College coaches propose overhaul of schedule, moving College Cup to June

CoachesPolicy

IMG_0201Soccer coaches from some of the most storied programs in men’s college soccer history have joined forces to seemingly do the impossible: change the NCAA’s will.

Their proposal, which is still being finalized, calls on the NCAA to make soccer a full academic year sport, taking the games now squeezed sometimes as many as three in eight days and spreading them out over the academic year. Coaches like Maryland’s Sasho Cirovski, Indiana’s Todd Yeagley and Virginia’s George Gelnovatch advocate running the season from mid-September to late May or early June with a winter break and February training camp in between.

Such an overhaul to the schedule would benefit the college game in many ways, from the staging of the College Cup in warmer weather when it’s not competing with college football to reducing mid-week travel and injury risks for student athletes. The changing of the schedule could also lead to a better alignment with FIFA rules on substitutions – one of the reasons college has more liberal substitution rules is the short breaks between match days.

Change the clock to count up and add stoppage time to the equation and college soccer would look less like the oddball misfit and World Cup year scapegoat in American soccer it is now. The larger ramifications of such a change makes it unsurprising that Major League Soccer officials Jeff Agoos and Todd Durbin and West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, a former president of the Houston Dynamo and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati have given their backing for the plan.

Forgetting the SuperDraft for a minute (or altogether considering many of the best college players are homegrowns), a college soccer environment that more closely resembles the way the game is being played on the academy and professional level would better bridge the gap between the youth and professional ranks. As it stands now, an athlete not on the radar of a club abroad has little choice for meaningful playing time post-academy than the present frenetic pace of the fall college season, a shortened spring exhibition season and a summer playing in the Professional Development League.

Many of the elite Division 1 programs already have facilities that rival that of Major League Soccer and Caleb Porter took a pay cut to go from Akron to coach the Portland Timbers so why wouldn’t MLS want an improved college game it doesn’t have to fund?

As fans of college football favoring playoffs can attest, change will not come easily. The proposal calls for the schedule change to be implemented as early as the 2016-17 school year, but one former NCAA compliance official isn’t so hopeful.

“This is a reasonable and well-considered plan to improve college soccer’s ability to compete for talent and remain a valuable, even unique part of the American soccer development structure,” John Infante wrote on his ByLaw blog. “It also has virtually zero chance of ever being enacted.”

Infante goes on to suggest that men’s soccer as we know and often dislike it is in jeopardy in the current NCAA climate.

“In an environment where men’s sports could be first on the chopping block, soccer is already one of the more expensive with 9.9 scholarships and three full-time coaches,” he wrote. “Football might be the heart of the battle over concussion liability, but soccer is not far behind. And setting soccer up as a competitor to baseball will limit the ability of the sport to expand in the south. Men’s soccer could be the next wrestling; pushing a proposal that says greater investment is the only way to keep the sport relevant could easily backfire, drawing the wrong sort of attention.”

West Virginia coach Marlon LeBlanc, who describes himself as “unrelenting soccer dreamer,” is another passionate advocate for the plan. LeBlanc will be part of a contingent that will address a Major League Soccer technical committee at the Waste of Time Game in Portland in August.

“Considering the fact that this proposal will successfully address the needs of student-athlete health and academic benefits, one would think that most people would consider this a ‘no-brainer,'” LeBlanc wrote on the West Virginia athletics site earlier this month. “However, history has taught us better, and in this instance, I could only hope that common sense will win out.”

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