Is NCAA’s Substitution Rule Affecting College Soccer?

By Sebastian Obando

Maryland’s women’s soccer in action. (Photo credit: WoodleyWonderWorks)

With Maryland leading San Diego 2-0 with less than 20 minutes remaining in the second half, San Diego’s head coach Seamus McFadden made a late substitution. The sub was McFadden’s seventh change of the game, a move that would not have been allowed professionally.

In NCAA soccer, coaches are allowed 11 substitutions per game. The unique aspect to the NCAA sub rule is if a player is substituted in the first half, the coach must wait until the second half to put that player back onto the field, and each player is allowed only one reentry per game. Following FIFA rules, coaches are allowed only three substitutions per game and there’s no reentry.

“The liberal substitution rule is almost a necessary evil in college soccer because of the compressed schedule and the lack of rested recovery in between games,” Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “[Reducing number of subs] would actually increase the number of injury to an astronomical level.”

Since Maryland’s matchup with San Diego on Oct. 3, Cirovski averages approximately five substitutions per game. To a more extreme, San Diego head coach Seamus McFadden averages close to seven substitutions per game this season, including using eight changes against St. Mary’s on Oct. 14. Using a large number of substitutions slow down the quality and rhythm of the game, as using eight substitutions is practically fielding a completely different team for the 10 outfielders who started.

Still, Cirovski raises an important argument. College programs can cram three games into one week, and reducing the number of substitutions at a coaches’ disposal would place a heavier workload on a college player’s health. Therefore, for Cirovski, the issue is not with the substitution rule, but with the NCAA schedule.

“I’m a big proponent of trying to change [the college schedule for] over two semesters right now and reduce a number of midweek games and allow proper rested recovery,” Cirovski said. “For example, when we played three games in eight days for almost 12 weeks in a row, the rate of injury is crazy if you only could sub three kids at a time.”

The NCAA Division I soccer season runs from August to November, with teams playing approximately 20 games depending on their success. Along with other collegiate sports, the soccer championships are held in-between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  After the season, soccer programs usually hold offseason workouts and games in the spring, where the NCAA allows teams to only play five scrimmages.

Cirovski suggests combining the fall and spring seasons into one. The format would mimic professional soccer leagues, as most professionals start their seasons in August and end in May, with a Christmas break in the middle. Other NCAA sports that have two semester seasons include golf, ice hockey, basketball and track.

“You [currently] play your championships in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is the worst time of the year,” Cirovski said. “Inclement weather, you have six major sports converge at one time so you don’t get television coverage. It just makes no sense. It’s kind of a sport that’s been set up to fail.”

Though changes to the substitution rule are not in the plans of the NCAA, Cirovski is working on a proposal to extend the NCAA soccer schedule. Nov. 1 is the deadline to submit a proposal for a schedule extension, where a vote would then take place in January. Still, Cirovski claims the major objection to extending the soccer season is people do not like change. In other words, if the NCAA extends the soccer season, they would have to do the same for other sports such as baseball and lacrosse.

“I can’t imagine this will not pass in some point in time,” Cirovski said. “I’m hoping January 2018 is the time it passes, long-shot this January.”


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