The Michigan State men’s soccer team has not played in an official match since last November. And with COVID-19 putting their usual fall start on hold, the Spartans will have overcome a near 15 month wait to see the field on game day again.
Last week, the NCAA announced that many of the fall championships would be moved to the spring. Men’s soccer, along with men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, women’s volleyball, men’s water polo, women’s soccer and FCS football, was included in this change. The first competition for men's soccer will be on February 3, according to the release.
While the circumstances are not ideal, Michigan State men’s soccer head coach Damon Rensing is happy the team will have an opportunity to play come February. He says he had doubts whether a season would even be possible this year.
“For us to get a chance to compete February 3 through May 17 in a Big Ten Conference and a Big Ten Tournament I think is great,” said Rensing.
Even with the season delay, the team has already begun preparing for whoever their first foe may be. Practices are held Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday as part of an 8-hour training week.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, practices look different than usual, as many would expect. Players and coaches wear masks and everything is held outside, including strength training.
“It is better than nothing,” Rensing said. “We have to follow the rules of the governor and the university policies... We’re soccer players. We’re tough. As long as it is above zero and there is no lightning we will go outside and play.”
Rensing says the hardest part as a coach has been the daily uncertainty of the pandemic. However, he believes that having online classes has helped by creating more flexibility in the athletes' schedules.
Around the country, soccer programs at other universities in conferences such as the ACC are playing games right now. Rensing believes that having other conferences play soccer, along with the Big Ten reinstating the fall football season, gives him not only optimism but also an idea of what the season will look like for the Spartans.
“It gives us a blueprint of how it can be done," Rensing said. "We can learn from the things that work for them and maybe there are a few things that didn’t work that we can also adjust and be ready come February."
As a traditionally non-revenue building sport, the pandemic has hit several men’s soccer programs across the country hard financially. Schools such as Cincinnati and Appalachian State have discontinued their men’s soccer programs due to the financial burden all athletic departments have suffered since March.
“I am heartbroken for those young men and those staff that don’t have that opportunity to not only help these guys get better at soccer, but to develop as people and fulfill their goal as a student athlete,” Rensing said of the discontinued programs.
As for Michigan State, the men’s soccer program brought in a revenue of $431,526 in 2019, according to MSU’s Equity in Sports report. That was the ninth-highest of all men’s and women’s programs at Michigan State for 2019.
And as student athletes and coaches at other universities have learned, sports is a business and nobody is safe.
“For us to think that all of us are completely exempt from this would be naive and so those thoughts always pop into someone's mind,” Rensing said. “Michigan State has had a great history with soccer and I trust Bill (Beekman) and our athletic administration that we are in a good space moving forward.”
Just one year removed from a Final Four College Cup appearance in 2018, last year was a completely different story. The 2019 season was injury-plagued for the Spartans, and it showed in their 3-12-3 record. The season ended drastically y different than its predecessor, with a first-round exit in the Big Ten Tournament at the hands of Michigan.
But being able to consistently be a Final Four team is not as easy as it looks.
“People do not realize that was a 2015, 2016, 2017 years building towards that," Rensing said of the teams 2018 Final Four appearance. "My goal when we kick off here in the spring is to build upon that and start that run again as far as developing a Final Four caliber team and program."
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