SportStars Magazine

BEHIND THE CLIPBOARD: Season of Confusion

Why is soccer a winter sport? We were practicing in December when it rained all the time, and it was miserable. It’s been nice lately, but it could start pouring again any day. Some schools play in the fall, and I think some play in the spring, but why do most of the teams play in the winter, when it’s cold, dark and maybe even wet?

E.E., Pleasanton  

   We’ve addressed this question before here, but it’s re-visiting it seems timely. You’re question is simple, but the answer is complex.

   First, let’s go to the school level, and check out the field situation. In the fall, we have football, which needs lots of field space. If boys’ and girls’ soccer is played in the fall, then at least six teams (JV and varsity in all three sports) need 100-yard fields to practice and play on. Sure, you can dance around with practicing late until daylight savings ends, and of course those schools with lights can practice at night, but it’s far from ideal. (And it’s even worse if a school doesn’t have artificial turf because the grass gets ripped up.)

   In the spring, there’s baseball and lacrosse, both of which take up a lot of field space, and even though many schools have dedicated softball fields, some do not – so again, scheduling the fields is a major issue. So from a field usage perspective, someone should move to the winter when there’s no competition for fields and scheduling would be much easier. That someone, it has been determined, will be soccer.

   That leads to the second level of decision-making involved: the California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees the 10 sections in the state. The CIF makes most of its money – as do each of the sections – from the gate for team sport championships. In the fall, there’s one indoor sport (volleyball) and one outdoor sport (football) that generate income, and in the winter there are two indoor sports that sell tickets (basketball and wrestling). There is, however, no money-making outdoor sport in the winter, but soccer is growing, and a state soccer championship could conceivably generate a lot of money.

   But the first step is to get all schools to play soccer in the winter rather than all through the school year, which is how it is now, and CIF and the sections are trying their best to make that happen. In the North Coast Section, for example, there’s a major push to move girls’ soccer teams from the smaller schools to the winter – and officials know that the boys will soon be forced to follow.

   Why, you ask? Because the first time a lawyer daddy of a girls’ soccer player is standing in the freezing rain watching his daughter play, he’s going to ask himself where the gender equity is since the boys play in the fall when the weather is really nice. At one time the Diablo Foothill Athletic League had the girls playing in the winter and the boys in the fall, but it didn’t take long for a lawsuit to be filed and won by just such a parent.

   In addition, the smaller schools are less likely to have access to lighted fields, and during January, will have to start games at 3 p.m. — which means players will have to leave school as early as 1 p.m. to get to games, and that really doesn’t help anyone’s academics. Smaller schools are also more likely to play on grass fields, and if it rains much, often teams are prohibited from playing or practicing because of the damage to the turf.

   It will be interesting to see how all this plays out, as the CIF and sections’ pursuit of gate receipts is going to collide with many schools’ lack of access to consistent fields – but my guess is high school players should get used to playing in the cold and dark because, oddly enough, that’s where the money is.

   Clay Kallam is an assistant athletic director and girls varsity basketball coach at Bentley High in Lafayette. To submit a question for Behind the Clipboard, email him at clayk@fullcourt.com

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