College soccer losing two division one programs
College soccer is kind of anomaly in the world of soccer. Its sordid history of experimentation, loose affiliation with governing bodies and refusal to change some of the senseless traditions it holds onto – like the short season, unlimited substitutions, the clock that counts down and stops – makes it a throwback to the complicated history of the sport itself on American soil that Major League Soccer has mostly shed on its path toward relevance.
Quirky as it is, college soccer has a legitimate place in the culture of America’s universities even if most of the demographic that now overwhelming loves the sport almost as much as the NFL won’t be found at a game. The attendance figures bear that out – 4,000 fans a game is enough to put a team near the top of attendance figures for the whole country and even a bad crowd at an MLS game would rank as one of the highest attended games all season. Attendance at the women’s game is even more dismal.
All of this, unfortunately, gives merit to the “non-revenue” tag placed on the sport whenever conversations of funding come up, something that has been frequent with the economic recession and continued debate over unpaid athletes earning large universities untold millions for their play on the field and marketing prowess. As a soccer and baseball fan, I cringe when I hear the term because it sounds degrading even while questioning the need for sports to be intertwined with education at all.
At heart, I believe in the separation of sports and education, but I’m also a hypocrite so when I read headlines about two Division 1 soccer programs facing the axe at the University of Richmond and the University of Towson I immediately ready my pitchfork. As it turns out in both of these recent cases, the soccer teams are being sacrificed along with other “non-revenue” sports like baseball and track and field over official statements about funding cuts and title IX (keeping the number of men’s sports teams even with the number of women’s teams) and speculative accusations (in the case of Towson) of a desire to direct more money toward propping up football and basketball programs. Cue the “most scholastic athletes go pro in something other than sports” public service commercial.
In the case of the University of Richmond, men’s college soccer will lose one of its best nicknames – the Spiders – and a team dating back to 1975 that produced former MLS defender Craig Ziadie and enough of an impression to gather 3,366 members in its “Save Richmond Soccer” Facebook group. The loss of Towson’s team means the end of the lengthy tenure of coach Frank Olszewski, a mainstay in the program since 1982, and a team that dates back to the 1920s.
For the game, it’s the loss of two programs that contributed to the greater good of the sport on American soil, that we as supporters – backward counting clock stopping and endless substitutions aside – should lament while also being served notice that our school, the one we really should make a point to try and see play at least once a year, could be next.