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How Landon Donovan Practiced With a College Team

As LA Galaxy and US National Team midfielder Landon Donovan works his way back to fitness after taking some additional time for himself this offseason, he stopped by in Wisconsin where his brother lived and trained with the Badgers soccer team:

“He was focused, totally,” [captain Tomislav Zardo] said. “Whatever the coach (John Trask) said, he was always willing to listen, he didn’t think he was better than anybody just because he was playing with a bunch of college guys.

It will surprise no one that having a pro like Landon Donovan train with a team is not as simple as it could be with NCAA rules. Donovan is obviously not a student-athlete eligible for practice (according to NCAA rules he might technically still be a prospect). He also does not meet some of the more common exceptions, like alumni who are allowed to practice with the team on an occasional basis.

Wisconsin could have obviously filed a waiver, although with Donovan only in a town a couple of days that seems unlikely. Getting to practice with a pro athletes is no an emergency, so an expedited waiver process seems unlikely. Wisconsin would have needed to know about Donovan’s trip to Madison well in advance. Given his other travels this winter, that seems unlikely.

The best bet then is that Wisconsin appointed Donovan as their volunteer assistant for the week. Like all sports but football and basketball, soccer is allowed one voluteer assistant who is not paid by the university. In many sports and teams, that coach often leaves the team during the offseason to make enough money to support coaching for free during the campaign. Volunteers might be club coaches, operate camps or clinics, or just have regular jobs with enough schedule flexibility.

If Wisconsin’s was down a volunteer coach (or any assistant for that matter), Donovan could be appointed as a coach for the week, then replaced. So long as a team is not using the coaching replacement rules to get around numerical limits (like temporarily replacing coaches every other day to employ more specialists), short-term stints are permitted. Especially if circumstances make it so one of the regular coaches is unavailable for a time.

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