Men’s College Soccer Split-Season Tossed into Dust Bin

Did you know DU is in the middle of its spring men’s soccer season? Of course you didn’t – aside from passionate parents or Denver locals who happen to be walking by Pioneer Field, the team is playing meaningless games against largely obscure programs because spring games are nothing more than exhibitions. Denver does not even post the scores of these matches on the athletics website. All this while soccer US soccer academies are sprouting up around the country and developing young players who receive 8-10 months of development.

This spring, DU men’s soccer will incur many of the same costs of ‘real matches’ in empty stadiums. They already played the Colorado Rapids 2 in Commerce City and D2 Metro State and Colorado School of Mines at Pioneer Field.  They ventured to Colorado Springs to play Air Force and D2 UCCS. This upcoming Saturday, Denver plays UCLA in LA before the spring season is quietly put to rest.

Soccer fans have little to no interest in watching meaningless matches insofar as they don’t count towards anything. They’re nothing more than the college equivalent of international friendlies. And likely, student-athletes see little value in these matches as well. Fans will have to wait until late fall, freezing weather, and a compressed soccer season with multiple games during many weeks for meaningful conference games. Additionally, research revealed that multiple games per week increased the number of serious injuries to student-athletes while not allowing adequate recovery time.

Most exceptional high school soccer players will flee to soccer academies to develop their skills while bypassing collegiate soccer. And who could blame them?

As cited previously, we at LetGoDU fully supported extending the current fall soccer season into the spring. The proposal would have consisted of thirteen games in the fall with a pause around Thanksgiving before picking back up in the spring with nine more matches before the postseason. They would end up playing a similar number of matches as their currently configured fall soccer season. The College Cup would fall between lacrosse’s Championship Weekend during Memorial Day and baseball’s College World Series. The split season would have put playoffs and the championship in spring weather – a solution to low-attended Cups in inclement fall conditions  – and allow a week break between the semifinals and final instead of the current one-day rest.

Unfortunately, the NCAA shot down the 21st Century Model after last season. While the model was favored by college soccer coaches, the NCAA rejected the move. In other words, the move made sense for every single stakeholder so naturally, the NCAA said no. Cindy Potter, President, and Doug Vance, Executive Director, on behalf of the CoSIDA Executive Board of Directors, used a survey to justify their decision:

The following are key findings from this survey with member institutions:

  • 73% indicated the addition of a spring sport would be difficult for their staff or would not be possible without additional staff 
  • 70% of respondents from Autonomy 5 institutions said they could not support this change without additional staffing, indicating this change is not only an issue for understaffed low- and mid-major schools 
  • 15% said it would be possible to support an additional spring sport but would require significant restructuring of their responsibilities 
  • 99% of our members surveyed say they have received no direction from their athletic director or supervisor about how they would manage such a change 

Our members nearly unanimously report the college athletics industry is facing a crisis with employee burnout and mental health, and the stresses of a change like this, without proper changes in support, will add to those issues.

Communications staff join colleagues in other departments such as athletic training in expressing the need for more support to make a career in athletics sustainable. This feels like a step in the opposite direction without guaranteed additional resources. Our members experienced unique and difficult season overlaps during the recent pandemic and this proposal would exacerbate the issue. Our members have additional concerns that, if passed, this proposal would lead to other divisions and/or women’s soccer and other fall or spring sports wanting to transition to a two-semester model.

What does this mean for college soccer?  Serious soccer players will be attending academies in the US in lieu of playing on collegiate soccer teams. This will force US collegiate teams to bring in more foreign players who could not make their own homeland academies. Collegiate players will be idle eight months of the year and potentially face more injuries and poor quality of play during a condensed fall soccer season.

Soccer fans are left in the cold. Literally.

2 thoughts on “Men’s College Soccer Split-Season Tossed into Dust Bin”

  1. As much as I would have liked to see a split season soccer model, I can totally see why it failed.

    The truth is college soccer is not the primary development system for the sport because most professional soccer men’s players turn pro globally between age 16-19, as they don’t need fully-mature men’s bodies to be effective pro soccer players. Sports Clubs/Academies do the developmental work, cream-off the future stars to the pros and the colleges gets mostly the leftover players – the late bloomers and guys who likely won’t be great pros.

    College hockey, basketball, baseball and football are good player development models because most of the pro players in those sports need to be full-grown men in their 20s to be effective which better fits college-age development.

    Even if college soccer went to a 10-month, split season developmental model as the coaches wanted, the best players would still be turning pro in their teens and missing college, which limits spectator appeal. Other college sports are more desirable to watch because the best players in college have professional futures ahead.

    The other big reason why this died is college sports administrators hate creating more work for their overworked (and underpaid staffs), especially when that work bleeds into their sacred summertime off. College sports is an 18-hour day for D-I players and staff in season, and despite a few weeks of NCAA baseball playoffs for a few programs in June, most campuses are dead by late May on purpose…

  2. Reposting my comments to last year’s article on this issue:

    One of the obstacles preventing US soccer from being world class is that the scholastic seasons are different from international seasons especially that of Europe. Players in colleges, high schools and middle schools play for 3 months a year. Unless selected for the very few numbers of professional MLS academies that are free for players, only wealthy kids can afford pay to play clubs. The obvious answer is to expand the scholastic seasons especially starting in public middle and high schools so that low income players who are now being ignored have a chance to develop to a high level.

    For all the major American professional sports, the high schools, colleges and universities are the feeders to the professional ranks. For example, we set the highest standards in American football and basketball. Their seasons are set by our standards and traditions.

    We need the same pathway from scholastic to professional soccer but the best players in the world are in Europe and other countries that play 10 months out of the year. We must match their schedules and methodologies

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