SEC Sports: Is the South Ready for NCAA Men's Soccer?
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It doesn't matter what part of the country you're in. It doesn't matter how you want to cut it, or what preconceived notions you have about the subject.
In America, soccer is not that other sport anymore.
Major League Soccer is enjoying success like it's never seen and had only envisioned. The U.S. Men's National Team is now a regular at the FIFA World Cup. The only part that needs to catch up is its lower tier sports system which is the NCAA.
And although men's soccer is a sport that is supported, it's nowhere near the scope of its more successful sports. But what about in the NCAA's most successfully supported and financially able conference, the SEC?
The stigma against the game of soccer has taken a sharp decline nationally over the past 10 years. The high-definition sports age has brought pitches into living rooms across the country with dazzling success. In Kansas City, average attendance for Sporting KC trails that of the Kansas City Royals by about 3,000. If Sporting Park held more fans, it's likely that they'd pass the Royals. Success of soccer in America is not limited to the northwest part of the country.
The SEC currently has women's soccer, which enjoys a reasonable degree of success. But are fans ready to embrace and support the game on the men's side of the ball?
In Alabama, one of the most vibrant states for college athletics, the only Division-I program that offers soccer is UAB. But can this change? What would have to happen to get SEC soccer to be a reality?
Although it's up to various schools to decide if they want to fund and operate new athletic programs, to spearhead the movement would be a conference-level initiative that would have to come from Birmingham. Instituting a championship game and having a set of conference referees would legitimize the whole operation.
Having the backing of the conference would be a much safer move than a school deciding to start a men's soccer program as an Independent and risk it folding without the familiarity of playing other SEC teams. In other words, if Georgia were to start a men's soccer program, playing the likes of UCLA and Maryland would be a harder sell than playing Auburn and Florida. Without conference rivalries there to at least add some element of interest to the casual SEC fan, it just wouldn't take off.
If your favorite SEC team had a men's soccer team in an SEC Championship game, would you support the team?
So can it happen? Will the SEC ever add men's soccer?
Where there's a dollar to be made, the SEC will be there with a net to cash in. With all the money beginning to fly around in the professional game, it will be hard for conference heads and athletic directors to turn a blind eye to it. Soccer will never take the place or even come close to being what football is in the south, but in a changing society that clearly views the sport as far more interesting than it has ever previously, don't be surprised if you begin to hear "Olay olay olay" on southern campuses soon.
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