DI College Coaches Push for Academic Year Season Model
NSCAA Division I Men’s college coaches are taking the initiative to eliminate the crowded and condensed fall DI college soccer season by expanding it into the spring. The proposed Academic Year Season model does not increase the number of games — it just brings sanity to the schedule so that collegiate soccer players do not have to play 3 games in a week and it moves the championship to the spring, which is currently played in the second week of December.
The Academic Year Season model has the overwhelming support of college soccer coaches across the country and is a vast improvement which will allow college soccer to flourish — most of all, the model will benefit the student athlete experience. Galvanized by my own confusion that this issue languished unresolved, I thought I would ask more questions. What I found was an astonishing consensus encouraging the change.
“Why does NCAA treat Men’s College Soccer like it is the 1950s or 60s? It is 2016 and college soccer needs to move into the new millennium and adopt the Academic Year Season,” said Taylor Twellman, ESPN’s lead analyst for Major League Soccer.
Not an issue on Twitter’s Most Popular, what is this really about? It is simple.
Instead of DI college soccer players playing 3 games a single week in a short fall season, the Academic Year Season spreads the gaming schedule out across the fall and spring.
As the experts in sports science tell us, playing 3 games in one week is ludicrous and presents high risks for injuries, but the bottom line is also how can a student possible study with that game schedule? The current system offers no time for recovery nor academics. Even the college soccer championship is crammed in-between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the busiest time of the year, especially if you want to get your college championship televised. The solution? The Academic Year Season.
Related Article: NSCAA College Coaches Academic Year Model
Sasho Cirovski, NSCAA Division I Men’s committee chair and University of Maryland head coach is leading the charge and his platform is common sense. “Think about it — it’s the same number of playing opportunities we have today — 25 games — but it reduces missed class time, gives appropriate rest and recovery time between games and moves the championship to the spring.” How could anyone disagree?
Who is leading the charge? Well-known for creating an amazing atmosphere at his University of Maryland games, this long time soccer lover began playing college soccer in 1981 — when the sport was relatively unknown in the US. Cirovski has watched the beautiful game expand at an almost unimaginable rate and wonders why Division I men’s college soccer remains frozen in a time when the sport was almost invisible in the landscape of collegiate sports.
Currently, the quality of the game suffers immensely — and, in college sports, you are measured by the quality of your championship and right now — with the crowded December calendar — we are set up for failure,” said Sasho Cirovski.
Cirovski’s goal is to simply reorganize the game schedule across six months instead of three so that student athletes do not play with less than 48 hours of recovery — and to grow the game. This plan has an enormous number of fans. “It is a natural evolution,” said Cirovski. “The biggest problem is just the idea of change. The brightest academic institutions in the world embrace the change.”
2015 NCAA College Cup Champion and Pac-12 Coach of the Year, Stanford University‘s head coach Jeremy Gunn said, “We simply want to create a better opportunity for both academic and athletic performance. The Academic Year Season will create a more balanced lifestyle. There has been a lot of work done towards making this a reality but people are resistant to change and the key issue now is to educate everyone. The intent is to spread the existing game schedule across two seasons — we are not asking to add games to the schedule. It is important for college soccer to emulate the outside world.”
Are there other solutions to solving the problem of the compressed DI college schedule? None that seem viable. Obviously no one is in favor of cutting games to lighten the schedule — that would certainly not enhance the student athlete experience.
According to Stanford’s coach, the new model will not even increase the work load.
How did we get here? “When soccer first became a collegiate sport, we copied football,” said Gunn. “Soccer is a very different sport than American football.”
The Academic Year Season Model seems a very pragmatic solution. In fact, a no brainer — and the initiative has received backing from 90% of Division I soccer coaches.
Here is what a few of the leaders in the soccer world and other top coaches/players think:
Kevin Payne, US Club Soccer’s CEO worked with Cirovski on the Academic Year Season model before becoming US Club Soccer’s CEO. “It is an idea whose time has come. Clearly, the NCAA’s job is not to develop soccer players — but if the NCAA wants to be culturally relevant, it must change. The current version of college soccer does not serve the needs of players who have any aspirations of becoming professionals. Now, with evolution of the MLS Development Academies, it is obvious that the serious soccer player does not see college as a pathway to a serious career and many are forgoing it all together.”
NCAA has granted other sports accommodations to help their sports flourish and improve the quality of the student athlete experience — why has it taken so long to improve DI Soccer?
“If the NCAA allows a greater product – they will see greater profits,” says Payne. “For example, allowing the championship to be held in the spring — instead of the second week of December — will allow the finals to become a big deal. The NCAA College Championship could have the potential to become a highly successful destination event.”
“As a former D2 Men’s college coach in Florida, I know the Academic Year Season model would benefit all levels of collegiate soccer. It fits the physical demands of the sport — soccer should not have a season that requires players to play 3 games in one week — the current schedule does not allow for sufficient physical recovery — or in depth training sessions which would to help the players learn and grow,” said Sam Snow, Coaching Director for US Youth Soccer.
“From a soccer perspective, a fall/spring college season would allow a fantastic improvement in periodization that would both raise the level of play and reduce injuries. I think it would be a great positive for the ongoing development and long term performance of the players,” said Christian Lavers, US Club Soccer Executive Vice President and President of Elite Clubs National League (ECNL).
“The condensed nature of the current college soccer schedule poses many challenges for student athletes and coaches. The proposed model offers a much more balanced approach, alleviating many of the current issues. Hopefully the NCAA and University officials will take a serious look at the recommendations and make the long over due changes to the college soccer schedule to help improve the sport as well as the student athlete experience,” said Jon Pascale, head men’s soccer coach at UCSD.
“The current model needs revamping,” said Nick Perera, U.S. Soccer Athlete Council Member, Captain of the U.S. Soccer Beach Soccer team and member of the US Futsal National team. “This is definitely an important step towards a better soccer model providing more time for players to physically get through a season, with more time to improve — this change makes the collegiate game a lot more of a true student athlete experience.”
Why has this taken so long to come about?
Cody Worden, former assistant coach at Saint Mary’s College and now Director of Coaching at San Diego Surf SC knows that playing soccer in college is an awesome experience but the current system needs to be changed. “The Academic Year Season is the only way to make soccer sustainable for the future. If college soccer makes this change, it could be the most viable option for the 18 to 22 year old player — NCAA college soccer has some extraordinary players and coaches who fill the gap between the youth and the pro game. By aligning the calendar to a more year-round model and moving the championship season to May/June, we allow college soccer to more appropriately fill the void between the youth and the professional game.”
“If you turn on the TV in late May and June, ESPN runs hours and hours of college baseball and softball,” said Worden. “Is college soccer going to be as mainstream as NCAA basketball and football? Who knows, but I think we can all agree that players, coaches, and fans of college soccer would be ecstatic if college soccer garnered as much fanfare and attention as the College World Series of Omaha. That would be a massive stepping stone for college soccer and would give some amazing coaches and talented players more tools at the NCAA level.”Mike Petke, former New York Red Bulls head coach and three-time MLS all-star and MLS Cup champion said, “I think this format change will benefit the student athlete creating a better balance between academics and sport. From a health and safety standpoint, to have games spread out over a longer period of time, will give the players a better chance to succeed. Referencing my own experience as a player, this format would have better prepared me to make the transition to the professional level.” Petke is currently the New Jersey Youth Soccer Director of ODP and oversees more than 150,000 youth soccer players in New Jersey.
Another former MLS professional, Ryan Guy agrees with Petke. “I think this change is long overdue and the proposed model is vastly better than the current set up,” said Guy, former New England Revolution midfielder and current Guam National team member. “From a personal perspective, this new DI Soccer system will promote higher graduation rates from players like myself — I chose to leave after the fall season of my senior year in order to turn pro.”
According to Cirovski, he is working closely with the MLS and Commissioner Don Garber, who is supportive of this plan. The Academic Year Season could resolve the dilemma of the Super Draft for collegiate players. “Players selected by an MLS team in the Super Draft would have the ability to join their MLS or MLS Affiliate team after their spring college season is completed,” said Cirovski.
“Soccer is the second most popular sport in this country and now has 60 professional men’s teams in three leagues with the MLS one of the most attractive and growing leagues in the world,” said Cirovski. “We want this to work for everyone.”
What about changing the women’s program?
“Although I think the men’s side is further along on this topic, in my opinion, this is important for both genders — and for the good of the game in the US,” said Chris Lemay, University of California Women’s Associate head coach. “The Academic Year Season makes all the sense in the world — it will allow players more training and rest between matches, and it is a recipe to continue to develop better players for the National Team Programs as well as the NWSL and MLS.”
What about the sheer physical fatigue of playing so many games in the current DI schedule?
Dr. Ronald W. Quinn runs Xavier University’s Department of Sport Studies and also agrees that spreading the competitive collegiate soccer season out over an extended period of time would be a huge benefit.
“We know more about the importance of recovery for athletes than before when the NCAA established the existing DI Men’s College Soccer schedule. While change can be slow, eliminating the compressed soccer season has been years in the making — and, universities and colleges should take the well being of their students athletes seriously and provide a gaming schedule that allows for proper recovery. We all recognize the importance of this.”
“All the sports science experts believe the athletic load placed on these DI soccer athletes is unhealthy and unsafe,” said Steve Hoffman, Director of Coaching Education and Player Development for Cal South’s nearly 160,000 players.
“Anything we can do to help the athlete achieve excellence in the classroom and safety on the field we should all support. Sasho Cirovski’s video explains the proposal very well and I support it 100%,” said Hoffman.
On the youth soccer front, what do other Directors of Coaching think?
“The new proposed Div 1 Men’s Soccer Calendar is a very well thought out proposal that would benefit the teams, coaches and the sport of soccer, but most of all, it would improve the student athlete’s collegiate experience and make a positive impact in their athletic and academic arenas. I think it is a winner,” said Alberto (AB) Bru, Real So Cal Youth Soccer Club Director. “Credit to the coaches who have spent so much time designing a much improved alternative.”
Michael Duggan, Director of Operations, LA Galaxy San Diego agreed and said, “This push for the Academic Year Season is great news — definitely a step in the right direction.”
Thankfully, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America has harnessed its power to promote this worthy cause. The world’s largest soccer coaches’ organization has a strong voice and recognizes the value of ensuring the success not only of soccer as a collegiate sport but also the experience of the student athlete.
“We wanted to put the weight of the NSCAA behind supporting our Division I Men’s coaches in their efforts to have this new season model get the hearing it deserves,” said Lynn Berling-Manuel, CEO of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA). “This is part of the advocacy role as a coaches association we serve for all our members.”
The bottom line is not hard to understand : The Academic Year Season would reduce the number of fall games, create a winter break, add games in the spring, reduce weekday games and ultimately bring the championship to June.
Moving to the Academic Year Season would dramatically elevate the importance of the NCAA College Championship, also known as the College Cup, and help college soccer receive the attention the sport deserves and finally develop a real fan base — with all the revenue opportunities which come with that successful business model.
“Right now, we have an unfair treatment of the D1 Men’s soccer student athlete. It is impossible to argue against this change,” said Cirovski who does admit that some institutions may have concerns about soccer sharing facilities with different sports in the spring.
“I am hopeful this can come to fruition,” said Payne. “This needs to be pushed at the power conferences. This would be a big step forward and very important for creating our American version of the game and allow college soccer to progress and the game itself would become better.”
Threatened by a new generation of pathways to becoming a professional soccer player, college soccer has to mount a comeback.
The Academic Year Season is simple and straightforward — and affords an unexpected emphasis on value of a college soccer experience over the Development Academy route.
The Academic Year Season will allow the coaches more time to teach and players to play their games with more intelligence.
As Division I Men’s Soccer is a gateway to professional soccer and only the best of the elite players make it to this level, minimizing the risks of injury seems sensible as is providing an enhanced student athlete experience. For institutions of higher learning to ignore these common-sense guidelines and force soccer players to compete in a compressed schedule — well, just seems wrong.
As many colleges share facilities with other sports in the spring, this new model may not be the easiest to schedule but resisting change, especially in an environment designed to promote the open exchange of ideas — is not a valid excuse.
Who is responsible for accepting the change? The National Collegiate Athletic Association NCAA — a nonprofit association which oversees the well being of more than 460,000 college student-athletes. The only question remains, when will the NCAA provide the best student athlete experience possible for soccer players?
For further information on the Academic Year Season click here.