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BYU Goes Pro (Sort of)

ESPN Soccernet's Frank Dell'Appa posted a thoughtful consideration of whether college soccer helps or hinders the development of professionally-capable U.S. soccer players. His assessment, or the current consensus, seems to be that one or two years is ok but any longer comes at a price of too many lost games and training sessions.

He finishes his article with reference to BYU soccer:

It would be interesting if college soccer opened the door to the professional world a little wider. Brigham Young University disdained NCAA soccer, entering its club team in the PDL. In time, BYU could compete at the fully professional level, or at least against pro teams in cup play. Such a progression is not imminent, but if BYU started recruiting, say, high-level Brazilians (as the school did in building its basketball program in the 1970s), then went deep into the U.S. Open Cup tournament, there might be a temptation to accelerate its professional ambitions.

This certainly will not happen anytime soon. But should other college soccer programs break away from NCAA restrictions (yes, I know they might risk losing funding and even jeopardizing the institution's tax-free status), they could set up international rivalries with UNAM Pumas, UANL Tigres, Universidad Catolica, Universidad de Chile. D.C. United was eliminated by Chile's U. Catolica in the Copa Sudamericana last year. Maybe the University of Maryland could take up the challenge.

Those two little paragraphs came as a big surprise to me. For the unaware (like myself) PDL refers to the Premier Development League (United Soccer Leagues), a 50+ team professional minor league.

There are several interesting angles to this development. One is that a Division I NCAA program has opted out in a specific sport for the purpose of competing against professional or or semi-pro teams. Such a development brings to mind all kinds of institutional variations that might arise -- whether they will or not is not so much the questions here, but the possibility is something in itself.

Second, it is surprising that BYU is doing this without bringing down the NCAA's wrath. NCAA Rule 3.2.4.5 stipulates that NCAA bylaws apply to all "varsity" sports sponsored by the institution and in which the NCAA conducts championships, it is designated as a "varsity sport" by the institution, and the sport is administered by the athletic department. I can't find anything else in the NCAA manual that would suggest such an arrangement would fly. Maybe readers of the blog have useful information on this. In looking over the BYU athletic website, men's soccer does not appear, so maybe BYU is pulling an organizational end-run to get around the bylaws and treating its soccer team much like a rugby club on campus.

This aspect also brings up the murky world of the NCAA and antitrust issues. Outside the eligibility rules regarding student athletes, the NCAA has not fared very well on monopoly or monopsony cases as in the 1984 TV case or the assistant basketball coaches case. It's hard to predict what federal courts might decide on this issue with the issue not directly involving the eligibility of the soccer players at BYU, but institutional practices instead.