13 April 2011

Mission Incredible...Smashing College out of Soccer

In most other countries across the world, soccer is more than a sport but an investment by a particular club or outfit and their mindset in developing the premier talent that one can find or hope to invest in. In the English system all of the largest clubs have some of the deepest pockets built not only for superb stars to transfer in but also for some fantastic young guns to develop their trade at an early age. In Holland every local community has a deep scouting network that helps the nearest clubs and sometimes the biggest clubs locate talent that can replenish the diminshing ranks of the senior squad after one of their players transfers, retires, or bosmans. (Free Agency) But in this US we have a completely different system that has caused more grief than help; more sorrow than ecstasy and we have a innocent name for it, College Soccer.

No other place in the world outside of the American influenced Korean and Japanese school systems have as much grief from the higher education systems than America. And it is not so much to do with the amount of power or wealth colleges have, but due to the fact that for many College Soccer was the highest level an American kid could play at. Outside of the NASL years (debatable as well due to the price on foreign talent) and the more recent MLS years, College Soccer was the highest level Jonny Thunder could play at. Even nowadays the college realm is arguably the highest level for about 90% of the athletes across all sports. Rarely do people continue outside of it and if they do they are the cream of the crop; or nationally known superstars who have dominated their respective sports to the degree of amazement. But why is college a bad thing?

I mean these kids get an education and four years of freedom, what's so bad? Well the first issue is the age most college soccer players get out. If we go conservatively and say they enter at 18 they'll leave when they turn 21. 21 is a young age for most of the world but for soccer players its completely different. At 21 Pele, Maradona, and Messi were household names. At 21 Landon Donovan was shipped overseas and at 21 George Best was one of the best. For athletes age is the biggest issue and if you can play at a higher level at a younger age you have a better chance to be the best. The US' college system hinders this as most coaches care less about what you do after college and hinder in on what you can do during college. Ruud Guilit even said this about the draft picks and how they had to be re-taught the basics that college coaches out of them.

More importantly athletes at the larger schools which have more influence over the professional sports leagues are given shortcuts to easier classes, easier professors, and lack-luster grade rubrics. Some of the best examples are that a school on the map will get personal coaches or coaches who write and hand in their reports to the professors. And the answer isn't why but why do we judge college as a beacon of education when the athletes cannot be educated by themselves? Do athletes gain from college or is it just a farce? Can we judge an athletes grade with a grade of someone else? Instead of getting that straight forward answer we get more questions. Even parents will ask that question, "Well if you go to college you can get an education, what would you do if you got hurt?" The child's response nearly always is "I don't know" but it should be "we'll get to that bridge when we get to that bridge."

The final issue with college is pay. Really these athletes deserve it especially when they put the college on the map and help the school gain more money. Why is it that the labor only gets a discounted education and that's it. At most schools a discounted education does nothing for them, it only lets them get to class and have cheaper books but won't help them get a meal plan or some sort of income. At a certain state college were I was friends with a soccer kid, he was lucky enough to have parents with some means. All of his friends were either in-state students are also children of means. Imagine if you go to a school outside of this realm and the answer is many of them are. And now they are expected to dish out that type of money, you're kidding yourself if you think it should be this way. Also because they want free labor they keep all the kids from having agents and the income the school receives from tournaments cannot be given to them. So no agents trying to get kids to sign a contract with a shoe dealer and no kickback money for winning a tournament. Talk about slavery.

So what is MLS doing that is breaking down the barrier? Well first it is having every team open their own academy in the hope of building young players from the ground up. Also putting an influence on developing academy systems throughout the world and more importantly having teams set-up academies here in the states. Is this the right way forward? Right now it is but if US Soccer continues to depend on college for the talent it needs; we as well as MLS is doomed for good.