Collegiate Soccer is at a Scheduling Crossroads

Photo: Courtesy of FourFourTwo

An old college paradigm has college soccer teams playing multiple games a week in a packed fall schedule resulting in injuries and decreased playing quality as top players flee the collegiate soccer model for the pros.

Unlike the rest of the soccer world, which plays once a week nearly year-round, college soccer funnels all of its games into a tight, four-month span between September and December, with many teams playing three games a week. The result is more player injuries, additional fatigue, extensive weekly travel, and academic hardship on student-athletes. The short season also forces the best part of the season (and postseason) into freezing weather in many parts of the country, which reduces spectator interest.

Furthermore, a college soccer source tells LetsGoDU that MLS recruitment and foreign soccer leagues are poaching top-level college recruits more aggressively than ever before with a more logical development plan than that which is offered to college players. And, over the longer-term, college soccer could start to lose top coaches as they grow increasingly frustrated by the current collegiate model.

The answer is or at least should be simple: split the season into fall and spring seasons, allowing players time to develop and recuperate. There is currently a proposal before the NCAA, co-sponsored by the Pac 12, the ACC and the Big Ten, that would split the NCAA Division I soccer season into an academic-year schedule with a nearly three-month winter break. The 34 soccer conferences will vote on the measure this spring.

This proposal is supported by an NCAA white paper stating that the injury rate for elite-level soccer players increases sixfold when student-athletes play two games a week versus once a week. The average soccer player may run as far as 8-10 miles in a match and college soccer players need 72 to 96 hours of recovery between games during a 23-26 game collegiate schedule. Under the NCAA proposal, over the course of most of the season, teams would play just one game a week, taking a break before Thanksgiving and picking back up again in February. They’d finish up their regular season in May and hold the College Cup over two weeks in June. Playing in a warmer College Cup, which could be scheduled between the lacrosse national championships and the College World Series would give college soccer greater visibility, too.

This proposal seems to be a clear win for players, coaches, and fans, alike. Better weather, healthier players, more focus on training and development, a long mid-season break, and a more visible College Cup would make for a much more exciting sport for everyone.

8 thoughts on “Collegiate Soccer is at a Scheduling Crossroads”

  1. This idea makes so much sense for almost everyone.

    The chief obstacles are likely three fold – field access (not everyone has a dedicated soccer stadium and may share fields with other sports, such as lacrosse) as well as the disliked administrative and staff conflicts that come up with many schools when sports seasons extend into June, when many schools finish the academic year in May. Finally, there will be a lot of schools (about 150?) voting on this who don’t care about soccer since they don’t have men’s teams.

    Let’s hope common sense prevails.

    1. One brief additional comment – this would apply to men’s and women’s teams. According to the NCAA white paper, woman have more injuries due to the condensed college schedule. As you know, Jamie Franks is in favor of this and I would expect Jeff Hooker to be even more so. Let’s hope common sense prevails.

  2. 5b, interesting piece. How much do MLS players earn? If soccer goes to a split season, why not lacrosse for the same reasons? Dunker does not like cold weather viewing.

    1. MLS doesn’t offer much – $40-60k. But, we are told American soccer elite camps are now lined with European clubs – a big surprise to us. College could retain more players by providing better development plus a college education. Now, they essentially sit for 8 months and are overworked for 4. The training, development and games need to be spread out.

  3. The new MLS 2020 CBA is being negotiated now and should be signed in Feb. Expect a league salary minimum of somewhere between $80-100K/year for the bottom six players of a roster. MLS average salary now is about $375K/yr, but that average is inflated by some big salaries at the top end at over $3M/year.

    1. With that salary and club development programs, it would be hard to think DU could land Ford and Shinyashiki today.

      1. Exactly. Ford left DU early for about $85/k per year as his mother was undergoing cancer treatment. Shinyashiki made $95K last year as a rookie for the Rapids. And that’s why Cole Basset signed with the Rapids last year for $84K instead of honoring his scholarship offer to DU, where he’d previously committed. He would have been a huge difference-maker for the Pios as the best true central attacking midfielder/second striker in the country at his age. He’s been training with the Arsenal U23s in London during the MLS offseason.

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