The college that bills itself as Soccer Heaven is looking for a way out of limbo.
The uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic has created a scheduling quandary for UCSB men’s soccer coach Tim Vom Steeg. He’s been able to pencil some matches onto his calendar but it’s still too early for ink.
“We’ve been particularly hard-hit because we’d planned two out-of-state trips for four games and also had three teams flying into Santa Barbara,” Vom Steeg said. “I lost six out of nine nonconference games — games that had to be changed, anyway — so it’s been a bit of a scramble.”
A regular season that was to begin with a trip to Northwestern and Loyola Chicago will instead tentatively open at Harder Stadium on Aug. 28 against the University of San Diego.
A marquee matchup with long-time rival Cal is expected to follow on Aug. 31, although the location has not yet been determined.
“Nothing against Northwestern or Loyola, but USD and Berkeley are obviously two quality teams that I anticipate could be in the playoffs,” Vom Steeg said. “These matches became available because everybody sort of lost their trips that first week of the season.
“The team that was going to be flying in to play Berkeley had to cancel, and USD had to get out of its trip to Duke.”
Many colleges have discouraged if not outright prohibited their teams from traveling long distances because of health and cost concerns caused by COVID-19. The travel restrictions have affected every Gaucho sport.
“We had some teams from out of state inform us that they can’t come, and we’ve tried to curtail our own travel outside of California,” UCSB athletic director John McCutcheon said. “But as of now, there are still a couple of situations to which we’re contractually obligated.
“If something comes down (from the UC system) prohibiting us from traveling out of state, we’ll have to get out of those games, too, somehow. But most situations have been handled in a spirit of cooperation. We’re all in the same boat.”
Cal looms as one of the Gauchos’ most intriguing soccer opponents. The Golden Bears are trying to get their UCSB match played at Earthquakes Stadium, the five-year-old, 18,000-seat home of Major League Soccer’s San Jose franchise.
“That would be a lot of fun,” Vom Steeg said. “They want a night game more than anything.
“Believe it or not, if they can’t secure that facility, they say they’d rather come down and play us at our stadium.”
One of the Gauchos’ most anticipated soccer trips was to take them to South Florida and SMU in the final week of September. SMU, however, had to cancel its match with UCSB when the coronavirus pandemic prompted Conference USA to move up the start of its league season to that week.
Vom Steeg would prefer to not commit an entire week of travel for what would become just one match at South Florida.
“We’re still in conversations with them, and they’re supposed to return the trip to Santa Barbara next year,” he said. “We had planned that trip to Florida and Texas with our RPI in mind, hoping to make a run at our own College Cup. South Florida is projected to be a top-10 team and so is SMU.
“On paper, this was going to be one of our hardest schedules in years.”
Vom Steeg is now hoping to fill the SMU date with a home match against USF.
“They’re going to be playing at UCLA on Tuesday, Sept. 29, so we can maybe pick them up for a Saturday night, Sept. 26 match at Harder Stadium,” Vom Steeg said. “One thing falls apart, but then sometimes you’re able to take advantage of another situation.”
Marshall, another opponent with top-10 possibilities, still plans to make its trip to UCSB on Sept. 11. Utah Valley has also confirmed its Sept. 18 date at Harder Stadium, Vom Steeg said.
But he still has three dates to fill. An earlier start to the Pac-12 season is limiting the number of possible in-state opponents.
He is hoping to reschedule the Gauchos’ Aug. 22 exhibition against Westmont College. The Warriors had to pull out of that date for the 58th annual Bryant & Sons Cup match at UCSB when the NAIA announced that its members cannot start competition until Sept. 5.
“That threw a little monkey wrench into our plans,” Vom Steeg said. “It’s a good game for us to begin the year and a good one for them, too. We’ve been playing it for 50-plus years and you’d like to keep that tradition going, even though we’re dealing with untraditional times.
“I need to try and find a place on the schedule for them. (Westmont coach) Dave Wolf wants to make it happen, too.”
The end of the season is also on Vom Steeg’s mind. UCSB’s Harder Stadium is scheduled to play host to the NCAA soccer Final Four — the College Cup — on Dec. 11 and 13.
On Monday, the NCAA announced it has no changes to the dates and formats for its fall championships. But if the coronavirus prohibits spectators from attending the contests, the financial repercussions could become significant for their host schools.
“Right now, we’re scheduled to go on as planned,” McCutcheon said. “We’re still dealing with a lot of unknowns, like, are we going to have fans or not have fans? Are the dates going to change?
“We’ve had some initial conversations with the NCAA but nothing is in the works at this point to move up the College Cup or to move it back. But if we’re not having fans during the season, I doubt we’d be hosting a national championship with fans.”
If California does not permit spectators at sporting events this fall, the NCAA could move the College Cup to a state that does.
“It’d be premature to hold that conversation now,” McCutcheon said. “Let’s just see how things evolve.”