There’s a few changes that need to take place in the American soccer ranks — I’ve went through a few I think could happen in high school and such, but now it’s time to be more specific.
I’m pretty familiar with the NAIA soccer scene. It’s evident there’s some issues with NCAA and NAIA. Many schools have jumped ship from NAIA to NCAA over the years — it’s amazing to go through and see how many schools used to be NAIA. There are many that are calling for changes within the NCAA — which I believe will happen and will touch on them later.
As a member of the NAIA right now, I know there needs to be some emphasis on making things right — especially with the issues in the NCAA.
I cannot speak for any other sport, but I do think there’s some things that can make the NAIA more of an attraction for programs and hopefully prospective student-athletes. While the changes can also make the experience for current student-athletes better.
Change 1: Change the calendar from August-November to August-May. Yes, this is more “in line” with what is traditionally called the “FIFA calendar” or “international calendar.” But, to me, what this does is allows student-athletes who get scholarships for soccer to actually participate in soccer for 4 years. In the current model, student-athletes only participate in athletics for 8-10 months in the span of 4 years. Yes, I do understand there is a spring schedule in the current model, but graduating seniors have no role in it. Nor, is there actually anything riding on it. Statistics show that student-athletes perform better in the classroom than their non-athlete counterparts — and many even show that athletes do better in-season than out-of-season. So, why not make the season all school year? What’s the hurt? Now, I will add…there should be a “winter break,” “holiday break,” or similar to what Spain, Russia, and other countries do with their pro leagues. Take a 6-week hiatus or something.
Change 2: Restrict games to once a week — mainly during the traditional school weeks. Semesters are 16 weeks long, including finals. So, there are 32 weeks of actual schooling that student-athletes go through, yet soccer players only participate in 2-3 months per year. Play games on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. When/if there are breaks (Spring Break, Fall Break, etc.) then teams can play more games or on different days not being Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Or, if games are played on other days, then no class time should be missed — our conference is basically an hour away from each other, so it could be possible to play a Wednesday without missing any classes and to change things up from Saturday matches (especially since many schools still don’t play on Sundays).
The current model allows for a 18-20 game regular season schedule. With 32 weeks, playing once per week, taking a 6ish week break…the same amount of games are played. If it is necessary to add more, then it could be done too. The main positive out of this is less class time is missed. Why wouldn’t professors be all for this? Why wouldn’t student-athletes be liking this? No extra coursework. No missed classes. No “unexcused” or “excused” absences are needed. No frustrations between professors and athletics. Everything is accounted for. Another positive is student-athlete well-being. Playing multiple games a week is terrible for the body. Playing multiple games a week doesn’t allow for rest and rehabilitation. Playing multiple games a week doesn’t enable development how a player can develop. Teams, coaches, players, and athletic training staffs are rushing around to ensure a season can be played — they aren’t concerned nearly enough with the long-term development of a student-athlete on and off the field.
Change 3: Restrict training to 2-4 times a week. This can be dependent upon how many matches are played overall and per week. Like “Change 2,” this move allows for academic success. This move also allows for proper rest and rehabilitation for all parties involved. Another positive for this change is it helps the “coach burnout.” Coach burnout is a big reason for many calendars across college sports. So, allow coaches time off throughout the season. Allow built in days for recruiting — train 2-3 days a week and allow for a recruiting day each week. There’s all kinds of ways to mix up this calendar. Not only could soccer development be seen in this, but also physical development to allow for cardio and/or weight training to be included in the weekly calendars.
This calendar option also allows for student-athletes to get jobs throughout the school year they can work on a consistent basis. Why isn’t that a positive thing too? The rising cost of higher education isn’t changing anytime soon…allow them to make some money to help pay for school.
NEGATIVES: It’s hard for me to think of many negatives from this new model. The number one negative people may look at is an increased budget for soccer — but, that doesn’t have to be. There shouldn’t be much added expenses since the amount of games are staying roughly the same. A second negative that may be mentioned is cold weather games for teams — my thoughts to that is, so what?! There are all kinds of sports that play in cold weather, and there are all kinds of places that deal with certain climates that others aren’t used to. There’s a built in break. Games can still be scheduled by the schools, so play two games during Spring Break and/or Fall Break. Schedule games against more southern teams when the climate calls for it. Schedule games against your cold-weather teams when the weather is still nicer. Climate reasoning is a wash to me…we’ve gotten too soft to say we can’t play soccer in February (needless to say, baseball starts their season in February). A third negative could be the conflict against multi-sport athletes or other sports. The amount of multi-sport athletes in college athletics is pretty minimal (especially soccer players playing other sports) — people have to make a decision sometime, so why not force the decision? In my mind, it’s never a bad thing to specialize…especially at 18-22 years old. Conflicts with other sports happen, we can never avoid those. I’m trying to figure out how to make my sport better…others can do their own job doing that with their respective sports.
Other than those few, I cannot think of many negatives. I also don’t think they are that big of an issue to manage.
Overall, this new model allows for positive development of the student, the athlete, and the person. I believe it could attract programs to be more developmental like this. Now, I am in no way thinking schools make decisions based on what’s best for soccer…but, why couldn’t we dream, right? If NAIA starts it and it helps garner student-athletes and their support, maybe NCAA could become smarter and try a similar model. There’s so many influences in NCAA that won’t allow this to happen easily. The NAIA could have an easier time trying to change their policies. Why not try to attract? Why not try to make some changes? What is the hurt?
Why not try to get athletes on par with seasons that they actually see at the professional ranks? Football already has it. Basketball is very similar too. Why must soccer be so different? It’d sure be nice for us in college athletics to stop sitting on our bums and actually start doing something that makes sense. Let’s look out for the betterment of our student-athletes, on and off the playing field.