Division I college soccer under threat

Leaders of 18 college coaches' organizations representing so-called non-revenue or Olympic sports, including United Soccer Coaches, have sent a letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert opposing the request for emergency legislative relief from 27 of the 32 Division I conferences to reduce or waive several Division I membership requirements.

These conferences want to give their schools the flexibility to cut expenses related to running their athletic programs in response to revenue shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn.

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The waiver request that has leaders of non-revenue Division I sports the most fearful: reducing the requirement about the minimum number of sports a school must sponsor will put many non-revenue sports on the chopping block.

Division I landscape: NCAA Division I conferences are broken into two subdivisions: FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) schools and non-FBS schools.

FBS schools play in one of the 10 conferences that have top-flight college football programs (Power 5 and Group of 5). Non-FBS schools are mostly smaller schools, some of which have football and compete in the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision)

FBS schools must field at least 16 teams, with a minimum of six men's teams and a minimum of eight women's teams. Non-FBS Division I schools must field at least 14 teams. (Division II requirements include: minimum of five men's teams and five women's teams or four men's teams and six women's teams. Division III requirements include: minimum of five men's teams and five women's teams.)

Soccer participation: Of the 32 conferences, 31 sponsor women's soccer and 24 sponsor men's soccer though not all schools in a conference have varsity soccer (more so on the men's side, where several conferences have the minimum number of members to qualify for an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament).

In 2018-19, soccer ranked second in all Division I women's sports in terms of participation (behind only track & field) and fourth in all Division I men's sports in terms of participation (behind football, track & field and baseball).

Revenue threat: College athletics is particularly vulnerable to a drop in revenues in response to the pandemic and economic downturn.

“We’re an enterprise that is solely operated by those who choose to support us with their discretionary income," Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte told The Athletic recently. "Whether it be television, season tickets, all the people who donate money — all of those things are predicated on having events.” Already, $375 million in television revenues were lost with the cancellation of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in March.

The big concern is that the college football season will not go forward in the fall, or be delayed until a later date -- yes, there is talk of playing in the winter and spring in 2021. "If we can’t play football this fall," Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard told The Athletic. "I mean it’s Ice Age time."

(Everyone agrees that college sports won't return until campuses are re-opened for students to return and resume on-site classes.)

Who are seeking waivers? The five Group of 5 conferences -- the smaller FBS conferences -- want four-year waivers, while the 22 non-FBS conferences want two-year waivers with an option to extend them to up to four years.

“A blanket waiver for relief will provide institutions the ability to make prudent and necessary decisions for the financial well-being of the institution," the  commissioners of the Group of Five said in a letter to Emmert on April 10.

What's the response of the non-revenue sports? The Intercollegiate Coach Association Coalition argues slashing opportunities for students in non-revenue sports -- 141,483 student-athletes participated in 2018-19 --  is not the solution.

It noted that graduation rates and donation rates in these sports are higher than their non-athletic peers, and they generated $3.6 billion in tuition and fees to their universities, an amount nearly equal what it costs to provide opportunities to play collegiate sports.

On the waiver request, the non-revenue coaches group's position is:

"Reducing the minimum sports sponsorship requirement that would open the door to eliminating sports should not be an option. We are all in this together, and we are ready, eager, and willing to partner with the NCAA to find creative solutions for the challenges to come. America’s students have had so much taken from them. Now is not the time to cut them off from yet another critical institution that makes university life so special."

Power 5 conferences (FBS):
*ACC, *Big Ten, Big-12, *Pac-12, SEC.

Group of 5 conferences (FBS):
*American, *Conference USA, *Mid-American, Mountain West, *Sun Belt.

Non-FBS conferences:
*America East, *Atlantic Sun, *Atlantic 10, *Big East, Big Sky, *Big South, *Big West, * CAA, *Ivy League, *Horizon, *MAAC, Mid-Eastern, *Missouri Valley, *Northeast, Ohio Valley, *Patriot, *Southern, Southland, *Summit, SWAC, *WCC, *WAC.
*Sponsors men's soccer championship.
Note: All but the Mid-Eastern sponsors a women's soccer championship.
11 comments about "Division I college soccer under threat".
  1. Peter Bechtold, April 23, 2020 at 10:54 a.m.

    Thanks Paul for these details. For those not familiar:The Mideastern and SWAC conferences consist of "Historically Black Colleges" where few students grew up watching/playing soccer.

    We can expect various stakeholders to come forward trying to protect their local interests(naturally). Those details will be left to bureaucrats and lawyers.
    But what about the bigger picture ?
    Allow me to explain my own background: I have been involved as student and faculty member at 8 colleges/universities, 4 private and 4 public, 6 East Coast,2 West Coast. I have returned as Adjunct Professor to my undergraduate college where I used to play soccer for 4 years and which no longer sponsors men's soccer due to Title IX complications.(Big Sky Conference). I have watched several conference matches by our women's team and have to admit that it was difficult.(I hate to speculate what our friend Frank S. would call it). Average attendance has been below 100, mostly friends and relatives of the players; I did not see anyone who came to enjoy watching a soccer match per se. And this in the city which holds the record for highest attendance by far for NWSL franchises. Spoiler alert: The Thorns.
    In addition to dropping men's soccer, my school also dropped baseball(but kept womens' softball), wrestling, men's golf(but kept women's), mens' track and field(but kept a small womens program),and has womens volleyball(but not men's). Also gymnastics.
    Interestingly, 2 other schools across town have mens and womens soccer, both are private, one in WCC (non-FBS) and the other Division III.
    So what is this about ? Balancing athletic scholarships for schools that field American football teams with typically 60 or more players on scholarship who are male in 99% cases at least. This raises a number of big questions about the role of athletics in High Schools and Colleges, unique to the United States. But this must wait for another time.

  2. frank schoon replied, April 23, 2020 at 12:20 p.m.

    Peter, it is challenging...Sorry to hear about your old Alma mater dropping soccer. The Univ. of Tenn. of Knoxville, a very big time school and nice campus, only offers club soccer for men since the 60's and never had a men's NCAA team, but they do have a women's soccer team since Titel1X, I think. That UT never had a men's team completely confounds me ,considering how big it is.

    You're right about women's college game and attendances and quality of play wise.
    I think we just have to wait what will happen due to this virus, for it is too early to tell what's going to happen.....

  3. uffe gustafsson replied, April 23, 2020 at 6:41 p.m.

    Sort of have to agree.
    i think last year or 2 years ago I watched on tv, Baylor women played forgot who in the playoffs.
    what I watched was a team of the biggest strongest women played brute soccer, I was so surprised that is division 1 soccer, nothing like what you see international soccer. Baylor won over a better playing team. So disappointed game to watch.
    but that to me is why coaching need to be better.
    if you want to get your players to get to the next level.
    and if you want us to watch your team play on national televised TV. I will not watch Baylor again.

  4. Wilson Taguinod, April 23, 2020 at 11:20 a.m.

    How about cutting the outrageous salaries paid to college football and basketball coaches?  Of the highest paid public employees in each state, 26 are football coaches and 11 are basketball coaches.  Here's a partial list:

    Alabama - Nick Saban college football $7.09 million
    Arizona - Sean Miller college basketball $4.95 million
    Arkansas - Bret Bielema college football $3.96 million
    Florida - Jimbo Fisher college football $5.15 million
    Georgia - Kirby Smart college football $3.75 million
    Indiana - Tom Crean college basketball $3.15 million
    Iowa - Kirk Ferentz college football $4.08 miillion
    Kentucky - John Calipari college basketball $6.88 million

    I could go on, but you get the picture.  If collegiate sports were to rein in the excess salaries they could more readily afford spending on olympic class sports.

  5. Ric Fonseca replied, April 24, 2020 at 6:31 p.m.

    Thank you Mr. W.T.!  Your reporting on the outrageous salaries eing paid to football coaches is indeed worthy of being further explored, and is a topic that has riled and sickened me, first because I've been intrinsically involved in intercollegiate thletics since the mid '60s, as a student, and then as a graduate student manager at the Calif State university level, the UC system, and most recently at the community college level.  And yet, my esteemed collegaues in the numerous academic senates seem to turn their heads when budgeting time rolls around (primarily at the state-run universities) and apparently only see the actual budgetted coach's salaries that are first and foremost forthcoming from the specific university's budget plans, that include the base salary of the instructor of record which normally just includes what is listed, and in more than one occasion does not include the ancillary or additional salaries that boosters, other revenue e.g. tv, radio, corporate income, (there's more, I am sure)  The state of California has a listing of all salaries paid to state-funded educational institutions, by college/university and also by name, because these are public institutions and are supposed to be transparent under the IRS's 501(c)(3) Not-for-profit.  Private universities, e.g. Stanford, USC, Santa Clara, etc., are not required to publish such a list as their income is derived by endowments, student fees, sponsors, etc. And so I wonder just how many of those universities cited above, are "private" or state-run?  Maybe if those coach's slaries are in tune or equal to a tenured professor, there could be millions of dollars saved and many of the sports also saved....  

  6. Wooden Ships, April 23, 2020 at 1:10 p.m.

    Personally, I've advocated for a stark change in traditional education. It's not a unique thought/system. But, for so many reasons I still feel this way. I too am a former university soccer coach, a former player, former GM with a semi-pro team. Additionally, I've officiated four different sports as well as being retired Army. I'm exhausted with the continued prolonging of adolescences. I'm also, fed up with the commingling and watering down of academia all so we can enjoy ( bread and circus) sports. 


    After your 10th grade, there is no more mandate for formal education. You have four ways to go.

    1. Attend college for two years to see if you qualify for university studies.

    2. Go into the world of work (real world) through apprenticeships.

    3. Serve your country two years, military or other state/national service. 


    4. Continue in sports through academies and/or other sponsored organizations. 

  7. frank schoon replied, April 23, 2020 at 4:01 p.m.

    Couldn't agree with you more...

  8. Wallace Wade, April 23, 2020 at 2:35 p.m.

    Bottom line. If I'm a young talented Male soccer player, and there's a chance of progressing, I'm getting myself to Europe

  9. Ken Garner replied, April 23, 2020 at 4:44 p.m.

    Excellent point. Where does/should college soccer (or any of the non-revenue sports) fit into their game's overall system. I don't feel like college programs are particularly relevant to soccer or track or tennis or golf, etc., in the same way they are for American football or basketball (and, to a lesser degree, baseball).

  10. Ken Garner, April 23, 2020 at 4:39 p.m.

    I am sympathetic to the athletes and coaches potentially threatened by the waiver requests, but situation raises the larger question of why colleges and universities are in the sports entertainment business. I love college football and basketball, and I don't expect them to go anywhere, but the whole system seems hard to justify if education is a school's priority.

    I recently read an article about the University of Chicago, which competed pretty successfully in the Big 10 before giving up football to focus on academics in the 1930s. They brought the program back in the '60s, but decided to protect their academic integrity by competing in NCAA Division 3 football, basically one step above a club team.

  11. Peter Bechtold replied, April 23, 2020 at 9:15 p.m.

    You are right on point. If you look closer, you will see that American football and mens' basketball admit the least academically qualified on average, whereas in non-revenue sports, including soccer ,you have "student-athletes" with higher GPAs than the average non-athletic student body.
    FWIW, I have spent 4+ years at an Ivy League school. Those 8 schools in their conference offer more sports, most of them non-revenue incl.fencing,squash, women and mens' ice hockey,etc. but there are NO ATHLETIC SCHOLARSHIPS. Of course, their endowments are such that the Ivies can afford to operate financial losses in their athletic departments.

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