SAN JOSE, California - The Women’s College Cup is the premier showcase event of the season for Division I soccer. The four teams have a captive audience and a time to celebrate the accomplishments to advance to this stage of the season.
However, there is a growing movement to shift College Cup to the spring. The overwhelming data supports shifting college soccer to a two-semester sport. Maryland’s men’s soccer head coach Sasho Cirovski has been an outspoken proponent of the move and provided an update on the status of the shift at last season’s men’s college cup.
On Thursday, I asked the coaches at the Women’s College Cup about the two-semester model.
“We have to join the men,” North Carolina head coach Anson Dorrance said. “We’re crazy. The women’s game is about 10 years behind the men. The reason the men have to make the jump is the criticism of the compressed season and the fact you aren’t playing year-round. Basically, in 10 years we’re going to be there.”
“Three or four of my top recruits have already been approached by U.S. Soccer coaches and told to sign professional contracts,” Dorrance added. “Obviously, because they are looking at their European counterparts. Over in Europe, players of this standard - 16 year olds - are all signing professional contracts. The great fear that U.S. Soccer has is that if we don’t follow suit we won’t be able to compete with them anymore. Basically, we will be there soon. Eventually, there will be a tipping point.”
“Then it will be the terror that our men’s coaches go through annually when he is recruiting. Should he recruit a kid who has the potential to jump to the MLS right out of high school or should he take a lower level kid because he is burned so often? Once he was burned the day before practice began, a kid who had committed to North Carolina decided to sign with Philadelphia [Union]. And all of a sudden he is sitting on a full scholarship that he extended to this kid with no time to recruit another kid. Then a huge hole opened in his defense that he relied on for this kid to fill. We’re going to hit this eventually.”
“There is nothing wrong with the two-semester model for our perspective. Ideally, you would play one game a week. One of the things I hate about the college model especially in my conference where we play a Thursday-Sunday schedule, which was pushed onto us by a raider that we hired from Stanford who ended up the Virginia coach trying to follow the west coast model of Thursday-Sunday. If you’re on a Thursday-Sunday, you don’t get to train. Every training session is a taper. So you aren’t really developing in practice. It’s a miserable way to try and develop players. What would be wonderful is one game a week so you don’t miss a class. You schedule all of your games on Saturday or Sunday and you don’t miss any of your classes. Now, you get to train.”
“The injury rate, especially us in the women’s side, will plummet. Because right now with the ACL issue in the women’s game. It’s a huge problem for our young girls. That’s why at North Carolina we have always substituted. Trust me the criticism I get, mostly from journalists, that don’t really understand you can’t play two games a week. The excuses we get from why a team loses to us because we substitute like it’s a bad idea. It’s not a bad idea. It protects the girls. If you’re going to press like we do and you don’t substitute, you’re crazy. Yes, I would love a two-semester model. I would love to play one game a week. I would love to train my girls for a week.”
Dorrance did not stop at the two-semester model. He even added his own twist to how college soccer could improve the environment for the player.
“You can throw this in there because I know it will upset some people, I think in the middle we should have a futsal season and it should be a college sanctioned futsal season,” Dorrance added. “If we want to compete with the world and believe it or not - and I really appreciate the stuff that Mike [Woitalla] has written because we get all sorts of criticism about our model. When we hire someone who is brought into U.S. Soccer, here’s his first instinct especially if he is from Holland or one of the countries: ‘we’ve got to follow the European model.’ Well, you know what? We are dynastic in women’s soccer at the world level. Maybe they should follow our model. Yeah, our model is a great model. Why is it a great model? We have 320 Division I coaches and their sole responsibility is the human, physical, and soccer development of the young women they are given so our player pool is absolutely huge.”
“Can we make our platform better? Yes, we can,” Dorrance said. “We can make it better if we have a two-semester model. We can make it even better if the NCAA will sponsor futsal because that is what we can do between the two semesters. Trust me, we will continue to conquer to the world if we can go in that direction.”
Dorrance’s point about futsal touches on a key issue with youth soccer over the last decade - participation is dropping at the youth level. The Godfather of college soccer believes that returning the joy and fun to the game is the key to turning around that trend.
“Futsal is fun,” Dorrance said. “Right now what is happening at the youth level is our kids are quitting our game in droves. I know what it is. I’ve been to some of these sessions. The kids have to enjoy the session. They have to enjoy the session. Our kids love futsal. Talk to Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Tobin Heath, Crystal Dunn, they loved futsal. We need to figure out a game that develops them so by playing the game they are developing. But it also has to be fun. We have to figure out a way to make sure our game continues to be fun because we’re losing kids. That doesn’t bode well for our soccer future.”
Dorrance was the loudest voice in speaking the positives of improving the college soccer model, but he was not the only voice. Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe and UCLA head coach Amanda Cromwell also spoke about the positives of moving to the two-semester model. (I did not ask Washington State head coach Todd Shulenberger about the model during the press conference.)
“I’m very much in favor of moving to the two-semester model,” Ratcliffe said. “I think it would help with recovery time for the student-athletes and just for their overall enjoyment I think it’d be better. I’m completely in favor of it.”
When asked about Waldrum’s tweet, Ratcliffe explained that it’s been an education issue with getting some coaches on board with the move.
“I think initially that the women’s coaches weren’t educated to exactly what it would look like,” Ratcliffe said. “I was fortunate I went to an event and I learned a lot about it, so that helped me to understand. But I think if the women’s coaches understand exactly all the specifics and the dates and everything else, that I think they would definitely be on board, because I think it would benefit both men’s and women’s collegiate soccer and help propel our sport.”
Cromwell echoed the comments about moving to a one-game a week model.
“I’ve been a proponent of that,” Cromwell said. “I think, as far as soccer goes, it’s meant to be a one game a weekend – maybe with an occasional mid-week (game) – sport. It’s really tough on their bodies. We talk about student-athlete welfare and trying to decrease injuries, and helping them with academics. I would love to see that happen. As far as logistics that go along with that, as far as multiple sports in the spring, sharing facilities, the weather issues, there is so much more to it. I know the men seem to have a big push right now and a lot of momentum. I think it would be hard to do it for the men and not for the women. It wouldn’t make sense to me. A lot of the coaches don’t really know the ins and outs of it, even the players, because we haven’t discussed it much. We weren’t sure it would gain traction or not. Regardless of what we do, we’ve got to have a longer season, to give them more recovery days, to let them have a chance to take two days.”
Cromwell also mentioned the benefit of her conference not having a postseason tournament in helping the teams stretch out the regular season and decrease the amount of weekends with multiple games.
“In the Pac-12 we’re lucky because we don’t have a conference tournament,” Cromwell said. “We are able to spread some games out and have two one-game weekends in conference - to get two days off, it’s, wow. It’s like Christmas in September or October. It’s a gift. It really is. I would be a fan of it, if we go that route.”