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Dear SEC: We Want Men's Soccer!

The World Cup, the world's most popular sporting event, is approximately 12 hours from kicking off the first game between host nation Germany and underdog Costa Rica (11 a.m. central time.) I figured the eve of this most wonderful spectacle was an opportune time to ponder why Alabama and most other SEC schools don't have men's soccer teams.

South Carolina and Kentucky are the only SEC schools that have men's soccer programs and they compete in Conference USA. Seven Big 10 schools have teams, 16 Big East schools have teams, nine ACC schools have teams and six PAC-10 schools have teams. Only the Big 12 joins the SEC as a soccer wasteland amongst the BCS football conferences. South Carolina and Kentucky border the soccer hotbeds of the Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest respectively, so it makes sense that they have teams.  

The lack of men's soccer in the SEC can probably be chalked up to three main factors:

  1. Title IX. I'm a big supporter of Title IX, though I do dislike the fallout from it (the fact that many men's sports programs were scrapped to comply with it instead of simply adding more women's programs.)
  2. The Deep South is one of the last areas where soccer put down roots in this country. Very few MLS players and even fewer US national team players have come from the Deep South.
  3. The SEC ADs probably don't want to exert any energy on a men's sport in the fall besides football.
I understand the difficulty the schools would face in taking on men's soccer. It would make them have to add another women's sport, have more facilities, etc. for a program that would be lucky to break even financially. However, in 2005, 21 men's soccer programs averaged attendance of over 1,000 spectators per game. I would imagine that is way more than attend golf, tennis, cross country, etc. I've been to men's soccer games at UAB where attendance was 2,000-3,000.

The NCAA soccer team with the highest average attendance would've been the 11th ranked baseball team, so it isn't like people aren't coming out to watch (the top ranked baseball team averaged over 7,000 fans per game.) Soccer also isn't a terribly expensive sport as far as equipment and facilities go so that's a plus for establishing men's teams in the SEC. Additionally, men play on the same size field as women do so those facilities could be shared.

While many soccer players turn pro straight out of high school (or even during high school), many still play collegiately before plying their trade professionally. The US World Cup team has former players from Clemson, Furman, South Carolina, NC State, Portland, North Carolina, Virginia, UCLA, St. Louis, and many others. I for one, love the thought of a World Cup player having once played for the Crimson Tide. That would make me beam with pride.

For the universities, the pros just don't stack up to the cons as far as men's soccer is concerned. In the end, I doubt the SEC will ever get on board with the world's most popular sport, but I can hope.

Until then...enjoy the World Cup.