes, we recognize the merit and the importance of developing the skills of those players who seek to play professionally. It is our viewpoint that the proposed switch to a redistributed season with fall and spring segments will benefit both the development of players who seek to play professionally as well as the vast majority who will not.  In other words, the proposal will be good for the sport across the board. 

College athletics are deeply ingrained in the culture of our nation. The environment around all college sports changes incrementally overtime. However, structural or legislative related change does not occur overnight in any college sport. For example, those who have been around for a while know that when initially presented there was resistance in college basketball to the adoption of a shot clock and the implementation of a three-point shot.  Those changes only came about when it was accepted that college basketball had evolved to the point that they were warranted.

The rule changes in college football to reduce the risk of concussions and other injuries related to initial contact with the crown of the helmet (spearing) evolved over time based on injury related data and the acceptance of the fact that change was needed to protect players from serious injury. 

It is unlikely that college soccer will ever enjoy the popularity of football or basketball or produce the level of revenue that they do. Nonetheless it makes sense to give serious thought to the fact that college soccer has evolved as well and that the change proposed will enhance the college soccer experience, improve the level of play, and reduce the occurrence of soft tissue injuries to hamstrings and groins that tend to result from fatigue and require rest.   

Major legislative change in any arena almost always only occurs when there is, for lack of a better word, bipartisan support. In the case of college soccer bipartisan in our view means that the chances of implementation of the proposal are much greater if it is supported by coaches as well as athletic directors, by the larger conferences as well as the mid-major conferences, by the traditional powerhouses in college soccer as well as those programs that are not, and last but not least any major change has to be financially feasible for large as well as small programs. 

It should be noted that the proposed change in the time frame of the season could present logistical challenges for some programs due to the overlap it might cause in the use of facilities. There also may be other issues or legitimate concerns that we are not aware of but it is hoped that they can be worked through and resolved without jeopardizing the existence of any college soccer program. It would also appear that the cooperation of the MLS would be needed to shift the time of their annual draft from the month of January to the conclusion of the spring season so that the draft would not take place until after the completion of the fall and spring segments.

The proposed effective date of the change is August 1, 2022 in order to provide time to make the necessary adjustments to transition to a segmented season.   

Expect to hear and learn more about the proposal as it is vetted over the next few months and then likely voted upon by the NCAA in April 2020.

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