School's out forever

(Title changed from "Women and children last" because I was gonna also tie this in to the USWNT but got too long-winded. Don't tell me you're surprised.)

I get most of my vocabulary from pro wrestling, which may help explain why the mailbox is usually empty come MacArthur Genius Grant time, but I think soccer can take heed of their description of their college equivalent: NCAA = Nobody Cares About Amateurs.

Yeah, yeah, congratulations, Maryland, for beating Nottingham Forest. Very impressive. I stopped paying attention to college ball when UCLA stopped being the de facto feeder for the US National Team. Of course, it didn't help that with everyone from Cobi Jones to Joe-Max Moore, the Bruins only ever won boring, 1-0 games. The coach could recruit, but boy, could he bore. Wonder whatever happened to that guy.

NCAA soccer will never become NCAA football or basketball, barring a seismic shift in the sporting interests of the American public even bigger than the move from boxing to MMA. In fact, let's just go ahead and cut to the bone - as far as profitability, there are three NCAA sports. Football, basketball, and kids screwing around.*

So I followed this conversation over to Ridge Mahoney, who wrote an article about kids who expected to get rich playing American soccer. Most of the good points have or will be made in the thread, but I didn't want to let this pass.

Schmid is an unusually good scout and talent-spotter, so I think he would be receptive to this alternative idea, which is DON'T DRAFT STIFFS IN THE FIRST ROUND.

There are two types of college guys who aren't Generation Adidas (screw you, I'm going to capitalize it). One, guys who weren't necessarily good enough, or wanted to focus on their Celtic mythology studies or whatever. Two, guys who thought they were good enough for Europe. I don't really see holding a telethon for either group.

What Schmid and Mahoney are dancing around delicately is why MLS started a Project-40 in the first place - because the college game is hopelessly inadequate at developing professional players. The 21-year-old who took all four years of his eligibility playing for the Fighting Thompson's Gazelles played fewer games, had fewer practices, and played lesser opponents (even, or especially, allowing for PDL club games).

Schmid is also probably still thinking of Guillermo Gonzalez, the P-40 player who helped run Sigi out of Los Angeles just as surely as Hong Myung-Bo or Steve Sampson. Yes, almost any four-year college player trained and disciplined to execute uncomplicated tasks without backtalk would have been vastly preferable, and vastly cheaper. The existence of P-40 and Generation Adidas flops does not, however, raise the level of the ordinary college player.

But Sigi is really off-base here. I guess it's good that he's out of MLS, he apparently can use some time off.

Of course, hallelujah, and amen. It should be in the business of destroying college soccer. Every pro prospect who goes through the NCAA system is a player taking years off his career.

"But what about Claudio Reyna, who turned down Barcelona for Virginia?"

...okay, most pro prospects. I was tempted to fall back on the "Imagine how good he woulda been if he'd gone to Barcelona!" response, but that would be pretty feeble. Let me at least use Freddy Adu as a counterargument. Who would it have helped, if he were a sophomore at Virginia today? (Besides Virginia, who would have probably won their second NCAA title in a row.) Adu turned down Inter Milan for MLS, whereas Reyna didn't have that middle choice. What would four years of UCLA done for Landon Donovan, besides give him four NCAA titles?

Those guys are extreme outliers, anyway. If Reyna had come up in 2002 instead of 1992, he would have been offered a pretty damn sweet Generation Adidas deal (or sweeter deals from abroad than he got in the 90's. But that would mean that Reyna in this decade would have benefited from the increased stature of American soccer that Reyna of the previous decade helped bring about, so...where are my pills?)

I put it to you instead, dear reader, that the average college player has not kept pace with the talent of the average MLS player, the average US national team player, or the average American playing abroad. If NCAA football and basketball failed to continue to produce quality players, even the NFL and NBA would seek alternatives - and they have, if the World League and D-League are anything to go by.

*laugh track*

NCAA basketball, like football, is pretty much free from NCAA restrictions like amateur status and academic requirements.** (The NCAA is about education like "Hamlet" is about ham. Stop me if I've told you that one more than seven times.) They make soccer players go to class in college. They make them read and write and do math...I shudder just thinking about it.

Those restrictions - as well as the more practical ones like limiting practices and limiting games - aren't going away. There's a ceiling on how good a player American colleges can produce, and it's called the 1990 World Cup team. Some really, really good players, don't get me wrong. They made Italy sweat for a day. Of course, they never made Mexico sweat, not once - just in case you were calling up Priceline to book a nostalgia trip.

It's a shame that college soccer players aren't given wages on the order of their more highly-regarded peers. Chalk it up to what Adam Smith called the Invisible Middle Finger of the Marketplace. They should have played better.

*But what about the Frozen Four and the College World Series? you ask. I respond, well, it's nice to hear from you, North Dakota and Nebraska, but let me tell you about a wonderful country called the United States of America, where those events are about as useful as the Whig Party. Hockey should be learned in Canadian boondocks, baseball should be learned in miserable Texas crapholes. Going to college to learn baseball or hockey is like going to Cancun to learn coal-mining.

There are a ton of college sports whose usefulness to the Olympic program can't be overstated, unless you believe the Olympics these days are just a trade show for anabolic steroids. (I know I've used that line before, but it's only a footnote.) Okay, yeah, like with basketball and football, college Olympic sports do produce international-quality athletes. But nobody pays to watch them.

**Unless you get caught, like Southern Methodist. And if you're not a smaller program with big, freaking powerful enemies in, say, Austin, Norman and College Station. Not that SMU didn't bring it on themselves, but were they even in the top ten dirty programs in Texas alone?