College soccer coaches want major schedule shift

UNC Wilmington's Jacob VanCompernolle, left, competes for a head ball with Duke's Nat Eggleston during a college soccer game in Wilmington, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Wilmington Star-News, Matt Born)
UNC Wilmington's Jacob VanCompernolle, left, competes for a head ball with Duke's Nat Eggleston during a college soccer game in Wilmington, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Wilmington Star-News, Matt Born) AP/Wilmington Star-News

Sometime in the not too distant future, the NCAA will stage its men’s soccer championship game in Chicago or Boston – in June.

At least, that is the vision of many major college coaches, who are calling upon the NCAA to expand their season into the spring semester and vastly change the nature of their sport.

Here’s how the proposal would work: Schools would play 15 regular-season matches and two exhibitions in the fall, and 10 regular-season matches and one exhibition in the spring. The conference and NCAA tournaments would be played in late spring. There would be a maximum of three mid-week games in each semester and a minimum of three days off between games.

The plan has the overwhelming support of the college coaches in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), as well as U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer. Not to mention the college players. The NSCAA says a poll it conducted of college players showed 86 percent favored an academic year schedule and 83 percent supported moving the College Cup, soccer’s final four, from December to June.

N.C. State coach Kelly Findley says there are two big advantages to shifting the season’s calendar.

“The big things for me are less missed class time and injury prevention with increased training time,” Findley said of the reduction of mid-week games. In this year’s schedules, for example, Findley’s Wolfpack will play four weekday matches. At North Carolina, it’s five, and at Duke, six.

“Physiologically it’s documented that without three days or more (of rest), there’s more damage to the body after a match,” said Wake Forest coach Jay Vidovich, who represents the ACC on the coaches’ committee.

“Right now, if a young man is injured for two weeks, that’s four or five games, a quarter of the season. This gives the kids a chance to play healthy.”

There are benefits to the sport, as well. Moving the NCAA championship out of December would allow more geographic areas to host, not just the traditional warm-weather sites. It would also move it away from football and basketball, which dominate the college landscape in December, giving it a bigger national platform.

“That’s the other byproduct, improving the quality of our game,” Vidovich said. “What soccer is missing is the championship format. Our tournament is played before final (semester) exams, the worst part of the year basically. It’s not as big of an event as it should be.”

Duke coach John Kerr said the most resistance might come from administrators who fear other sports might seek the same accommodation. There is also the problem of facilities.

“Like at Duke, we share game facilities” with soccer and lacrosse, Kerr said. “That’s a challenge when there are multiple sports.”

However, from a budgetary aspect, Findley said, the number of training days and game days wouldn’t increase.

“Less missed class time, fewer injuries and the student-athlete experience – those things are win-wins,” he said. “And there’s no budget impact. Those things resonate with (college) presidents and athletic directors.”

Qualifying nears: The U.S. Women’s National Team is well represented by ACC players again, as 10 players with ACC ties remain on the current 28-player roster ahead of qualifying for next year’s World Cup. Seven of the candidates played at UNC: Crystal Dunn, Whitney Engen, Ashlyn Harris, Tobin Heath, Allie Long, Meghan Klingenberg and Heather O’Reilly. Two are from Virginia, Becky Sauerbrunn and Morgan Brian, and one from Boston College, Kristie Mewis. But the only player on the 28-member roster still in college is Brian.

Her situation poses some problems for the Cavaliers. U.S. coach Jill Ellis, the former N.C. State assistant (1988-90), must reduce her roster to 20 players for the qualifying rounds, which begin Oct. 15, so Brian might not make the team. But if she does, Brian could miss as many as five more matches, half of UVa’s ACC schedule – Boston College (Oct. 9), N.C. State (Oct. 12), at Louisville (Oct. 19), at Duke (Oct. 23) and at Virginia Tech (Oct. 26).

The U.S. team played two exhibitions against Mexico in the past two weeks to tune up for CONCACAF qualifying. That obligation caused Brian to miss three UVa matches as well, although the Cavaliers haven’t exactly suffered without her. They are undefeated (9-0) and ranked No. 2 in the nation.

One other complication – UVa coach Steve Swanson is assisting Ellis during qualifying and is expected to miss one or two of the Cavaliers’ matches.

Looking ahead: The N.C. State women (2-5-2, 0-1 ACC) highlight a busy local soccer scene this week when they host Duke (5-4, 1-0) at 7 p.m. Thursday and No. 9 UNC at 1 p.m. Sunday. UNC (4-2-1, 1-0 also visits No. 16 Clemson (7-1-1, 0-1) on Thursday, and Duke travels to No. 2 Virginia Tech (10-0, 1-0) on Sunday.

The area men’s teams face a busy week as well. Duke (3-3-1, 1-1), coming off a 2-1 loss Tuesday night at UNC Wilmington hosts Boston College (3-3-1, 0-2) at 7 p.m. Friday and Appalachian State (2-3-1) at 7 p.m. next Tuesday in a stretch of three matches in eight days. No. 8 UNC (5-2, 1-1) goes on the road Friday to No. 3 Notre Dame (3-1-2, 1-0-1) and Tuesday to UNC Wilmington (6-1-1). N.C. State (3-2-2, 0-1-1) hosts Virginia Tech (4-3, 1-1) at 7 p.m. Friday and Coastal Carolina (4-3) at 7 p.m. Tuesday.