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  1. INTRODUCTION Oh yes, baby. After having dabbled away for far too long in FM18 and skipping 19, I've gone and decided to install FM20 on my pc on life support. Stubbornness is a hell of a condition. One of the first mods I always install whenever I want to get acquainted with the new possibilities FM has to offer, it's the mindblowingly comprehensive and true-to-life accuracy of @Uncle_Sam's USA Real Life Expansion file. Words cannot express the pleasure I've had over the years playing in his files, so I thought it would be a great idea to return from lurking in the shadows by using his file. Seriously, though. Check it out over here. --- For those of you who do not know: yes, I'm European, but I love American sports. Not just the sports themselves, but also their wacky league structures of inbalanced schedules, drafts and salary caps. In every big league, they've managed to set up a selfsustaining system of colleges, who take up the responsibility of being the de facto academies for the professional teams. Now, if there's one league system that's wackier than wack, it's the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Oh yes, we're going to college. We're in Kentucky, the state renowned for producing around 95% of all Bourbon. And more specifically: we're in Louisville. Not the state capitol, but it is the biggest city of Kentucky. A city well known for it's ridiculously flamboyant horse race (the Kentucky Derby) and also the city where one of the tyres on my rental car decided to call it a day during my trip through the US last summer. While trying to find a solution at the nearby gas station, calling an inaudible callcenter employee alongside a noisy road, I was able to overlook the soccer (I know, but I'll just stick to this to avoid any confusing with the team that plays in the 60.000 seat stadium across the road) complex of the university. They stuck in the back of my mind and when I picked up playing FM with a college soccer save, I decided to pick them as the fortunate ones. THE STRUCTURE For those of you unfamiliar with college sports in the USA, there's no real clear structured league where all teams compete in. There is a postseason where the best universities attempt to crown the national title, but for the most part of the season, you're playing games within a conference that your university simply has an allegiance with. In our case, that's the Atlantic Coast Conference, or the ACC: a conference with twelve universities, mostly from the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. These are our most common foes. Every year, we'll play all the teams in our Group once and three of the six teams in the other group once as well for a total of eight conference games. Mind you, the groups are fixed, so we'll always face Boston College, Clemson, NC State, Syracuse and Wake Forest. The other three teams rotate every year. At the end of the season (which, by the way, runs during the fall only, ie August to December), all teams will actually qualify for the ACC Conference Tournament. Final standings determine the seedings however. The winner of the tournament qualifies for the NCAA Tournament. Which basically is the National Tournament. Confused yet? It gets better. The NCAA Tournament consists of 48 teams. However, there's only 24 conferences. This means that 24 other colleges who did not win their conference championship will receive "at-large picks". In American college sports, there are committees consisting of former coaches, players and journalists that rank all the teams on a weekly basis. They will always have a say in which teams qualify for the postseason. This sounds ridiculously unfair, but that's just how it works. Luckily for the college soccer universe, 48 of a total of 206 colleges get into the tournament. So if you're having a good season, chances are big you're getting in. A way for colleges to make sure that the selection committee chooses them for the NCAA Tournament, is by playing well in the season. However, with only 8 conference games and a tournament, that's pretty hard. That's why, in real life, colleges plan non-conference games: games against universities from other conferences which they can then beat and turn some heads. @Uncle_Sam has found a way to replicate this. Every season, all 206 teams get automatically distributed over 20 different invisible groups of 10/11 teams. This ensures that we will have an additional nine or ten regular season games. In real life, these games are designed to raise your status. As this could not be replicated one-on-one in FM, I believe that Uncle_Sam has edited the file that the best three teams (conference champions excluded) from all of these 20 different groups get to the NCAA Tournament. Yeah, it's wacky. I warned you. But we'll get back to this. In summary, this will be our first year's schedule: So basically it's August, September and October for our regular season schedule, November for our conference tournament and December for the NCAA Tournament. THE CHALLENGE As we'll be the head coach of a college team, we'll obviously have to work with age restrictions. Players can only be registered if they're between 19 and 23 years old. All players will be on an amateur contract too. However, something big has to come along for them to just go and leave our club, as the players in this file aren't very happy to move teams. The only way for us to get new players, is by recruiting them either from other colleges (yes, it occasionally happens that players transfer schools) or by getting them from the US Soccer Development Academy. This was a real-life, 83 team league for the last thirteen years, where the country's best u-17 players could gain experience before going to a college. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 crisis, this league has officially folded in real life in the last days. However, it's still in the save and luckily so, because it's the division where new players are generated and most probably the most vital pool to recruit from. I'm not sure, but I don't believe we'll get a youth intake ourselves, so all players that will graduate (that is, all players who will turn 24) will need to be replaced in some sort. The USSDA is our main way of doing that. So our main goal will be to win the ACC every year, do well in the non-conference games and qualify for the NCAA Tournament so we can try to win that. In real life, Louisville has been pretty much non-existent since their programme start in 1979, but have gone through a revolution in the last thirteen years. Every year since 2007, except for 2015, they have qualified for the NCAA Tournament. They have switched conferences (yes, this happens) in 2014 to join the ACC and since then, they have won the conference tournament once, in 2018 (which means we're actually reigning champions). However, Louisville has only reached the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament once, in 2010, where they lost the final to Akron. We're a college with a lot of potential, but there's still a prize to win. And that's what I'm trying to bring. Obviously, there's a glass ceiling in this save. Winning the College Cup might become boring after a while, so I'm not ruling out making a step to another American side. But for now I'd like to really build a college dynasty. Another interesting angle to this save is to see if we're able to recruit a player, have him play for us for four years and then get the player drafted into the MLS. And then see how this will player will eventually develop over time. It would be really cool to see if we could one day have a player in our school that might make it to Europe. Who knows. IN THE NEXT UPDATE I'll give a quick overview of our team and preseason.
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