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.