I have a son who plays high level soccer. He will often travel 3-5 hours to play a game. It’s fun to see him against other teams, but there are also times when I think it’s dumb as there is so much great competition within an hour of where his club is based. Other times they will travel to places like Florida, Maryland, Dallas (in the summer) to play teams from around the country.
I go along with most of the travel because that’s what you do as a parent and he loves it and has big goals. Certainly there are times when I think it’s ridiculous and I definitely don’t think the decision makers have the best interests of the kids at heart.
If he does play Division 1 soccer, it’s likely the travel will make even less sense. If you are a sports fan, you know that the Big 10 is now actually 18 teams consisting of schools that touch both the Atlantic and the Pacific. I don’t envy the players that have to fly from Washington to Happy Valley, PA or from UCLA to a game in Iowa. If you don’t have charter flights, none of these trips will be easy. It’s of course happening elsewhere. Arizona now will have a conference game in West Virginia.
The players who will have it best are actually the football players. Most teams will have only four to five road games and likely will only have one to two really out of the way trips with the exception of the west coast schools who probably will have three. It sounds like a nightmare for the other sports, especially baseball and softball who play multiple games in a weekend. If you play a Friday series that means you are likely gone Thursday until late Sunday, early Monday at best.
I worry about the mental health of these players. The reality is that college sports is pro sports and these conference realignments are only happening due to the revenue sports of football and basketball. There’s sadly no going back on the changes made because of those sports.
The question I have is why do we treat all the sports the same? There’s no reason to. Already for sports like hockey and men’s soccer, you will find schools playing in different conferences than their other sports. Akron is in the Big East for soccer. Kentucky is in the same conference as Coastal Carolina and Georgia State. San Diego State plays with five other Pac 12 schools.
So why not have these national conferences for football and basketball and sensible, reasonable conferences for all the other sports? All you would need is a commissioner for each sport and an agreement to do what’s best for the kids. I realize that is probably a pipe dream.
But if you really cared about the best interests of the kids, you’d have some rule that all efforts should be made to keep 80% of the games within driving distance.
Take Northwestern for example. They are part of the Big 10 in soccer and soon will have to travel to Washington or UCLA every year, but also go to Maryland, Rutgers, and Penn State. Why not have most of their sports in the same conference as UIC, Loyola, DePaul, Northern Illinois, Illinois, Bradley and even Purdue, Indiana and Notre Dame (yes, I know not all of those schools have men’s soccer). This would still lead to really strong competition and the schools with more money or interest could still play non-conference games a little further afoot.
This already happens and works in college hockey. Boston College of the ACC is in a conference with Boston University, Northeastern (also in Boston), UMass and a bunch of other New England schools that are within driving distance. You could play road games on a Friday and Saturday and still sleep in your own bed. None of this has prevented BC from being a college hockey powerhouse.
This of course would not only be good for mental health, but also save money. And it wouldn’t take away from the competition. Is it hypocritical to not do this for football and basketball? Of course it is, but the whole of NCAA sports and the idea of a student athlete is built on hypocrisy. But it’s a workable and reasonable solution, especially for the schools who have fellow conference members 2,000 miles apart from them. And if it doesn’t happen, the next step is going to be to drop these non-revenue sports which nobody wants to see happen.
The next step is for a leader to step up and propose something that may sound radical, but really is logical. It could happen if we put an athletes first person like Jay Bilas in charge of the NCAA. In other words, it will never happen.