Thursday, June 22, 2006

Why Can't USA Compete in Soccer? Title IX

The US just lost their final World Cup match to tiny Ghana by a score of 2-1. In 3 games against the Czech Republic, Italy, and Ghana, the US managed only 1 goal (the goal against Italy was scored by the Italian team).

Why is it a sports crazed nation of 300,000,000 people can't beat the Czech Republic nor Ghana? To put this into perspective, the USA has lost soccer matches to these two nations:

Ghana - about the size of Michigan with the population of NY City metro area.

Czech Republic - about the size of South Carolina with the population of LA metro.

We all know that soccer is far down on the list of favorite US sports. Baseball, football, and basketball surely top soccer. But in my experience, you have more youth playing soccer today in the US than either basketball or football. Young kids love the game, and we have countless leagues devoted to developing talented young players. Why can't we compete globally? Title IX.

Title IX is the provision that requires colleges to award as many athletic scholarships to women's sports as they do men's sports. On the surface, this sounds great. Women should have the opportunity to compete at the college level. But we should all quit pretending that women are just as likely to make a career out of sports as are men. Why the need to ensure equality of scholarships if it's the male athlete who is 10 times more likely (an understatement) to pursue a career in professional sports?

More importantly, football programs provide for 85 full ride scholarships. As a result, athletic programs offer a wide array of scholarships for women athletes, including soccer, to meet Title IX requirements. On the other hand, you will be hard pressed to find a university which offers scholarships to play soccer. As of last year, there were only 21 Division 1 programs playing men's soccer, including traditional collegiate powers Akron, Winthrop, Niagra, and Birmingham Southern.

The implications are clear. Our very best male athletes have very little incentive to pursue soccer in high school, other than for the pure love of the game. Soccer players who are skilled in multiple sports drop soccer in favor of the sport in which collegiate scholarships are available. Those that do stick with soccer will graduate with limited, if any, opportunities to become world class soccer athletes. Furthermore, many are faced with the dilemma of attending a school such as Missouri State, which offers soccer scholarships, or attending a major university such as Michigan or Texas A&M, which do not.

The bottom line is that to fix US soccer, we need major universities to create soccer programs and to offer full ride scholarships. For that to happen, we either create new women's sports programs to meet Title IX requirements, or we modify Title IX in a manner that better meets the demands for male athletes.

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