In case you haven't turned on ESPN in the last three months and seen one of their countless promos, the world's biggest sporting event, soccer's World Cup, begins on Friday. The magnitude of soccer on an international scale is beyond question, but even here in the United States the sport is slowly but surely taking hold as a major mainstream sport. The growth in the popularity of the sport here--and especially the immense potential it has to grow further as the U.S. national team and the American professional league become more and more competitive--leads to the question: why does the SEC still not field competition in men's soccer?
Let's take a look at the list of professional players selected by coach Bob Bradley to represent the United States in this year's World Cup. A solid majority--15 of the 23 players--began their careers playing college soccer (the other eight turned pro straight out of high school, or in some cases even before finishing high school). Notice the college conferences in which the U.S. players competed.
|Carlos Bocanegra||Left Back||31||Alta Loma, CA||UCLA||Pac-10|
|Jonathan Bornstein||Left Back||25||Los Angeles, CA||UCLA||Pac-10|
|Benny Feilhaber||Midfielder||25||Irvine, CA||UCLA||Pac-10|
|Robbie Findley||Forward||24||Phoenix, AZ||Oregon State||Pac-10|
|Oguchi "Gooch" Onyewu||Center Back||28||Silver Spring, MD||Clemson||ACC|
|Stuart Holden||Winger||24||Houston, TX||Clemson||ACC|
|Clarence Goodson||Center Back||28||Arlington, VA||Maryland||ACC|
|Maurice Edu||Midfielder||24||Fontana, CA||Maryland||ACC|
|Clint Dempsey||Winger||27||Nacagdoches, TX||Furman||So-Con|
|Rico Clark||Midfielder||27||Atlanta, GA||Furman||So-Con|
|Brad Guzan||Goalkeeper||25||Chicago, IL||South Carolina||C-USA|
|Steve Cherundolo||Right Back||31||San Diego, CA||Portland||WCC|
|Jay DeMerit||Center Back||30||Green Bay, WI||Illinois-Chicago||Horizon|
|Marcus Hahnemann||Goalkeeper||37||Seattle, WA||Seattle Pacific||Division II|
|Edson Buddle||Forward||29||New Rochelle, NY||State Fair CC||JuCo|
|Tim Howard||Goalkeeper||31||North Brunswick, NJ||--None--|
|Herculez Gomez||Forward||28||Las Vegas, NV||--None--|
|Landon Donovan||Winger||28||Ontario, CA||--None--|
|DaMarcus Beasley||Winger||28||Fort Wayne, IN||--None--|
|Jonathan Spector||Right Back||24||Arlington Heights, IL||--None--|
|Jose "Gringo" Torres||Midfielder||22||Longview, TX||--None--|
|Michael Bradley||Midfielder||22||Princeton, NJ||--None--|
|Jozy Altidore||Forward||20||Boca Raton, FL||--None--|
A quick glance at the roster reveals that the Pac-10 and the ACC dominate in producing World Cup players for the U.S., as they have in past World Cups. Other major conferences, like the Big East and the Big Ten, have also produced players that were selected for past U.S. World Cup squads. But nowhere has one ever seen a former SEC athlete step foot on the world's biggest sporting stage.
Over 200 schools around the country field Division I soccer teams, and every major conference fields competition in the sport, with the notable exception of the Big XII and SEC. Needless to say, with the Big XII's demise appearing imminent, the SEC will remain as the nation's lone major conference that doesn't compete in the world's biggest sport.
However, the possible (probable?) expansion of the SEC may be the perfect time to bring this emerging (in the U.S.) major sport into the SEC. Possible SEC additions Clemson (boasting two players on this year's World Cup squad), Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, and West Virginia all field men's soccer teams. And in case you didn't notice backup goalkeeper Brad Guzan on the roster, two SEC schools (South Carolina and Kentucky) field teams, but compete in Conference USA since the SEC does not offer soccer. With those two schools plus possibly an additional two or three schools being brought in, the SEC needs only to encourage a small handful of the ten current members without teams to add them to begin competition.
Adding teams for those ten SEC schools would incur virtually no costs from a facilities standpoint, since the schools already have soccer stadiums and practice facilities for their women's teams. There is the issue of meeting Title IX requirements, but Alabama for one already has room in that department thanks to adding women's rowing a few years back, and in any case, soccer only requires room for 9 men's scholarships. With a state-of-the-art facility already in place, UA would need only to fork over the same yearly operating costs it spends on each of its 17 current non-revenue sports (read: everything but football and men's basketball) to begin play in a newly expanded SEC in 2012.
And maybe as early as the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, we will finally see athletes from the world's greatest sports league compete in the world's greatest sports event.