American college soccer is currently under siege, and from it's governing body, the NCAA.
L.E. Eisenmenger goes into depth about the challenges presented to College Soccer, which will impact soccer at all levels in the United States if these potential changes are passed.
The United States college soccer program stands in jeopardy right now as the NCAA moves to eliminate Division 1 non-championship season competition (spring games) and beyond that, reduce overall competition by 10%.
All NCAA Division 1 sports face a 10% reduction in competition, but the sports targeted for major cuts through elimination of spring competition are soccer, volleyball, women’s lacrosse, field hockey, softball and cross country. Division 1 football, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, and men’s lacrosse would not be affected by the elimination of non-championship season competition. Nor would Division 2, Division 3 and NAIA schools be affected.
Non-championship season competition refers to non-countable games, basically springtime development games. All of the extended football, baseball and basketball season is constituted as regular season competition and counts on their record. Soccer already has one of the shortest competitive seasons in the NCAA and by eliminating the developmental games, the NCAA further marginalizes the sport.
Should the NCAA Resource Allocation Work Group recommendation become binding, spring competition in Division 1 soccer could cease as early as spring 2012 and the soccer playing careers of currently enrolled student athletes might suddenly be derailed. College soccer coaches have voiced almost unanimous opposition to the recommendation and of a survey sent to 12,500 Division 1 men’s and women’s soccer players, 10,284 responded with 93% strongly opposing the elimination of the non-championship season. Also, if spring competition is eliminated, top Division 1 soccer coaches might consider their hard work undermined and leave the college game.
Misdirected academic concerns
The initiative for this proposal appears to come from college faculty looking to cut costs and redirect student focus on academics.
“Many faculty think that athletics are over-emphasized, over-funded and it’s at the expense of the concentration being focused on academics,” said Rob Kehoe, Director of College Programs for National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA). “But if it’s about academic performance, why would you be targeting these sports?
There’s nobody on college campuses from the president on down who are complaining about the academic performance of soccer teams, volleyball teams, women’s lacrosse teams, softball teams, cross country runners or field hockey players. In terms of academic performance, statistically, these are some of the top performing students on top performing teams in the country and it’s well known that the students on these teams perform above national average of the student body.
These are not the sports where you’re concerned with graduation rates or grade point averages.”
Spring competition essential to soccer development
Around the world, soccer development is a year-round process and U.S. college coaches have been looking to increase the overall number of games to better prepare college players to compete on a professional level and in international competition. But the elimination of spring competition would likely drive top players out of college and into alternative programs and low-level professional contracts. Where MLS Academies and Homegrown player contracts are excellent options for students not aspiring for a college career, top-level Division 1 programs provide ambitious students with the option of pursuing quality education and a sport and provide MLS with fresh talent via the annual MLS SuperDraft.
If Division 1 soccer development is compromised by the removal of spring competition, young soccer players have to make a critical choice at a younger age. But with professional playing opportunities few and far between, after a few years on the pro track, former student athletes opting out of college might realize first team playing spots are out of reach and also find themselves without a college degree or career path. On the other hand, top soccer talent might choose the college route and be excluded from the professional game due to inferior development.
Division 1 soccer programs are only allowed to award minimal scholarships. For men, there are 9.9 scholarships and for women, 14 scholarships. Typically, many are spread throughout the team via partial scholarships to provide athletic financial aid to more players.
But most soccer players are not on athletic scholarships nor on the first string, so these players depend heavily on spring competition for playing time and a chance to advance in the squad. While under the recommendations practices would be permitted, there would be no more games, which provide those players a way to advance in the squad.
“In the fall a college soccer team plays 14-16 players in the course of a game and with roster sizes between 25-30 players, most of the players play little or no time,” said Kehoe. “The training and competition in the spring gives opportunity for the players who have played little or no time to get some game time, not only for development purposes, but also to have coaches observe them in competitive game situations to provide assessment towards the fall season.
Many players make their mark in the spring and establish a line-up or rotation position for the fall because that is the stage of the season where the formation of the new team for the new season is developed.”
NCAA decision is imminent
Elimination of non-championship season competition has been proposed and defeated in NCAA legislative process in the previous two years, but pressure to pass it has intensified. The 2011 proposal was, in fact, already recommended but after opposition from soccer, softball, volleyball and other impacted athletic organizations, on November 4, the Resource Allocation Work Group agreed to review it in the coming days.
[These work groups, assembled through new NCAA president Mark Emmert, are comprised of representatives from conferences, schools (typically presidents from schools), some athletic directors, some sport association representatives, and some student athletes.]
“Our assumption is they’re preparing recommendations in advance of the NCAA convention on January 11-15,” said Kehoe. “The expectation is that the workgroup recommendation will be discussed and decisions will be made on them by the Board of Directors in conjunction with the NCAA convention.”
Competition alternatives would test NCAA
It’s logical that if Division 1 soccer was compromised in this way and spring competition eliminated, those affected soccer players would be afforded alternative ways to train and compete through relaxation of certain NCAA regulations, but no such provisions were included in the proposal.
“At this point, the NCAA legislation prevents that, but that’s one of the statements we put in our position statement that was sent to the resource allocation work group – a point on demand to play,” said Kehoe. “With aspirations, college players are probably going to demand the opportunity to play. Either from the professional aspiration level or in preparation for the fall season of competition in college, they want to play, they want to compete because they want to be prepared to achieve.
I would assume that would be the next thing, alternative sources for training and competition, which would be opening a whole new avenue of discussion with the NCAA.”
If this recommendation is approved, Kehoe said, “It is likely that there would be movement toward that end.” However, although the recommendation could eliminate 2012 spring competition, it would take till April 2013 to get action on a proposal for alternative training and competition.
“It would have to go through the next legislative process and the next legislative cycle begins the following August,” said Kehoe. “Proposals are submitted in the summer and the proposals are made public in the middle of August. Then they go through a whole decision-making process, discussions and reviews. Then there’s a first vote on legislative proposals at the NCAA convention in January, then there’s a period where people can comment and suggest overriding legislative decisions and then there’s a final vote in April.
So April 2013 would probably be the earliest if there was an alternate opportunity to fill the competition gap.”
US Soccer: two steps forward, one step back
Overall, the recommendation appears a misguided attempt to improve academic performance by targeting the wrong sports, sports with academically high-performing students instead of sports like football and basketball, which have a long history of academic violations. Reduced training will limit Division 1 soccer players’ ability to play the pro game and discourage good players and students from attending college, which allows them to contribute to society after their playing career is over. Beyond that, players with already high grades might find themselves with more free time than they’re accustomed to.
“If you have players that have eight months without competition opportunities, what happens to their discipline?” said Kehoe. “In a campus situation, they’re going to be bored and involved with the scourge of the college campus, which is substance abuse and relationship abuse issues. The sport serves as a deterrent from being involved in things that are irresponsible, illegal activities that are very prevalent on college campuses.
“These kids aren’t going to go to the library more. Why would they? They already have good grades.”
For more about the crisis in college soccer, complete with interviews with the United States’ top Division 1 coaches, read the ultimate analysis, College Soccer at the Crossroads.
Resource Allocation Work Group proposal
Post-Presidential Retreat Updates
November 11, 2011
NOTE: For the working groups other than Resource Allocation, the October 28 update document remains current. We intend to send an update next week as well, following the November 16 meeting of the Collegiate Model: Enforcement Working Group.
Resource Allocation Working Group
Presentation to Board: January 2012
Chair: Michael Adams, President
University of Georgia
Vice Chair: Ann Millner, President
Weber State University
The Resource Allocation Working Group held a teleconference on November 4, 2011. The next teleconference has not been scheduled as of this time.
The Resource Allocation Working Group held a teleconference on November 4 to review draft recommendations regarding the minimum number of sports required for Division I membership and limitations on non-coaching personnel; the group also discussed revisiting recommendations that have been made to date. The working group:
1. Decided to revisit approved proposals to verify that the recommendations correlate with the enduring values that include: academic and athletic student-athlete success; the collegiate model; amateurism; and competitive equity among institutions of similar commitment to collegiate athletics. The approved proposals to be revisited are:
a. Elimination of non-championship segment competition. The sports with non-championship segment competition are cross country, field hockey, soccer, softball, lacrosse and volleyball.
b. A 10 percent reduction in regular-season competition for all sports. Note: if the Division I Board passes the elimination of non-championship segment competition, credit would be given for non-championship reductions.
c. Eliminating all foreign travel.
d. Reduction of:
1.FBS football scholarships from 85 to 80.
2.FCS football scholarships from 63 to 60, with 80 overall counters.
3.Men's basketball scholarships from 13-12.
4.These scholarships would be apportioned to other women's sports.
5.In addition, the working group requests that the Committee on Academic Performance (CAP) consider incentives that would allow institutions above a certain APR score to maintain FBS football scholarships at 85, FCS scholarships at 63 (with 85 overall counters), men's basketball scholarships at 13 and women's basketball scholarships at 15.
2. Reviewed proposals regarding limitations on non-coaching personnel. Five proposals related to limitations on non-coaching personnel were discussed. The working group supported a proposal from the Division I-A Athletic Directors Association, which provided for maximum allowable non-coaching personnel for FBS football and men's basketball. The working group directed NCAA staff to work with the DI-A Athletic Directors Association to refine the proposal and to work with FCS institutions to develop a proposal for non-coaching personnel for FCS football.
3. Proposals for a change to the minimum number of sports required for Division I membership were on the agenda, but were not discussed. This agenda item will carry forward to the next meeting.