Interview by Mike Woitalla
The impact of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy's banning its players from high school ball is being felt across the nation as the fall scholastic season begins. We spoke with Joe Cummings, the CEO of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), more than a third of whose 30,000-plus members are high school coaches.
SOCCER AMERICA: What do you say to high school coaches who are upset that the NSCAA didn’t prevent U.S. Soccer from implementing the high school ban on Development Academy players?
JOE CUMMINGS: First of all, the statement we issued last year is one we still believe in. We are predominantly an educational institution and we feel that you should not mandate choice.
And that in the case of the Development Academy, they have mandated you must choose, and we feel that high school players should have the opportunity to do both. It shouldn’t be an either or situation.
To those who feel that the NSCAA should have done more -- we are an individual membership organization. We wouldn’t be the ones to take this on. The NFHS (the National Federation of State High School Associations) would be the one to take this on. Not the NSCAA.
The companion to this would be for a college coach to feel that the NSCAA should take on and issue the deals with legislation at the Division I, II, III, junior college or NAIA level. And that’s not our role. It’s not the function we would serve for the colleges, nor is it a function we would serve for the high schools. Nor is it a function that we would serve for our youth members if it were relative to a youth issue.
I will say that we work very closely with the NCAA, we speak with them, and we have spoken with NFHS about a couple of initiatives. But for us to be lead of this issue is not a function of the NSCAA.
SA: The NSCAA’s statement is pretty clearly disapproving of U.S. Soccer’s high school ban …
JOE CUMMINGS: Of all of the things that we could do or would do, we’ve done. Anything that we feel is within our purview, we have done. I’ve spoken to U.S. Soccer. I’ve spoken to anyone within U.S. Soccer I felt I should address it with. I’ve met multiple times with the folks at NHFS. We have had a meeting with NHFS with both of our boards' members. We’ve given our high school membership a forum, a separate forum on our Web site.
We have posted both sides of the view on our Web site. Those who feel the decision by the Development Academy is wrong, we’ve given them an opportunity to express themselves using our Web site.
SA: What do you know about the NHFS effort on behalf of high school soccer coaches?
JOE CUMMINGS: As the governing body of the high schools I feel they have taken a very active role, whether it be through meetings, phone calls and letter-writing.
They have taken an active role in expressing their position on this and that’s the group that should do it. We certainly have spoken with them and helped them with the message. We’ve been active with them.
SA: What was the NSCAA’s stance in discussions with U.S. Soccer?
JOE CUMMINGS: Isn’t there a way for peaceful co-existence? Isn’t there a way for a player to still participate in high school and continue to play on his Academy team? I would have hoped that would have been the decision.
Personally -- this is not an NSCAA position – if this was all under the umbrella of the professional teams I’d be much more -- not accepting of it – but I could nod my head and say, “OK, fine.” Because most of the professional teams I believe aren’t charging the kids a fee. And then it would the number of MLS clubs times 40 or so kids [kept out of high school ball]. Instead of 80 Development Academy programs times 40 kids or whatever.
[Editor’s note: Academy clubs field one team in each of the two groups: U-15/16 and U-17/18. Minimum roster size is 18.]
SA: One argument for the ban from the Academy, which is a national league, is that high school seasons are played at different times throughout the nation, making it difficult to have a break for high school play …
JOE CUMMINGS: In that regard I agree with Development Academy folks. It’s very hard to schedule something when you know some of the kids won’t be there in the fall, some of the kids won’t be there in the winter, some won’t be there in the spring. If we were all playing high school soccer during one season, or even during two seasons, it might be a little easier.
SA: What has obviously angered high school coaches is U.S. Soccer’s implication that they can’t be trusted to develop talent. And that three months playing high school ball is going to impede the players’ progress …
JOE CUMMINGS: This is one that I do bristle at, not only because I was a high school coach. We have some really, really good high school coaches. I don’t think you can say a kid’s not going to improve by playing high school soccer.
And improvement can be in a lot levels besides just talking about shoot, pass, dribble, head and receive. Couldn’t it be true they’re going to improve a lot of ways, from a leadership standpoint, from a management standpoint, from a teamwork standpoint?