Soccer’s annual college debate ritual

Dec. 8, 2012

American soccer officials have discussed it ad nauseum. The U.S. Soccer Federation and MLS have tried to concoct ways to get around it. And Friday night’s College Cup semifinals reignited the debate with tweets flying back and forth.

Whether it was decrying the fact that the pinnacle of the college soccer season was held in a baseball stadium, in Alabama, or that it was played before a paltry crowd, in Alabama, or rules cost Indiana a goal on the stroke of halftime, criticism of the game the NCAA plays was plentiful.

And to be graciously fair, there is a lot to criticize.

But kid yourself not. Until the game, both pro and college, grow substantially, little will change.

MLS will have to grow, both financially and in the greater pop culture. Without significantly higher salaries for average players, college soccer will remain a viable alternative for teens weighing their options – especially with mothers and fathers advising their sons on life decisions.

But money isn’t the only factor. Rarely does risk-reward analysis enter the conversation of a high school football or basketball player’s decision on college ball.  It doesn’t have to.

The colleges are the expressway to the NFL and NBA because both football and basketball generate significant revenue – and this is not the time for the Title IX advocates to add their two cents – for their schools.

The schools see it in their best interest to adopt, or at least adapt to, whatever the pros are doing to leverage that popularity. It’s a symbiosis that’s more like a mutual parasitic advantage.

Soccer, like track or swimming or rowing – or any other sport including EVERY woman’s sport, does not have that advantage. And it won’t until it starts to make money for the schools.

Barring that, FIFA, the USSF, MLS, nor any pundit on Twitter will have any leverage for the NCAA to change its rules to restrict substitutions to three per game or put the clock in the hands of the referee or alter its game schedule.

Regardless of the endless parade of pro coaches who lament the university system, saying it actually retards player development because of its restrictions on the number of games and the aforementioned rules on substitutes and game clock, what advantage is it for college ADs or coaches to change? Maybe recruiting help by pointing to the pros who have come through their locker room? Eh…

The college game has grown somewhat since the inception of MLS in 1996, but not in any conspicuous ways. College coaches and administrators apparently are content with the way things are.

Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski has passionately defended – and will into infinity – the college way.

The “Final Four” or College Cup remains a relatively stealthy event on the American sports scene – even among college championships. And there is no reason to believe that will change.

Despite the creation of the academy system by the USSF/MLS, the league will still get a significant number of players from college.

Because of football and basketball, and the emphasis of education in the United States, most people will generally believe that college is how you get to be a pro athlete.

Whether or not that is to the benefit or detriment of MLS and the U.S. national team is irrelevant – at least to the public, and more importantly to the NCAA.

So complain all you want, vent your frustrations on social media, or on blogs or in a bar. The status quo is molded right now in the mantle of the earth.

It could change, improve or evolve, but only with time.

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