On April 13, the NCAA Division 1 Council will be voting to approve a fall-spring season -- the 21st Century Model -- for men's soccer. Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski has been spear-heading the reform movement, which succeeded in putting a vote on the NCAA's April 2020 docket, but it was tabled because of the COVID interruption.
SOCCER AMERICA: Although the COVID outbreak forced the tabling of the NCAA's April 2020 vote on the 21st Century Model, the pandemic also created a unique college season that resulted in a spring College Cup (the 2020 championship having been postponed from December of that year to May 2021). Did that and the experience with a split-season help the quest for 21st Century Model approval?
SASHO CIROVSKI: Overall, the successful execution of a Spring College Cup was a net positive. The final between Marshall and Indiana was an outstanding game.
The players had an additional day of rest and the game was played on a Monday night with perfect weather conditions. ESPN2 televised the game and it was the highest rated college soccer final in history.
The Atlantic Sun and the ACC conferences played a "Covid" split season and the feedback from the coaches and players was overwhelmingly positive. Since the decision to move all of the Olympic fall sports to a 2021 Spring Championship was made at the 11th hour (October 2020), and it was successfully implemented with facilities being shared and support staff being redistributed, there should be no more pushback on those arguments! The facility matter was particularly important for northern schools, yet we found a way to succeed in getting our season completed.www.21stcenturymodel.org
SA: Before COVID postponed the vote, you were confident that the 21st Century Model would be approved. The votes looked to be there by your calculations. Are those who will vote on it next month the same people who were supposed to vote in April of 2020?
SASHO CIROVSKI: Yes, in March of 2020, our 21st Century Model Committee was optimistic that we were going to have the votes to pass. And we continue to be optimistic.
However, with many leadership changes at various institutions and NCAA committees combined with the changing landscape of college athletics we do have concerns heading into decision day on April 13. And with the seismic impact of NIL legislation, transfer portal, conference realignment and the Alston case being center stage, we are hopeful that appropriate attention will be given to our proposal as it is consistent with the priority of modernizing the NCAA. We are doing everything we can to educate and inform NCAA leadership ahead of the vote.
The Division 1 Council has representation from every conference and some added votes from commissioners, faculty reps and student committee. [Chart on the voting breakdown below.]
SA: How confident are you of approval and what makes you confident?
SASHO CIROVSKI: We are optimistic that that there will be a two-semester model for men's college soccer because it is the right thing to do for the student-athletes and for Division I Men’s college soccer. With sponsorship of the three Power 5 Conferences (Big Ten, ACC and Pac 12) and support from all four other soccer-playing institutions from the SEC (Kentucky and South Carolina) and Big 12 (West Virginia and Central Florida), we should have about 80% of the necessary votes. We also have the powerful endorsement and votes from the National SAAC (Student Advisory Committee and the FAR (Faculty Athletics Representative) groups.
SA: What reason might a Division I Council member give to vote against the 21st Century Model and how would you convince them otherwise?
SASHO CIROVSKI: All of the votes by D1 Council members are based on the will and position of their respective conferences or committees. The simple answer to your question is that there is no good reason to vote against it.
If people in leadership positions truly care about student-athlete well being and care enough to listen to the voices of the players, then it's an absolute no-brainer. In 2016, the NCAA did a nationwide general time demands survey and asked our players if they would prefer a two-semester model, 73% said yes! In 2017, the NSCAA (now known as United Soccer Coaches) did a survey more specific to our model, 80% said yes!
One month ago, we asked our kids if they want to play in the 21st Century Model, 86% said yes! But this was not a survey, this was a signed petition. I am very proud of the fact that we have done things the right way to get this legislation across the finish line. We have been patient and persistent. And we won't stop until we get this done.
SA: Have the last two years in any way affected the strength of your arguments for the 21st Century Model benefits?
SASHO CIROVSKI: As I mentioned, it was proven that even during a pandemic, you can successfully play over two semesters and that our spring championships can flourish in good weather and with much better media and television coverage.
SA: What can members of the soccer community do to help the passage of the 21st Century Model?
SASHO CIROVSKI: I think people need to speak up and weigh in. It's very clear that our 21st Century Model is aimed at modernizing college soccer in the 21st century. We need people to speak up and insist that their local universities and conferences listen to their student-athletes. In spite of overwhelming evidence and wishes of our coaches and players, there are still way too many people that want to keep us in our “compression tank" in the fall.
It's very easy to find reasons to avoid change, which is exactly what we are dealing with. If you are a team, club, league or a full association, please use your voice through social media or through letters to your local college/university and or conference and let them know that you support our effort to implement the 21st Century Model. Our motto is simple, it's ''for the players and for the game." It's time for our collective voices to be heard!
SA: When we spoke at the height of the pandemic's interruption of college sports, there were fears of men's soccer programs getting cut because of financial strain. How did men's D1 college soccer fare? Are there still concerns about the fallout?
SASHO CIROVSKI: Thankfully, there were not many programs cut during the pandemic. However, I am concerned about where college sports are headed with the amateur model basically becoming a way of the past. There is an NCAA D1 Transformational Committee looking at the way forward. What I see is an inevitable division within Division I sports. In other words, I see something similar to what college football has with FBS and FCS ... a D1A and a D1AA. I think, more than ever, it's important for college soccer to increase our relevance and significance within our own campuses and within the college sports landscape.
Let's put it this way, if college programs are worried about getting cut, it won't be because of the 21st Century Model. There are much bigger issues at play. Our best way forward is to grow our game through the 21st Century Model.
• Sasho Cirovski, who celebrated his 400th win last year, took the Maryland helm in 1993 and has led the Terrapins to national titles in 2005, 2008 and 2018 and nine appearances in the College Cup. Former Cirovski players have represented Maryland at the last three World Cups: Omar Gonzalez, Graham Zusi, Maurice Edu, Clarence Goodson and Rodney Wallace. Earlier this year, Ben Bender became the third Maryland Terrapin to go No. 1 in the MLS draft, after Leo Cullen (1998, Miami Fusion) and Edu (2007, Toronto FC). Former Terrapins in the pros present and past include Zack Steffen, A.J. DeLaGarza, Patrick Mullins, Robbie Rogers and Taylor Twellman.
SA: At the youth level, the U.S. Soccer ended its Development Academy two years ago and now we have MLS Next. As a men's college coach, how do you assess the difference between potential recruits playing in MLS Next instead of the DA?
SASHO CIROVSKI: There is not much difference at all. MLS really stepped up with the MLS Next league. I appreciate that they were more inclusive and there are more regionalized games. ECNL and the USYSA have also done a very nice job in communicating with our college coaches and have created great events for all of us to see players.
SA: Anything you think MLS Next, or other organizations in the boys youth game, should do differently?
SASHO CIROVSKI: Yes, I would like to see more regionalized competitions/events. I'm not sure you really need the national showcases and events. They are way too big and too long. I also miss the state championships.
Photos: Courtesy of Univ. of Maryland Athletics