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SOCCER AMERICA FAN POLL

June 2001

Which team will win
the 2002 World Cup?

The 2002 World Cup is a year away, and top teams are in the final stage of qualifying. Here's your chance to give us your early take on the favorites.

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Club Profile: Coast Soccer League Premier: Getting It Right

from the December 18, 2000 issue of Soccer America Magazine

Dec 18, 2000

by Soccer America Youth Soccer Letter executive editor Dan Woog

A Southern California league for elite teams impresses from top to bottom.

Across America, there are many well-organized soccer leagues. Numerous leagues also offer top-notch competition. Then there is the Coast Soccer League Premier.

Chances are, if any league has innovative ideas for administration, publicizing players, finding good officials or handling disputes, Southern California's CSL already does it. In fact, the CSL probably did it first.

An up-to-date, easy-to-navigate, interactive Web site filled with the latest news, photos and features on all 66 teams - and every player? Got it.

The best officials in the state, with a well-oiled system for finding them, keeping them happy - and eliminating the poor ones? Check.

Clever ways to avoid scheduling conflicts, cut down on unsportsmanlike conduct, even entertain thousands of spectators week after week? The CSL Premier League has it covered.

The Premier League is a 2-year-old offshoot of the Coast Soccer League, a 1,000-team competitive league stretching 300 miles north from San Luis Obispo to the Mexican border. The CSL itself is no stranger to solid organization: Boys and girls teams ages U-10 to U-15 are divided into Gold, Silver and Bronze brackets, with different rules and procedures for each group. More than 30 CSL alumni have played in MLS.

But the Premier League goes one step beyond. There is only one bracket, with three age groups for both males and females: U-16, U-17 and U-19. Only eight to 12 teams are accepted in each group. It is truly a league for the best of the best.

TOUGH SCRUTINY. The CSL Premier League's strict procedures begin the moment a team applies for entry. Applications, due May 15 of each year, range from one page to 10. The minimum qualification is that a team has won at least the CSL U-15 Gold bracket or CSL League Cup, the California Youth Soccer Association-South state cup, or a major tournament like the Surf Cup. Records are scrutinized to see how many wins came against quality opponents. Rosters are examined too; a minimum of nine returnees from the previous season is required to ensure that a team can defend its record.

The selection process is handled by a board that includes Gary Sparks, a retired real estate executive who serves as Premier League chairman, and two other administrators. They base their decisions on recommendations of age-group selectors. Each age group has its own selector; he or she is a coach or administrator of a team already in the Premier League. Each team's selection must be ratified by the entire CSL board.

The Premier League does not accept unqualified teams simply to fill up a division. If, however, they find more qualified teams than available slots, a playoff is scheduled. Every applying team competes in a round-robin event, held on a weekend.

Teams passed over for selection may appeal the board's decision, indicating which team they think they are better than. It has happened once. The appeal was upheld; the team not accepted went on to place fifth in the CSL Gold bracket. "We're not perfect," Sparks noted, "but we do make fairly informed decisions."

Last spring, 200 teams applied for 66 slots. Two were not filled, because administrators felt they lacked enough good teams in one age group. As soon as the selection process is complete, scheduling begins. The season runs from the second weekend in September through the third weekend in November.

There is one scheduling certainty: No matter where in Southern California a team hails from, it knows it will play every weekend at either the San Juan Capistrano polo fields south of Los Angeles (a training site for the 1994 World Cup), or the University of California at Irvine a few miles away.

Games begin at 8 a.m., and more than 3,000 spectators flock to the fields each day. They are greeted by a tournament-like atmosphere, complete with flags and vendors selling international food, lattes and apparel.

On two weekends teams play both Saturday and Sunday; the rest of the autumn they play just one day (no games are scheduled on PSAT, SAT or ACT test dates). Teams in 12-team groups meet each opponent once; those in the eight-team bracket have voted to play everyone else twice.

Each weekend the Premier League distributes an eight- or 16-page newspaper that includes schedules and field layouts, articles by the likes of CYSA-S Olympic Development Program director Steve Sampson and referees, tips on avoiding injuries, and contributions from various teams.

INFO AGE SAVVY. But the flow of information does not stop there. The Premier League posts the contents of each newspaper on its Web site (www.cslpremier.com), as well as updates, standings and photos. The site's true value, however, lies in its profile pages. Each team has its own page - and so do all players. They can post information about themselves from 99 pre-set academic and athletic categories (each team manager has a password, to control inappropriate or inaccurate postings). Each player also has his or her own Premier League e-mail address, for use when communicating with college coaches.

The comprehensive player profiles are then downloaded into a template. The result is a sharp-looking 416-page Premier League media guide. Copies are sent via priority mail to over 1,000 college coaches across the country.

"They go nuts over it," Sparks said proudly. They also respond: When coaches come to scout players at Premier League matches, they often carry their media guides. Coaches have come from as far east as Harvard and Dartmouth (they are usually already on the West Coast for college games). Premier League administrators cultivate those college coaches, as well as Sampson's ODP scouts, by providing free parking and food, even lodging if requested.

ATTENTIVE TO REFS. The league is equally attentive to its referees. All 16 Southern California referee associations are asked to nominate their top officials for the Premier pool. A committee, comprised entirely of referees, selects the best of those. Officials vie to work Premier League games for several reasons: They have their own tent; three-man teams are paid at the rate of $1.20 per minute - and they are guaranteed at least three games a day.

Of course, admits Sparks, even the best-laid plans occasionally go awry; inadequate refereeing does occur. The Premier League covers that contingency too. Any coach or team administrator can file a complaint against an official. The game result will never be overturned, but the referee committee examines the complaint for the good of the game. That happened five times this fall. Three officials were sent for additional instruction; the other two situations were judged to be "sour grapes." In addition, the referee committee's assessors removed two officials on their own, without complaints being filed.

"Because teams have this privilege, it is mandatory that referees be treated with respect," Sparks states. Therefore, all comments must go through the coach. If there are physical or verbal assaults on a referee, that team can be removed from the league. So far that has not happened.

"Coaches are scared to death of removal," Sparks says. "They know how the process works." This fall, only two coaches were red-carded for dissent. "In youth soccer, that's phenomenal," Sparks notes.

PENALIZED FOR CARDS. The Premier League watches cards closely. Teams are assessed one point for every yellow card, two for each red. If a team accumulates 20 points, it loses one point in the standings; at 30, it loses two more standings points. Any team that amasses 40 card points will be summarily dismissed from the CSL - not just the Premier League, but the entire organization. That has never happened. The highest point total this year was 26, in the boys U-19 league. The highest in girls U-16 was just eight.

Teams follow their point totals closely on the Web site. This year, first place in the boys U-19 league was determined by one point - a point that was lost by one team because of cards.

Despite the high level of organization, membership in the Premier League is relatively cheap. Teams pay $800 to compete, double the cost of the regular CSL. Revenue also comes from advertising by member clubs (and the Los Angeles Galaxy and Orange County Wave) in the media guide, along with Web site sponsors. Expenses cover field rental, referees and two trainers on site at all games. All league administrators are volunteers.

Though it is perhaps the most innovative in the country, the CSL Premier League refuses to rest on its laurels. In the future, organizers hope to make arrangements with airlines to help college coaches fly in.

More than 200 Premier League athletes are going on to play college ball, and one coach has offered six scholarships to league members. "That's the name of the game in premier soccer: to promote college opportunities that would not otherwise be there," Sparks says with satisfaction.

CSL Premier League: http://www.cslpremier.com

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