“It’s a model whose time has come,” said Maryland Coach Sasho Cirovski, Division I men’s committee chair of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. The current NCAA soccer calendar, which runs through the fall semester only, has been in place since 1959.
“The full-year concept for soccer has been discussed for decades, and over the past three years, has finally been refined into the model we’re preparing for submission to the Division I council,” Cirovski said. “It’s the same number of playing opportunities we have today  but it reduces missed class time, gives appropriate rest and recovery time between games and moves the championship into a better weather time of year.”
The coaches are aiming to submit a formal proposal to the NCAA by a Nov. 1 deadline. Such action requires sponsorship by a conference or a standing (non-soccer) NCAA committee. If the plan does not enter the legislative cycle this fall, it would have to wait a year.
Even with NCAA approval, the new calendar would realistically not take effect until 2018-19 or 2019-20.
The idea of playing over the full academic year was first raised two years ago.
In a recent survey, 90 percent of Division I men’s soccer coaches and 70 percent of their players supported a two-semester model. Other NCAA sports play across two semesters, most notably basketball.
Soccer coaches have long argued that the congested fall schedule, with up to three matches per week, takes an undue physical toll on the players and affects both academics and quality of the college experience.
This season, for example, Maryland will play 17 regular season games over two months and one week, with seven on weekdays, followed by the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. In the spring, the Terrapins play exhibitions only.
Many pro and national team coaches have complained the college season is too compressed to adequately develop players for the next level. Top prospects often leave college soccer after one or two years because of limited benefits.
Under the new proposal, training camp would begin the third week of August — about 11 days later than the current schedule — and last 2 1/2 weeks instead of 12 days. There would be two preseason matches instead of three. The fall season would begin the second week of September instead of late August and run about 2 1/2 months with 13 matches (11 on weekends).
Teams would break from the third week in November until mid-January. During that period, they would have five weeks of vacation and limited training weeks. Teams would practice part-time from mid-January through mid-February and full-time from mid-February to mid-March, with one exhibition game.
The spring season would run from mid-March to late April with nine matches (seven on weekends) for a total of 22 over the two semesters.
Conference tournaments would take place over two weekends in late April and early May, followed by the NCAA tournament from the second week of May into early June. The semifinals and championship would be separated by a week.
Under the current outline, the College Cup is played in early to mid-December, often in cold-weather locations, with the semifinals and final 48 hours apart. “It’s a survival contest, not quality soccer, on what should be our showcase event,” Cirovski said.
Major League Soccer, which conducts its draft in January, is willing to work with the college soccer community in integrating players into the pro ranks outside the normal winter window, the NSCAA said. However, with the MLS season starting in March, some college teams could lose elite players in the middle of a two-semester season.
Cirovski played the college game in the early 1980s, “when soccer was relatively unknown in the U.S.,” he said, “and since then, have watched this game expand at an almost unimaginable rate, except for the Division I men’s college game, which unfortunately has remained at about the same number of teams in the same format as when soccer was almost invisible in the landscape of U.S. sports. However, the days of soccer obscurity are long gone.”
The Division 1 women’s community has not shown the same support for the academic-year model. While 87 percent of women’s team coaches were behind it, only 17 percent of players were.
Florida Coach Becky Burleigh, the NSCAA Advocacy Council representative for all of college soccer, said that attitude could change in the near future.
“The D1 men are further along in their education process than the D1 women, and we fully support their efforts to get this on the table for discussion,” she said. “The initiative is a well-thought through model that will serve their game and student-athletes well. As we move into the future, with this informational starting point, it may be considered a good fit for us, and this will be decided in time as each college division considers what best serves the needs of their athletes and programs.”
Division II and III programs have not embraced the proposed changes yet either.