The following was submitted by Tom Winters, a member of the and Boosters.
Recently, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) announced a change that will have a direct result on the pride and quality of your local boys high school soccer program.
The mandate involves the elite USSF Development Academy program, a collection of 78 teams in 51 states/possessions encompassing over 4,000 student-athletes, and extends the USSF Academy season to 10 calendar months. The added few months is in direct conflict with the fall high school season and the USSF has told all Academy eligible players NOT to play for their high school teams.
No other national organization in youth sports has issued such a demonstrative edict. (Note: No similar demand has yet been placed upon girls soccer teams.) High school soccer coaches across the nation are displeased with this announcement and are seriously concerned about the composition of their teams this fall. Fans, parents and players should feel the same way. How it will affect the competitive balance and existing league formats is in question.
More importantly, players are being forced to forego local community pride in exchange for maintaining “elite” status. The decision to abandon teammates you have played alongside for years should not be placed at the feet of teenagers regardless of talent level. Playing for your local public or private high school is a goal many players yearn for. The USSF has missed the emotion this evokes.
As a father of two sons who were co-Captains and significant players of their respective high profile high school soccer programs on Long Island and New York City, I am appalled at the ego of the USSF. Although my children have since graduated, forcing current student-athletes to accept a (pipe)dream of making the U.S. Olympic team or gain an advantage to enter collegiate athletics is absurd. For example, the winners of the past four World Cups (the international soccer version of the World Series, Super Bowl or any NCAA National Championship) were Spain, Italy, Brazil and France. Not the United States.
Between 1950 and 1990 the United States failed to even qualify for the World Cup and college team rosters are riddled with international players seeking the sole advantage of acquiring a college education on our shores. I fail to see where Academy student-athletes will gain any meaningful benefit from this change while their non-Academy brethren are labeled as inferior players that can only erode the skills of their Academy counterparts. Over a three month timeframe – really? This is driven solely by USSF greed and self promotion.
The Amateur Sports Act imposes National Governing Bodies such as the USSF and AAU organizations “the duty to work cooperatively with entities such as state high school associations.” Does the USSF mandate sound like a cooperative effort? According to executives within the USSF, “there is no ban on high school soccer…athletes have the right to choose whether they want to play high school soccer or participate in the Development Academy.” USSF Technical Director and former U.S. National team member Claudio Reyna must not have received this memo when he states “This programming will exclude any other outside soccer activities, including but not limited to high school soccer.” So, I ask the USSF, do these elite players have the right to choose their fate or are they excluded from it? How can you deny these kids the friendships and camaraderie built within their community for years? And, honestly, are there really 4,000 elite soccer players in this country … or 10,000… or 20,000 or even 1,000?
The facts are pretty simple. 78,000 boys played high school soccer in 1971 when it was the 10th most popular sport in America. Today, that number closes in on 400,000 across 11,000 high schools as the 5th most popular sport in the United States. Within this growth spurt, many have played in other USSF sponsored programs that are not classified as “elite” but have generated profits for the Federation. Participation in boys soccer programs has increased for 32 consecutive years but this is destined to end in 2012. And the USSF never seems to use the term STUDENT-athlete as our high school administrators ALWAYS do. The Academy program reduces valuable study time from these individuals due to rigorous practice sessions and weekend and vacation travel requirements. And most of all it deprives them of time spent with lifetime friends – relationships borne of childhood memories and cherished moments on and off the field of play. All in the name of a greater good such as the pretense of a college scholarship, MLS contract or international stardom? These are achievable goals but not for 4,000 players nationwide. I have been to enough soccer matches in my lifetime to assure you this is not the case. Even so, the 4,000 in question have seven months of every year to battle it out amongst one another. And will probably do so within the confines of a three month high school season as well. Travel basketball, baseball, volleyball and lacrosse programs have not initiated this type of sanction. So why the USSF?
The USSF has about three months to make this right and change their stance. My sense is they will not.
If this is true, high school soccer will suffer. If this is true, social interaction among friends will suffer.
And most notably if this is true, community pride will not only suffer but die. I hope this is not the case.
No matter, I will continue to root for my sons alma maters (and all high schools) win or lose. Because that is the way it should be.