NCAA hits pause button on men's college soccer's quest for split-season

Thanks to an effort spearheaded by University of Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski, the NCAA seemed on the brink of approving major reform for men's college soccer with a Division I Council vote in late April. But a decision on the proposal to switch to a fall-spring split season has been put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 21st Century Model D1 Men's Soccer Coaches Committee, which had the backing of three power conferences (the Big 10, ACC and Pac-12) for the legislation, released a statement supporting the NCAA D1 Legislative Committee's recommendation to table the vote:

"We remain steadfast in our belief that the 21st Century Model is in the best interests of our student-athletes and men's college soccer. However, with so much uncertainty, we will be committed to working with campus, conference and committee leaders to adapt, plan and prepare for a timely return to action while awaiting an appropriate timetable to reconsider our proposal and vote."

The men's college proposal is one of more than 60 on docket for an April vote and the NCAA has tabled nearly all of them. While the format of college soccer may seem insignificant amid this deadly pandemic, frustrating nonetheless is the fact that the Cirovski-led quest had come so close to the finish line.

For decades, men's college coaches' attempts to improve the player development environment within NCAA regulations had never gotten as far. In addition to the power conference support in what would be a weighted vote in their favor, the proposal also got the support of Faculty Athletic Representatives.

It would only apply to D1 men, which removed an obstacle that in the past prevented other reforms. The proposal also had arguments in its favor hard to refute by those claiming to have the best interests of student-athletes in mind: Spreading games out over a longer period of time is healthier for players and less invasive on academic demands.  The split season could eliminate most midweek games. (A D1 college soccer team plays a regular season of 17-19 games in 10 weeks, in addition to a couple exhibition games in the week prior, and NCAA postseason games.)

The split season would also put playoffs and the championship in spring weather -- a solution to low-attended final fours in inclement conditions  -- and allow a week break between the semifinals and final instead of the current one-day rest.

The proposal was to launch the new men's soccer format for the 2022-23 season. It's much too soon to make predictions about the future of college sports in the wake of COVID-19, which led to the canceling of the NCAA's most lucrative event -- the basketball tournament that brought in nearly $1 billion of revenue in 2019.

The men's soccer proposal would be more or less a budget neutral change and when the NCAA sorts out the new reality created by the COVID-19 interruption, it may have not diluted any of the benefits of switching to the split season. But for now, everything's on hold.

"We waited for seven years," said Cirovski. "We can wait a little longer."

9 comments about "NCAA hits pause button on men's college soccer's quest for split-season".
  1. Guy Walling, April 3, 2020 at 8:44 a.m.

    Sasho, if you are out there and listening...please don't give up on your effort and make sure this gets back on the NCAA table for a vote when they resume the process!! This will be the best thing to ever take place for college soccer and soccer in general!! As it is important to have as many viable pathways possible into the pros, or for our young players to keep developing, especially for the large percentage of American players who are late bloomers. Stay safe everyone!

  2. Michael Saunders, April 3, 2020 at 9:12 a.m.

    The negatives of such a compressed season as now exists cannot be defended.  I officiated at three final fours during my career as a National Referee and one could see that the the short turnaround from the semis to the final impacted the play.

    This needs to be applied to WoSo D1 as well.


  3. Tom Swan replied, April 3, 2020 at 6:45 p.m.

    Absolutely, the injury and academic burden is excessive and absurd, frankly, for all college soccer players. College WOSO should be simultaneously shifted to the split season, if not I am sure legal action, if not common sense, will compel it. Of course the latter is not known to be abundant enough in NCAA. All divisions should also change to the split season at the same time.

    The boost in the development quotient of soccer players in the USA should be substantial for men and women.

  4. Mike Lynch, April 3, 2020 at 9:54 a.m.

    1. The two semester model needs to be applied to men's and women's D1-DIII. The performance and injury data applies to all.
    2. The enhanced student athlete experience applies to all, even DIII.
    3. The only group a two semester model does not benefit is college athletic administration, so not surprised in their decision to delay. COVID-19 is front and center, but the battle is not being waged by college athletic administration. What better time to give this proposal a thorough look and thoughtful discussion? Aren't we all working remotely now and some of the freed up time devoted to how to improve our programs, our program experiences?  

  5. Wooden Ships replied, April 3, 2020 at 12:57 p.m.

    Agree Mike. I would however, substitute NAIA for D-III. 

  6. Bret Simon, April 3, 2020 at 3:30 p.m.

    Thanks to Sasho and all the coaches who have put years of time and effort into this cause. Kudos also to the conferences, individual schools and athletic administrators who are supporting these initiatives. They are taking a difficult and potentially unpopular stand with some of their consituencies. The NCAA and the colleges look at precedents in other sports when changes (big and small) are proposed. If Men's DI Soccer is allowed to change, what will that mean for other divisions? Women's Soccer? Lacrosse? Other sports that would like to extend their seasons? What are the budget implications beyond soccer? To have achieved so much backing says a lot about the growth of the sport nationally and the persistent, behind-the-scenes work of this soccer leadership group. Good luck in pushing this over the line. It's potentially a game changer for our sport and I believe it would make a big impact on the game across the U.S.

  7. Mike Ziskey, April 3, 2020 at 5:32 p.m.

    I can't imagine the Big East conference would not be in favor of this new model as it would open up many more options for colder weather schools to bid on hosting the College Cup.  I know for a fact Morrison stadium or Werner Park in Omaha would be packed. 

  8. R2 Dad, April 4, 2020 at 12:08 a.m.

    Regardless of virus disruption, this is a slam-dunk. There is no argument against this, unless NCAA views all change as bad. Perhaps additional field demand in the spring? Possibly competition for college players in the spring for Open Cup matches? I think college teams should be able to compete in the Open Cup, which could turn into TV revenue streams. Otherwise, this is a great improvement for student/athletes and player development. Maybe I'm missing something?

  9. Tim Shyver, April 4, 2020 at 11:44 a.m.

    A real no-brainer. Utlimately, need all of this to filter down to the Prep level as well. 2-3 games a week isn't good for anyone. Everyone organized under a single structure / platform. What a concept! 

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