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How Arizona soccer is affected by Pac-12 postponing fall sports

Jada Talley
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

The Pac-12 announced Tuesday that fall sports have been postponed until at least Jan. 2021. Here’s how that decision affects the Arizona Wildcats soccer team.

More time for the freshmen to adjust

The Wildcats have 13 freshmen, the largest class in the Tony Amato era. Normally, newbies only get a month of summer workouts and two weeks of practice before their first games, leaving many unprepared to contribute at a high level by the time the season opener rolls around.

Now? If the season starts in January, the freshmen will have five months and an entire semester to get acclimated before their debuts.

That’s great considering Arizona lost five starters from last season and will need some of its newcomers to produce immediately if it’s going to reach the NCAA Tournament for a fourth straight year.

A smoother transition for the new assistant coach

Last I heard, Arizona soccer is expected to hire its new assistant coach by the end of August. Had the season started in late September like the Pac-12 was hoping, that would have only given him or her a month to get adjusted.

Now, time isn’t an issue, which should make for a much smoother transition, though replacing Paul Nagy, an ace recruiter who coached the defense and goalkeepers, will be difficult either way.

A longer season?

Had the Pac-12 proceeded with a conference-only fall schedule, its soccer teams may have only played 11 regular-season matches.

But perhaps now there is a scenario in which the virus is tamed and/or a vaccine is available by the spring and Pac-12 teams can add some non-conference opponents and have a pretty normal season in terms of the number of games they play.

In that case, the postponement would be well worth it.

Jada Talley’s pursuit of the all-time scoring record is complicated

Fifteen goals shy, it was always going to be a stretch for senior forward Jada Talley to break Arizona’s all-time scoring record. But she will have virtually no shot if the Wildcats play a condensed season. Yes, she netted a career-high 10 goals last year, but she also got 20 games to do it.

You can’t blame any player that opts out this year in order to get a full season next fall, and Talley certainly has a good reason to do it.

She also wants to play professionally one day, so maybe she will forgo her senior season and enter the NWSL Draft in January. The 2021 draft has an expansion team component to it, meaning more players will be selected than usual, and one expert listed Talley as a potential pick.

Jill Aguilera could have a tough decision to make

The fifth-year senior had everything laid out perfectly. She was going to wrap up her career in November, graduate in December and declare for the draft in January.

Now, Arizona’s second-leading scorer will have to enroll in a graduate program or delay her commencement somehow so she can stay for another season. Or...she can just graduate in December and enter the draft like she planned.

But knowing Aguilera, I imagine she’ll do whatever it takes to suit up for Arizona again.

Less TV time?

Pac-12 soccer matches are usually played on Thursdays and Sundays. If they stick with that format in the spring, soccer will be competing with volleyball plus traditional spring and winter sports like softball, baseball, and basketball for coverage.

If our readership is any indication of how popular those sports are, the Pac-12 Network’s priority order should look like this:

  1. basketball
  2. softball
  3. baseball
  4. soccer
  5. volleyball

An impending scholarship crunch?

Women’s soccer is not a head count sport. Division I teams get 14 scholarships to divvy up among 25 or so players.

So, for financial reasons, soccer players are not as likely to opt out of the 2020 season as, say, volleyball or football players who are on full scholarship and can return in fall 2021 without worrying about additional expenses.

But if any of Arizona soccer’s four seniors opt out and want to return next fall—or if the season is cancelled altogether—the NCAA will need to increase the soccer scholarship limits the way they did for spring sports this year.

Otherwise, there won’t be as much scholarship money for the 2021 recruiting class as expected, creating a trickle-down effect that will impact programs and prospects across the country.