Monday, July 28, 2014

existential crisis

I always lament that I don't get to talk about soccer enough, because football is the 800-pound autumn gorilla.  (I mean, I guess I could double my output in the fall, but I don't exactly get paid by the word here.  I have other stuff to do too.)  But what better time to talk about college soccer - and in this case, specifically men's soccer; women's soccer doesn't have the same pressures on it - than when it appears to be facing a doomsday scenario?

That's what it means, I think, when the college coaches get together on a plan that would fundamentally alter the season in a way that no college sport has ever done.  In a nutshell: the season would be 25 games (plus postseason) and split between the fall and spring semesters with a break of a couple months in between.  The College Cup, instead of being held smack in the middle of Christmas season, would be in June, and early enough so as not to compete with the College World Series but after the lacrosse Final Four.

The idea here is to spread out the coach-player development relationship a little.  From the above article:
Student-athletes may not participate in countable athletically related activities for more than 20 hours per week during the short soccer season under current regulations. That figure drops to eight hours in the off-season with a two-hour limit imposed on working with the ball.
Two hours a week for two-thirds of the calendar year is part of the reason college soccer has such a hard time keeping its best talent.  It's an obvious detriment to the career of someone who aspires to a national team or a club abroad.

The benefits of the proposed change are many, and adequately listed at the above link; it's not really worth going over them one by one.  Suffice it to say, I think this change would be a great idea.  So do a lot of people.  Just not the ones in charge.  In fact, the people in charge are some of the ones who'll be putting the squeeze on the hardest.

It's no secret that Jurgen Klinsmann is busy reforming the US development system, and college is decidedly not in his plans.  And to tell the truth, that's probably just fine with the NCAA and its power brokers.  Men's soccer is often seen as an obstacle to Title IX compliance, or to the growth of sports that schools feel will better enhance their reputation.  Witness Richmond chopping soccer in favor of lacrosse.  Towson cut the sport recently too, as did Mount St. Mary's.  Maine did so a couple years ago, and Adelphi College had a D-I team (along the same lines as Hopkins having a lacrosse team) and dropped it to D-II with the rest of their sports.  And now that football and basketball players are making noises about wanting bigger slices of the pie (and sooner or later they'll get it) soccer is an easy target for schools that have to make budget cuts somewhere to comply.

John Infante of Bylaw Blog fame wrote that the proposal "has virtually zero chance of ever being enacted," because he and virtually everyone else suggest that the NCAA has no interest in it.  "Last item on the agenda," writes Infante.  I take it one step further.  NCAA leadership would almost certainly be fiercely and violently against such a plan - they will see this as an opportunity to prove their commitment to amateur athletics.  Anything couched as improving professional development runs totally against the Shining Ideal Of The Student-Athlete, and the NCAA will not stand for that.  In fact, from their perspective, the further they can push college soccer from the professional development structure, the better.  Oh, don't get me wrong: they really like being basketball and football's development structure, because there's money to be made there.  Soccer is a money pit, not a money tree.  Killing soccer as a viable route to the pros would give them an example to point to when they preach about the Glory Of Amateurism - and besides, a lot of ADs would then have an even better excuse to shunt aside a sport that loses money by the barrel and whose existence makes it all the harder to answer to Title IX fanatics.

Since 1991, something like 20-25 men's D-I soccer programs have been cut.  About one a year.  (If I could find the damn link for that again, I'd use it, but you'll just have to trust me on that.)  While the overall effect has probably been neutral or maybe even upwards thanks to D-I expansion, I wouldn't expect that to continue.  Another 20-25 programs might disappear in the next ten years.  MLS is pouring resources into the creation and building of development academies for each of their teams, and expanding the league besides (meaning, even more development academies.)  College is going to be less and less of a winning proposition for players with aspirations.  It'll be a mere diversion for "players going pro in something other than sports," like with other largely invisible sports like wrestling and volleyball.  That's just how the NCAA likes it.  More of an amateur feel, and incidentally, a lot cheaper.  Good on the coaches for trying to stave off the darkness, but it's not so much that their proposal will be dead on arrival.  They're calling 911 and the dispatcher is telling them if they're like to die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus population.


Anonymous said...

Great analysis. I read the Jeff White article on this topic, and while I know that Gelnovatch likes the ideas I received none of the frank "is this is a good and/or likely thing?" that I got here. Thanks.
p.s. What's up with reCaptcha these days? Is this a good thing?

Brendan said...

I dunno about the Captcha thing. I don't control what Blogger puts out there for that stuff.

Brendan said...
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