Thus far changing the Division I Men’s college soccer schedule from the fall semester to a full academic-year has received wide support. United States Soccer Federation, Major League Soccer executives, and college coaches and administrators are throwing their weight behind the move.
The proposal, as reported on The Soccer Observer, looks to start the 2016-2017 season in mid-September and begin conference playoffs in May, with the College Cup in early June. The number of games, 25, will remain the same only the time-frame will stretch out.
If adopted the effect would greatly benefit the players and coaches in terms of player development with team days increasing to 144 from 132, and health as the 10-month schedule would eliminate 3-games a week and Friday–Sunday scheduling. Additionally, stretching the season and playoffs would allow for greater marketing opportunity as 205 programs are not trying to cram more than 20 games into a 3 or 4 month window. While appearing to be a win-win situation for many stakeholders, there is a spillover effect to a season that ends in late May.
The amateur and semi-professional soccer leagues such as the National Premier Soccer League and the United Soccer League – Premier Development League both begin their seasons in early May. Both leagues, considered fourth on the US soccer pyramid, give collegiate players the opportunity to get comparative games during the summer while maintaining eligibility. In total 8 Major League Soccer and North American Soccer League clubs have U-23 squads in the competing 2014 season.
National Premier Soccer League Chairman and Vice President of the historical Brooklyn Italians club, Joe Barone, realizes the benefit of a schedule change, “Good for American soccer, it is great that the college system is trying to improve.”
Expanded college soccer may force the NPSL to alter their schedule. The proposal puts the off-season between mid-June to the end of August. There is the possibility of shifting the start of the season. That could eliminate many problems. Yet, there is the issue of scouting and recruiting for some NPSL teams as the stretched schedule means more travel throughout the year.
“We would look to recruit differently, later for some. Maybe we won’t recruit as many players in college or instead players that graduated,” Barone said speaking for his club.
The Brooklyn Italians roster consists of several current college players from nearby D I schools, such as St. Francis College. Their NPSL neighbors across the Hudson with the energy beverage backing, the New York Red Bulls U-23, are made up primarily of college players from D I schools from across the nation. This is due to age limits. The U-23 model is the standard for MLS affiliated teams in both the NPSL and USL PDL.
When asked about the possible impact to PDL, the USL head office which operates all the leagues under their brand, chose not to speculate until the NCAA makes a decision . Presently USL PDL has 6 U-23 teams affiliated with professional teams.
Finally, outside of how this will effect players and clubs, there is the issue of venues. While the majority of teams play in high school fields some have used D I stadiums. Chattanooga FC, who meets Red Bulls U-23 on Saturday night in Red Bulls Arena for the NPSL Championship, played their 2014 matches at Finley Stadium. Finley Stadium is the home field for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s D I sports including their soccer team.
Chattanooga FC has one of the highest per game and total attendance figures in NPSL. In the 2014 season Chattanooga’s total attendance surpassed 25,000. The semi-final match against the Sacramento Gold hit an attendance record for the league with 8,878. Chattanooga FC with a strong supporter base and presence in area, may encounter looming concerns with the schedule change.
If the NCAA adopts D I schedule expansion to the full academic-year, the effect will ripple across the domestic soccer landscape. The professional leagues will have to adjust, most notable the MLS Superdraft may need to move. Of course, the academic-year falls in line with the European schedule so that talk will renew.
There is competitive soccer being played between NCAA and MLS. They have plenty of time to adjust, but some clubs in the fourth level of the pyramid may be between a rock and a hard place.