Future of Big Ten soccer tournament on rocky ground



By Cody Westerlund

Last weekend’s women’s soccer Big Ten Tournament could be the last one for a while.

Amidst concerns of fatigue and health in a questionable format, future season-ending Big Ten Tournaments have been put on hold. In February, the Big Ten Administrators Council voted to discontinue the tournament, effective in 2009.

“The coaches made the decision to eliminate the women’s soccer tournament and the administrators approved that decision,” said Scott Chipman, assistant commissioner of communications in the Big Ten offices. “At this time, there will be no women’s soccer tournament next year.”

The format of the conference tournament is the main issue. In the past, the league has held its tournament over the course of four days. The quarterfinals are played Thursday, the semifinals Friday and the championship match Sunday.

For the finalists, playing three games in four days leads to increased fatigue and a greater chance of injury, said Illinois head coach Janet Rayfield.

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    “The format it’s in makes it a real challenge for the top teams in the Big Ten to be successful at the ultimate level, which is the NCAA (Tournament),” Rayfield said. “There’s too much evidence to ignore.”

    As proof, Rayfield cited last season’s Purdue team, which lost Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Parrissa Eyorokon in the conference tournament to an injury. The Boilermakers were then upset in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in penalty kicks to an Indiana team it beat 7-0 in the regular season.

    Rayfield’s conference tournament-winning squad in 2003 lost first-team, All Big Ten Tara Hurless to a knee injury in the championship. With Hurless just days away from coming back from her injury, Rayfield said, the Illini were upset 1-0 by Western Michigan.

    There is still hope the tournament can be played next year. Chipman said the coaches would have to make a proposal and then the administrators must approve it. Although there is no deadline for this, Chipman said the coaches have plenty of time to submit a proposal.

    Rayfield said she knows of no other major conference that holds its tournament during such a short period of time. Most use a Wednesday-Friday-Sunday format or hold their tournaments during the course of two weekends.

    Rayfield proposed the idea of a six-team conference tournament played over two weekends. The top two teams would receive byes into the semifinals, while the next four teams would play on one weekend for the other two semifinal berths. The tournament could then resume the following Friday, with the championship match Sunday. This format would mimic the regular season schedule.

    “Personally, I wasn’t in favor of getting rid of (the Big Ten Tournament),” Rayfield said. “It’s great to compete for an NCAA Championship, but there’s one out of 300 teams (that win). One more chance to compete for a (title) is something the athletes really look forward to.”

    Like Rayfield, most of the players do not want to see the Big Ten Tournament go. Although junior midfielder Courtney Bell admitted injury is a legitimate concern, she had a classic player’s stance.

    “I’m disappointed,” Bell said. “It’s fun for us to go and compete for a Big Ten title. Growing up, we all played three, four, five games in a weekend when we were playing in club tournaments.”