One of the hottest topics in collegiate athletics right now is the possibility of a radical change to the men’s college soccer game, making it a full-academic year sport.
West Virginia University junior midfielder Jamie Merriam
is in a long line of supporters for this change, a line that includes WVU Director of Athletics Oliver Luck and men’s soccer coach Marlon LeBlanc.
Luck and LeBlanc are part of a group that will address the Major League Soccer technical committee at the league’s all-star game in Portland, Oregon, on August 5.
In the current system, teams can play as much as two exhibitions and 24 games between August and November.
In the new model (which is used in nearly all professional leagues), teams would open training camp in late August, hold two exhibitions, followed by 13 matches from mid-September until the weekend before Thanksgiving.
Winter break would occur from late November until late February with teams allowed to have eight hour-long training sessions. Spring training would begin in late February and include one exhibition. The season would resume in mid-March and include nine regular-season matches, plus conference and NCAA Tournament matches.
“I think it would be huge because around the world, soccer it is not crammed into the fall like the college game is right now,” Merriam says. “You have three months to play 20 games plus whatever playoffs. With the new schedule you have a lot more time, especially if you suffer an injury.”
The new system would provide time to recover from injury, allowing student-athletes to stay away from the stress of pushing themselves to be able to play.
“When kids get injured now they’re going to treatment three times a day because they want to be healthy in order to play on Friday,” Merriam said. “With this, you have an opportunity to think about it. I could say that I’m going to miss five games this fall, but I have nine in the spring, so I’m going to take my time and get healthy.”
Another downfall of the current system is that players are never playing at 100 percent of their potential. Often there are two games in one weekend and players get one full day to recover. With the chance of two overtime games, a student-athlete could play anywhere from 180 minutes to 220 minutes.
The men’s soccer team at WVU has taken advantage of heart rate monitors that measure a player’s recovery rate. It is unheard of for a player to play a match on Friday and then be fully recovered for Sunday’s match.
“Marlon is always worried about if we’re ready for the game, checking our heart rate and recovery rate,” Merriam said. “There are just some times that you’re not recovered because you don’t have enough time.”
The change also would make an easier transition for incoming freshmen on the pitch and in the classroom.
Formed in 2007, the United States Soccer Federation created the Academy program following a comprehensive review of elite player development. This has changed the landscape for recruiting and the majority of college players now come from Academy programs.
“Most players come from Academy programs and that is year round,” Merriam said. “You have training in the summer, training in the winter and games throughout the whole year. A lot of incoming players would be more comfortable playing in the new system.”
Merriam also believes that the new model will create a bigger fan base because men’s soccer will not have to always compete with college football.
“The perception of Americans is that the United States is developing so much and that we’ll do well in the next World Cup,” Merriam said. “People are watching international soccer more often, so that paired with not competing with football will increase fans.”