CornerKICKS: Overuse Thanks To Scheduling Abuse

CornerKICKSJoe Trost, columnist

Let’s play a game.

It’s called: “Don’t let the truth get in the way of the facts.”

Here goes:

If you’re an Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Class AA or AAA soccer program, you could play 32 games in 66 days.

If you’re an IHSA Class A program, the real-life statistics look like this: 32 games in 60 days.

Let me blow your mind a little more: 25 games in 42 days.

Wait, just one more – did you factor in days lost or rescheduled because of weather AND spring break? Now, now – don’t forget taking spring break off, I don’t want someone to get mad at you for not figuring their break.

Welcome to the check-the-box system within high school athletics – jam the schedule and go play.

Because that’s the way it’s always been done.

Those statistics I laid out is what a high school soccer team could play if it were to play every game during the IHSA season: 25 regular-season games and seven (7) during its end-of-the-season tournament.

The regular season is officially seven weeks long for Class A, which equals a mere 42 days. For Class AA and AAA, it’s eight weeks long, which equals a mere 48 days.

Remember, most high schools continue to live in the 20th Century where most elect to not play on Sundays, thus turning each week into only six days to play. (Even though more working parents would be able to attend games on Sundays, high school fields are wide open on Sundays, more officials available to work, less traffic and cheaper buses. Oh wait, I’m sorry, some high school fields are not wide open because they rent them out to youth and club teams, which kids play on and parents come to watch on Sundays. Imagine that.)

With each passing year, I continue to wonder who is going to be the leader to say enough is enough. Which coach, athletic director, parent or high school program is going to be OK with playing just 15 regular-season games in 42 days?

That’s still nearly an average of three (3) games during a six-day week or every other day.

For the past decade, I’ve watched players drop like flies and coaches complain they have too many games in a short span. But year after year, the schedule rolls out, the weather hits and the health and safety of kids is at risk.

You know who loves the spring season the most? Doctors, physical therapists and credit card companies.

Go ahead, skip the rest of the column because your summer has started and you’ve checked out of the high school season. Not your problem, right?

But before you do that, what if I told you this:

*Most high school programs don’t have the proper indoor training space to fully prepare for a season in just 12 days…if they truly follow IHSA rules.

*Most coaches – even the high-level programs – agree their players aren’t in true game shape until the first week of May. That’s why most high school coaches don’t want to play overtime, even though those situations would help prepare their players and teams for the postseason tournament.

*Most high school coaches don’t fully play their bench, because winning and losing is more important. (They’ll never admit it, but I can’t tell you how many coaches have said time and time again: “We’re banged up, but need a win.”)

*Most programs have a stretch during the season when they play back-to-back games and sometimes four (4) games in six (6) days thanks to rescheduled games.

For the record, the IHSA doesn’t force teams to schedule 25 games – but it allows them to play up to 25 regular-season games. On average, most programs schedule between 20-25 regular-season games.

Did I also mention that a lot of coaches try to avoid playing on Mondays and that most teams take the weekend of prom off during the spring? I’m not saying they shouldn’t, I’m just pointing out a fact.

So, let’s get this straight: We have weather reschedules (it is Chicago, remember), spring break, prom and we don’t do Mondays. On the low end, that’s at least five (5) days lost.

With that in mind (five days lost), take the 25 games in 42 days (Class A) or 25 games in 48 days (Class AA/AAA) and turn those statistics into 25 games in 37 or 43 days.

That’s just utterly stupid to even allow that. Find me one college coach, one professional coach or one doctor that says it’s not asinine? But you’ll still find high school coaches who read this and say, “Kids would rather play than practice.”

Most children would rather eat candy all day than eating healthy, but eventually common sense needs to reign there, too.

And before club coaches start to nail high school soccer, which they always look for the opportunity to do, you go back to your corner and sit down. Remember, most of you are playing three-to-four games in 36-to-48 hours during weekend tournaments throughout the year – some on back-to-back-to-back weekends – all in the name of “exposure.”

Eventually, overplay and overuse in anything catches up. So why does this continue to happen? It took years for coaches and leaders to address concussions – even at the highest levels. Who is advocating for the health and safety of student athletes when it comes to overuse by scheduling abuse?

The time for change has come.

ANYONE PAYING ATTENTION? The IHSA Soccer Advisory Committee met in May. The committee includes: Washington principal Kevin Gallick, Deerfield coach Rich Grady, Proviso West coach Carlos Villanueva, Oregon coach Seger Larson, Pleasant Plains athletic director Heather Greer, Edwardsville coach Mark Heiderscheid, Bishop McNamara coach Marty Ruberry, longtime official Mike Moore and IHSA assistant executive director Beth Sauser.

Ruberry, who starred for Brother Rice and the Chicago Magic during his prep days, was not in attendance for this meeting.

Some highlights from the meeting:

*The committee discussed the seeding process and how to encourage coaches to be better informed for accurate seeds for the IHSA tournament. The committee thought every coach needs to be more accountable when seeding for the tournament and there should be a consequence to coaches/schools who do not submit a season summary form or complete the seeding process. A brief discussion was had if the seed meeting should be moved closer to the start date.

CornerKICKS thoughts: You have professional high school coaches and then you have bums – period. It’s been that way for decades. The IHSA tournament is a participation tournament, all teams are in. The IHSA is not going to get involved in docking coaches. That needs to happen with professional athletic directors managing their departments, and coaches demanding and expecting more of their peers. It happens in other sports – not soccer much with soccer coaches. With 21st Century technology, if the IHSA can seed a state football tournament one week out, they can find a way to seed the IHSA soccer tournament closer to May than the middle of April when some teams have played less than five games because of spring break. (But hey, don’t blame spring break, I don’t want someone getting mad they can’t take a week off during a 42- or 48-day season.)

*The committee shared concerns on games held on grass fields that are not in good condition or on narrow fields. Also, they noted that hosts with lighted fields are encouraged to host.

CornerKICKS response: I feel like this is a repeat of the 2007 coaches meeting held with Sauser at North Central College. The IHSA can’t force schools to host. Here’s a perfect example: Lemont, which prides itself on having a soccer specific stadium, didn’t host a sectional. It was held at Rich East. According to Rich East coach Ted Trulley, who I grew up playing baseball with, the IHSA called and said no one in the sectional offered to host and they were looking for someone. An interesting side note to this though: I spoke with a high-level player whose school plays on a 55-yard width turf stadium field. She told me they love it, and it’s a massive home-field advantage for the first 10 minutes of the game. She goes, “Good players and teams adjust.”

*The committee reviewed the rules regarding participation in ID Camps and non-school team tryouts.

CornerKICKS response: No comment.

*The committee discussed the pros and cons of adjusting the current overtime procedure (two 10-minute overtime periods) to different suggested formats. The committee thinks more feedback is needed from coaches.

CornerKICKS response: Here’s a “Did You Know” for the record book: The IHSA used to allow up to four overtimes in the IHSA tournament, but if a team played four overtimes during the regular season it was a violation of IHSA by-laws. Tell me what other sport has different overtime rules during the regular season and postseason? Welcome to high school soccer. True story though. I – along with probably every player to ever step on a soccer field – hate ties. They’re utterly pointless (unless you get a point for a tie, I guess). Honestly, let’s think outside the box. I’m all for having the opposing coaches go 1-v-1 in a shootout. That could help soccer attendance, too.

*The committee discussed the need for all NFHS and IHSA rules or state association adoptions to be consistently applied and followed by officials, coaches and players. Officials cannot disregard some rules and not others during the regular and postseason games. When that occurs, confusion and needless issues arise.

CornerKICKS response: No comment Part II. I don’t want to get myself in more trouble. 

*The committee discussed the pros and cons of pushing back the start and end date of girls soccer since it’s difficult to start playing games in March. This would involve moving the AA and AAA finals to the same weekend as the softball and baseball AAA and AAAA finals. The 2020 season will be a week later due to the calendar rolling. Is North Central College available? A by-law proposal must be submitted by an administrator from a member school to go through the legislative process.

CornerKICKS response: This has been a consistent topic of conversation for decades. I understand why the IHSA only wants two tournament finals taking place each weekend. It’s a consistent tournament model it has used for a while. Who is going to be the coach and athletic director to step up and submit the proposal and lobby the legislators involved? As I’ve told Barrington coach Ryan Stengren before – there is a process and you can get things changed. Educate yourself about the process, be engaged and prepared to work the phones and have a public relations and media campaign built around it. This is the difference between the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association and other sports like football, basketball and volleyball in Illinois. The soccer coaches association doesn’t know how to use its membership the right way – never has. It’s a bunch of one-offs fighting to better the sport vs. someone rallying all. It’s been that way for – say it with me – decades. And that’s why you see the same storylines year after year after year.

COACHING FIRED/HIRED WIRE: Matt Miller is the new boys coach at Saint Ignatius, replacing Ryan Kearns, who moved to Michigan.

NO DOWNSTATE REPRESENTATION: Since 2011, only Collinsville has been able to crack the Final Four of the IHSA Class AAA Tournament. It had a three-year run between 2015-17. Outside of that one program and stretch, Chicago-area programs have dominated the Final Four for almost a decade now.

AND FINALLY: At the conclusion of the Class AAA sectional final between Lyons and Young last month, some coaches and fans were surprised that the officials did not stick around for the postgame handshake.

A recent IHSA recommendation was made that at a conclusion of a game, “the officials shall convene at a location on the field away from the handshake. It is preferred that this location be predetermined, however, the location can be changed as circumstances dictate.

“Officials will remain on the field in a position to observe the handshake, but shall maintain such a distance so that they are not directly involved. The main reason is due to the fact that the conclusion of postseason games can be dramatic for many participants.

“Having the officials go to a designated area away from the handshake will ensure that participants do not have an opportunity to negatively engage the officials.”

So now officials have to find a way to avoid coaches, players and parents.

Contact Joe Trost at joetrost@gmail.com. CornerKICKS will run periodically throughout the summer before moving to its new home with the launch of the new media outlet, Prep Sports Report, in August 2019.

Bio on columnist: Joe Trost was an award-winning writer at Star Newspapers, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and ESPN.com. Locally, he is a three-time statewide IHSSCA Media Person of the Year and founder of the PepsiCo Showdown Series, the largest high school sports series in the U.S.