The most talked about topic this past weekend at the NCYSA Southern Soccer Show was the Academy Proposal brought forward by NCYSA DOC Chris Little and an executive committee that had reviewed the subject. I wrote a bit earlier about the original proposal. In a nutshell, the NCYSA was proposing the creation of a fourth ‘division’ of soccer called ‘Academy’ that would be in addition to the existing Recreation, Challenge, and Classic levels. The basic highlights of the proposed program were:

  • Associations must apply for permission to offer an Academy program, subject to approval by the Academy Council which is made up of the directors of existing academy programs.
  • Associations must reapply for approval each year.
  • Each club planning to offer an Academy must have:

    • Director with a National Youth License
    • All coaches with a Youth Module II certification
    • Training curriculum approved by NCYSA
  • True U10 players only are eligible.
  • Associations must administer a Parent Education program in accordance with state Academy Council guidelines.
  • Players carded into the Academy program can also play Recreation, Challenge, and/or Classic.
  • No teams will exist. Players are registered to a league ‘pool’
  • All training is done as a pool – not in team groups.
  • Teams are formed for each match/event from the pool.
  • Players play a minimum of half each match they participate in and cannot play in more than two matches per day.
  • Players receive written evaluations twice a year from the association academy director.
  • Matches scheduled via state administered scheduling meetings.
  • No scores of matches or standings will be kept.
  • Players are discouraged from attending bracketed tournaments. Festival format events are preferred.

Disclaimer: Much of what I write here is based on notes I took as well as what I recall happening at the NCYSA Presidents meeting. It should not be viewed as a definitive account, though I’m doing my best to be accurate and true to the discussion during the meeting. If you were there and notice any mistakes, or remember something different, by all means post a comment.

The discussion was kicked off by NCYSA DOC Chris Little who was a primary driver behind the proposal getting drafted. It was clear that he and the rest of the committee sensed the issue of the day would be the effect this proposal would have on smaller soccer associations. Chris noted that a program like this might help a small association retain their skilled players and train them when they might struggle to put together a U10 Challenge team. Some states including Georgia and others have already put academy programs in place. Georgia’s was mentioned often as a role model for the proposal currently in place.

After the brief introduction by Chris and other members of the executive committee, the discussion began in earnest. What follows are highlights of the discussion taken from my notes as fast as I could write them down.

One of the first questions related to why just U10 and not U9 through U12. The response was that this was an ‘experiment’ Some clubs already had academies in place, mostly from larger metropolitan associations, but having the program start out with multiple ages would be too difficult. Instead the decision was made to start small with the U10s.

The next question related to why it was restricted to ‘true’ U10s. There was some disagreement as to what this really meant. Some felt since USYS didn’t really recognize U9, that U9’s would fall under this category, but another opinion was that it meant what it said – true U10’s meaning 9 years old born Aug 1st through July 31st.

The NCYSA president admitted that some small associations probably didn’t have enough kids to make this work right away while larger associations were already doing it. But since this was just an experiment for one year, we’d have to see how it worked after a year.

At this point another president noted that he had called the folks in charge of Georgia’s much heralded academy program to discuss the NC proposal with them. He noted that their program is for U10 through U12. They had started out with an administratively heavy program, similar to what was being proposed for NC, but had learned from their mistakes. Due to all the initial requirements, the small associations stayed with select/travel while many of the larger associations put academies in place. This resulted in some small associations being starved of select opponents in those age groups and regions and making it difficult to find other select teams to play against. In the 2nd and 3rd year, the drastically revamped the program. Many of the stringent requirements were dropped to guidelines to allow the smaller associations to work their way towards the true ideals of an academy. As a result, they now have 80% of their eligible players participating in an academy. In short, when the relaxed the stringent requirements the program flourished.

Discussion then started to drift towards the question on many peoples mind – how this might benefit large associations at the expense of small associations. One concern was with players leaving their small home associations to play in a large association academy program and possible recruiting problems with they came home, or stayed away. In the same vein, others were concerned that this type of setup (academies at large associations and no restriction in terms of transfers) would result in parents shopping their kids around to different association academies trying to get them onto the best teams.

More concerns were raised along the lines of what happened in Georgia. if you had the likes of CASL, Greensboro, Charlotte, and other large associations drop their U10 Challenge teams, the smaller teams would have trouble scheduling enough matches for their U10 Challenge teams. How could this be avoided. It seemed to be a widespread assumption that the large associations would field academy programs immediately and pull out of Challenge, though I don’t recall any coming right out and saying so.

This led someone to ask the executive committee directly what was behind this proposal long term – was this setting the stage at the state level to do away with U10 Challenge? The answer was an emphatic NO. However, a few presidents mentioned that replacing U10 Challenge with academies was the right thing to do, however that did not seem to be the prevailing opinion in the room. The executive committee noted they DID want to expand the program to other ages in future years, but again, wanted to keep it small (U10 only) at first to see how it went.

The next concern related to scheduling. Assuming the small associations met the requirements and got academies in place, how would it be ensured they got their full allotment of matches. A large association could play most of their matches internally. Small associations might be left with just other small associations, resulting in long travel distances for what is billed as a non competitive program. The NCYSA was involved to only ‘assist’ in the scheduling but it was up to the clubs to handle it. Georgia requires every association get six matches for each team. It was expected that the academy schedule would be set in scheduling meetings similar to how Classic is handled. This would avoid big clubs playing 100% in house.

Another idea to help get more match opportunities were regional festivals that would be open to area academy programs – you could get two matches in a single weekend day.

One president finally came out and said the NCYSA had to make sure they supported all associations in this including the smaller associations. Concerns were raised that if all the large associations joined immediately, they would form the bulk of the ‘Academy Council’ which help approval power over smaller associations who might apply for admission later. It was asked why the Academy program would have a different approval process for membership than all the other ‘levels’ of soccer, which all go before the board of directors and NCYSA membership committee. There wasn’t really a clear answer to this beyond "that isn’t the intent of the council" though it was admitted that as written, that’s how it would be setup.

One idea brought up was that an academy program could be used as a league’s pool training program, both for Academy players and Challenge players. Many associations train their Challenge players partly in pools. By allowing kids who weren’t on travel teams to participate in that training with the Challenge players, it might benefit everyone. The concept of Rec ‘plus’ was raised where the Academy fit between Rec and Challenge. However, another president noted that in his eyes, U10 Challenge is really U10 Classic since there is not U10 Classic program and that he would see a U10 Academy as the place his BEST players got trained, with Challenge below it and then Rec.

Circling back to scheduling, it was suggested that the existing Challenge scheduling leagues handle the scheduling for academies in their region. Since they already had established policies and programs in place, they would simply be doing what they do best for the academy teams. This seemed to get a positive response from the NCYSA executive committee members and if any Challenge scheduling league presidents were against this in the room, I don’t recall them saying so. The NCYSA president did note that he would expect the scheduling leagues to behave themselves in terms of collecting fees and not to gouge the academies 🙂

Many were concerned that getting a National Youth license was difficult since it spanned 6 full days and cost over $500. While the course can be split up into evenings and weekends to make it easier, this would present a sizable hurdle to many clubs (our association had our DOC scheduled to get this last year but they canceled the course) An idea was brought up that you could have each region, likely based on the scheduling league territories, have a NYL certified director who could ‘advise’ the smaller clubs on their programs until they got someone local certified. Basically regional National Youth Academy Directors who could work with smaller associations to setup their programs.

At this point the discussion started to repeat itself a bit before lunch, though the final idea proposed was to have a statewide scheduling clearinghouse that would list regional academy festivals and teams looking for opponents to help smaller clubs get playing opportunities.

I’m not 100% sure on the timing, but I believe it was right before the lunch break. The NCYSA president did an informal show of hands. First he asked how many felt the idea of an Academy program for associations was a good thing. Almost all hands went up. He then asked how many felt they would support the specific proposal being discussed and very few hands went up.

After lunch, which featured a presentation on referees and were they employees or independent contractors, the meeting turned it’s attention back to the Academy proposal.

A new proposal was brought up at this point. Scheduling leagues would schedule the matches, with each association ‘team slot’ assured of 6 matches. Academy festival weekends would be formed to help get the additional matches (in addition to regularly scheduled matches). The NCYSA DOC, Chris Little, would work through the challenge leagues to help clubs without an NYL director to help organize their program. Chris would draft a boilerplate curriculum to help associations get started, or he would approve an already existing or in house drafted curriculum. Instead of having a standing NCYSA Academy committee, perhaps their primary role should be that of the academy advisers to smaller clubs.

At this point, more presidents brought up their ideas to make the proposal more acceptable. One was that normal membership procedures be used, just like for adding Challenge or Classic level play. Since the NCYSA membership committee had gotten out of the business of making recommendations and was now simply ensuring an association met all the requirements needed to attain a given level, it fit well. The council and/or NCYSA DOC would approve the curriculum of each association and the age levels should be expanded to U9 through U12. Note that while these suggestions were being put out there, there wasn’t any developing consensus.

The subject of combining Challenge players and Academy players (or players doing both programs) came up. If the scheduling leagues were suddenly doing both programs would the matches have to remain separate? Most felt they should.

As the end of the meeting approached, the NCYSA decided to punt. They did not feel comfortable bring the proposal up at the Annual General Meeting on Sunday due to the lack of support. One concern was to do a program this year, the bylaws had to be amended to allow for it and the bylaws can only be changed at the AGM. It was felt the NCYSA really needed to get on board, as other competing soccer organizations were already offering Academy type programs. Rather than have the executive committee go back and just rework the proposal, a new committee was formed, made up primarily of presidents who offered to help (myself included). The goal is to have a temporary bylaw approved at the AGM simply allowing an Academy program to be formed, subject to approval by the board of directors at a later date based on the new proposal brought forth. The new proposal is to be drafted by mid March and the hope is that the special board of directors meeting to approve it will be held in April, giving clubs time to form Academy programs in the Fall of 2007.

That’s it in a nutshell. I think there was some very good discussion and a lot of good ideas brought up. While I personally don’t believe Academies should replace U10 Challenge, I think they are a great program offering and I expect if a suitable proposal is adopted, many associations will start offering Academy training, either in parallel with their Challenge programs (good) or in place of them (bad since it forces everyone else to follow suit). I’ll be sure to keep you all posted on how the new proposal is coming along.

While I plan to write up a post about the Annual General Meeting in detail, I can tell you that a temporary bylaw WAS approved the next day allowing for an Academy program to be formed for 2007-2008 only, and only if approved by the board of directors.