Trish Hughes leads college soccer advocacy: 'We'll keep making sure coaches' voices are heard'

It’s a coach’s dream: Your team wins its NCAA tournament semifinal match. You are one game away from a Division III national championship.

All four D-III semis -- men’s and women’s -- are played on the same day, at the same site. Because yours was the last one scheduled -- and preceding games went to overtime, even penalty kicks -- you don’t get off the field until nearly midnight.

Your players still must eat, get back to the hotel, come down from their adrenaline high, sleep, and prepare for the finals. Which -- because this is Division III -- is less than 24 hours away. That’s been the case for years. Trish Hughes says it’s unhealthy, dangerous, and flies in the face of the NCAA’s stated commitment to student-athletes -- and its own science too. She’s trying to do something about it.

In March, Hughes was named United Soccer Coaches’ college programs officer, succeeding Rob Kehoe, who held the position the last 12 years. She brought experience at many levels -- including athletic director and coach at Division I, II and III schools -- and turned her attention to support professional development of all the coaches her organization serves.

But with over 400 men’s and 400 women’s programs, Division III makes up the largest college soccer group. In many ways, they’re the most underserved too. Hughes has an idea.

As part of United Soccer Coaches’ mission to support all members, CEO Lynn Berling-Manuel agreed to cover an extra day’s hotel and meals for all eight semifinal teams. The cost: $20,000. The NCAA said no.

So the 2021 D-III national tournament was played last weekend in Greensboro, North Carolina, on consecutive days. (Meanwhile, the Division I women had two rest days. One more than usual as the NCAA accommodated BYU's refusal to play on a Sunday.) Christopher Newport lifted the D-III women's title with a 2-0 win over TCNJ in the final after 1-0 semifinal wins over Loras and Wesleyan, respectively. In men's D-III, all three games within two days went to overtime. Connecticut College beat Amherst in the final on a shootout after a 1-1 tie. In the semifinals, Connecticut College beat Washington & Lee, 2-1, and Amherst prevailed 1-0 over UChicago.  

“This is not an indulgence. It’s common sense,” Hughes says. “The NCAA holds coaches to high standards of professionalism. They say that student-athletes are paramount. When the national anthem is played before a final, there’s no difference if it’s a D-I or a D-III player standing there. This issue is not going away. We’ll continue to advocate for this group of awesome athletes and coaches.”

She has been heartened by the reaction to United Soccer Coaches’ proposal and offer. Many D-I coaches have lent their support, she says.

Hughes is excited about other D-III initiatives too. She’s brought guest speakers to a monthly virtual mentoring program for young female coaches. They discuss issues like leadership, self-care, the law, and how to relate to a new generation of athletes. “We have to stop the bleed of young women coaches walking away from the game,” she says.

Some of Hughes’ work transcends divisions. The NCAA’s new policy allowing student-athletes to benefit from their name, image and likeness has “opened a Pandora’s box,” she says -- particularly in D-I.

“Coaches don’t have a role in negotiations,” she notes. “So how do they manage athletes who get endorsements? It’s changing everything -- even the recruiting landscape. It’s one more challenge for coaches. As an association, we have a responsibility to stay in front of a ll these issues.”

The NCAA is “not the enemy,” Hughes insists. “We want to help them advance the game, at every level.” As the national governing body redrafts its constitution -- with dramatic changes expected throughout college sports – her goal is to make sure soccer remains important and relevant.

“Plenty of people do X’s and O’s,” she notes. “My job is to support professional development. I keep asking, ‘How we can professionalize this profession?’ I help create opportunities and offer resources beyond the flags.

“We’ll keep leaning in,” she promises. “We’ll keep having conversations with key playmakers. We’ll keep making sure coaches’ voices are heard.”

She especially hopes that D-III coaches’ voices are heard on a day of rest, in between national semifinals and the national championship match.

8 comments about "Trish Hughes leads college soccer advocacy: 'We'll keep making sure coaches' voices are heard'".
  1. James Madison, December 6, 2021 at 3:51 p.m.

    Even if the NCAA was too blockheaded to schedule a rest day, it could  at least have placed the
    D-III playoffs where two fields were available.

  2. Ben Myers, December 6, 2021 at 4:54 p.m.

    Let's hope Trish Hughes succeeds in getting through to the lunk-headed soccer-clueless NCAA about playing semis and finals with at least a day in between.  The NCAA hypocritically always talks about the best interests of the athletes, when its practices are anything but.

    I've got it!  Why not schedule the NCAA Division I football championships the same way, semis followed by finals the next day?

  3. R2 Dad, December 7, 2021 at 2:50 a.m.

    "The NCAA is “not the enemy,”  At every turn NCAA has made poor decisions then stuck to their guns. We are burdened with this sclerotic organization unless colleges just throw off the shackles and start a new national organization responsive to the needs of constituents. That's how democracy works.

  4. Wooden Ships replied, December 7, 2021 at 9:55 a.m.

    Can't agree with you more R2. There are numerous examples of how the NCAA could care less about the worlds most popular sport. The other university divisions have major shortcomings too. Aside from the D-III scheduling farse, not using FIFA laws, the moronic clock, not having it be a two semester season, the need to revisit the liberal substitutions and some I'm forgetting. I was a university Head Coach for a number of years and our insistence on doing a hybrid version of the game always bothered me. You know what else that bothered me, peers that were all to accepting of the way we do it. Wish her luck, but until college coaches demand change I think she will be pissing in the wind. 

  5. Glenn Van Straatum, December 7, 2021 at 3:45 a.m.

    I wish Trish Hughes much luck in her efforts. Being heard and listened to is one thing, but making actual changes is what is needed here. 

    The next power structure that may need to come tumbling down is the NCAA.

    The only time the NCAA will listen to any soccer or any low income-generating sport is if their income from big-money events is being impacted such as major football or basketball events,  The student-athletes and coaches are being used to garner the money, pure and simple. I wish it was different, but that seems to be the reality and everyone accepts it because the NCAA is a monopoly. 

    If an American football program was asked to play two days in a row, I am sure the NCAA would find a reason why it was not possible and make all efforts to get it right by their pocketbooks.

    Again, everyone says it is not that simple to make changes, but I think if Al Pacino (as in the GodFather) was given that role of fixing this inconsistency for soccer and all other small sports (and particularly for the student-athletes health) I am sure his "Mafia-like" tactics would certainly find ways to sway the powers to be in NCAA in looking at these inconsistencies from a different perspective/lens (even if forced).

    Goodluck Trish! We are with you for the student's sake.

  6. Kevin Sims, December 7, 2021 at 1:56 p.m.

    NCAA decision on these tournaments makes an absolute mockery of its own professed mission and priorities. C'mon! 

  7. Ben Myers, December 7, 2021 at 10:14 p.m.

    Unfortunately, the NCAA wields enormous influence in soccer over the 50 mini-NCAAs, the state associations that run high school sports.  Same stupid clock, no stoppage time (stop the clock instead, like American football), and two-referee system, until they get to the playoffs to determine a state champion.  Then they go to the 3-man system with ARs who are clueless about positioning on the field, who cannot run, and who mishandle and misuse flags.  And then we have timeouts!  One per half per coach.  That's what we have in Massachusetts, and my son who officiated a lot in Texas has seen most of the same stupidity.  The private school leagues, seemingly a phenomenon in the northeast US, are somewhat better.

  8. R2 Dad, December 7, 2021 at 10:48 p.m.

    Trish, good luck. Remember, there are plenty of us to play "bad cop" in your "good cop" negotiating strategy.  NCAA isn't going to respect you, though, if they perceive you as just another lapdog.

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