Don’t judge college soccer by the SuperDraft

Policy

When looking at college soccer, it’s telling that there is seemingly more attention paid to what’s going on now a month after the national championship than seemingly at any point during the regular season. 

There’s reason for that. MLS is in close season and the SuperDraft is days away.

But as a fan of college soccer, it’s frustrating.

Through most of its criminally short regular season, college soccer is ignored, but then this goofy thing called an MLS Combine comes along with talk of player “assets” and a chorus of condescending voices talking about the problems with college soccer.

College soccer has problems. But I don’t think they are MLS or USMNT problems.

No, the biggest issue in college soccer is the schedule. Cramming 20-25 games into 10 weeks is pure insanity even for 18-21-year-olds who can run all day.

In addition to taxing players physically and academically with all the travel demands and time constraints, the schedule is the main reason why the substitution rules are so liberal and unfamiliar to fans of the world’s game. In reality, many of the top teams only use 3-to-5 substitutes a game but that doesn’t stop people who don’t follow it from comparing substitution in college soccer to hockey.

Changing this isn’t as complicated as the NCAA might make it seem.

In fact, there’s already a plan proposed to do just that. There have been few signs of life since the plan supported by a strong majority of coaches to overhaul the schedulewas announced 18 months ago, but that’s about to change. A formal proposal is expected to be presented to a new NCAA Division I Competition Oversight Committee sometime this spring.

While stretching the season out to two semesters – teams currently practice and play a slate of friendlies in the spring – has implications on player development and college soccer’s role in producing talent for the next level, it would ultimately be a benefit to the players, coaches and fans of the game.

That’s what excites me about the plan – its potential to grow and expand college soccer into a sport that plays its national championship in the spring in front of a championship-sized crowd, into a sport where players who get hurt for two weeks don’t miss five games, into a sport where you don’t have to wait eight months between seasons.

One way or another and with or without college soccer, Major League Soccer is going to figure out its development system. Major strides have already been made with the development of MLS academies – one of the reasons the SuperDraft is decreasing in value is that so many of the best college players are already attached to MLS clubs as homegrowns – and USL teams are providing another important piece of the puzzle.

Overhauling the schedule would go a long way in keeping college soccer as a piece of that development puzzle and give MLS the financial benefit a league like the NFL gets from having someone else foot the bill for developing players.

The SuperDraft and MLS Combine are weird American sports inventions that are hopefully on their way out. College soccer is a weird American sports invention too in its own right, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Unlike the SuperDraft, there is a way forward.

That way forward begins with a schedule overhaul.

 

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