Why U.S. Men’s Soccer Will Now Decline

The U.S. soccer team surprised most viewers by tying its first-round World Cup game with soccer-powerhouse England 1-1—and then tied Slovenia 2-2 in a match that many said the Americans should have won except for a bad referee call. Furthermore, the US.-U.K game, televised on ABC, drew 14.5 million viewers, a record for a first-round World Cup contest (the U.S.-Slovenia game, at 10 a.m. EDT on ESPN, attracted 3.9 million). Yet at the very same time that both the quality of and interest in U.S. men’s soccer is surging, U.S. colleges’ support for the men’s soccer teams and their players—the next generation of World Cup contenders—is in seemingly inexorable decline, thanks to the Education Department’s draconian rules for enforcing Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in higher education..
On the eve of the U.S.-U.K match the College Sports Council (CSC) released an analysis of what it called a “tremendous disparity of opportunity between male and female soccer players” in NCAA Divison I schools, the schools that invest the most in student athletics and thus usually attract the best student athletes. The analysis of the NCAA’s own published data for the 2008-09 academic year revealed that a combination of gender quotas imposed by the Education Department and NCAA rules favoring women over men in awarding college athletic scholarships have resulted in drastically reduced opportunities for college men to play on soccer teams and even fewer opportunities for them to receive scholarships for doing so.
In 1996 the Education Department issued a set of safe-harbor standards that colleges could follow in order to be deemed in compliance with Title IX and thus avoid expensive lawsuits over disparities in athletic spending. The easiest standard, chosen by the overwhelming majority of institutions, was “proportionality”: spending on athletics proportional to the ratio of males to females attending the college in question. Proportionality might have seemed fair in 1996—even though women tend to be less interested in the costly team sports that attract men—because only 52 percent of college students were female back then. Now the female-favoring gender disparity is much bigger: 57 percent to 43 percent.

The effect of the proportionality rule on opportunities for young men to play college soccer has been devastating, the CSC figures and graphs show. In 1996 there were 197 men’s soccer teams in Division I and about 190 women’s teams. In 2009 there were still 197 men’s teams—even though the NCAA had added 27 new member schools—but the number of women’s teams had soared to 310. Some 93 percent of Division I athletic programs offer women’s soccer, compared with only 59 percent of Division I programs offering men’s soccer.
Compounding the problem are the NCAA’s scholarship policies. NCAA rules limit Division I men’s teams to 9.9 scholarships, while women’s teams are allowed 14 scholarships. “when considered across all of Division I, that means that the maximum number of possible scholarships offered to women in the sport in Division I outnumber those available to men by a ratio of greater than 2-1 (4,340 to 1,950.e).”
The growing disparity between men’s and women’s opportunities to play college soccer doesn’t reflect men’s declining interest in the sport—far from it. According to data cited by the CSC from the National Federation of State High School Associations, nearly 384,000 boys and 345,000 girls played soccer at the nation’s high schools during the 2008-2009 academic year. But those male soccer enthusiasts have more limited college choices than their female counterparts. In Texas, the CSC notes, more than 27,000 boys play high school soccer, but there is only one Division I college with a men’s soccer team: Southern Methodist. Neither the University of Texas at Austin nor Texas A&M, both Division I schools, sponsor varsity soccer programs for men, although they do offer women’s varsity soccer.
The history of the Education Department’s enforcement of Title 1, including the proportionality rule, has been a history of declining sports options for male students, even as the gender gap has soared and many institutions are searching desperately for legal ways to attract more men. In 2007 the CSC issued a study finding that 2,200 men’s athletic teams had been eliminated since 1981. A decline of 17 percent. Hardest hit were programs in swimming, wrestling, and tennis, sports that don’t draw large paying audiences like football (although the number of college football teams inched downward, too). From 1995, just before the proportionality rule went into effect, the number of men’s teams fell to fewer than 7.8 per school by 2007, while the number of women’s teams rose to 8.7
There have been periodic calls, including a recent recommendation by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, for the Education Department to allow the use of surveys of relative male-female interest in team sports as a safe-harbor alternative to proportionality, in order to make college sports spending fairer to both sexes and more reflective of what the two sexes actually want in the way of campus athletics. The Education Department, especially under the current presidential administration, hasn’t been receptive. The consequences have been unfortunate. They seem especially unfortunate during this year’s World Cup competition, when U.S. interest in men’s soccer has never been so high—yet the Education Department and the NCAA seem determined to discourage many of the future players with the potential to make the U.S team an even greater source of pride for America than it is right now.


48 thoughts on “Why U.S. Men’s Soccer Will Now Decline

  1. The assumption is that everyone will become pro, which they will NOT.
    If we had more college scholarships, we would have more youth players, more youth teams, more youth academies… basically a bigger soccer infrastructure. That basically increases your pool from where to select your best players.
    Even if those players “do not make it” to Pro or College, they are more likely to be fans of the sport and to pass on their passion for the sport to the next generation (their kids). Then we would have more “knowledgeable” coaches at the rec level, that will produce better players for competitive teams…..etc.
    Since we do not have a big professional league or farm system, we need to grow the amateur numbers and offer an option to play past high school.

  2. Whats with the Bush/Greenspan bashing regarding money. Was everyone asleep when the Democrats were in control the last two years of Bushs administration. Its Barney Frank and his crowd whos to blame! This show is just another left-wing fraud.

  3. Why should there be separate teams for women and men anyway? Why not have a gender-integrated soccer program?

  4. Dear footballfanphd
    Did you actually said that you tell your students: “if you make such a glaring mistake in your thesis–one that could have been avoided by consulting Wikipedia–I’m not much interested in anything you have to say in the rest of your paper” ?
    Really?? WIKIPEDIA??? No wonder why education is soooooo badddddd these days.. Ignorants like you should not even be entitled to an opinion!!

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  6. “Excellent…soccer is at its core, an anti-American game. The best case scenario for soccer is that it quietly (but quickly) slips away.”
    Are you saying it is anti American because it has a World Cup (Series) that actually includes countries other than America?

  7. I’m still waiting for the DOE to take Title IX action against universities for having too few men in their nursing schools and in extracurricular programs like orchestras.

  8. Using college demographics as a predictor for the popularity of American soccer will only disappoint –you, the author. I hope you will proven wrong, and in short order.
    As a generation of people who played soccer as children grow up and have children of their own, the popularity will only grow. This will not happen overnight, so I suggest you stay tuned.

  9. If a U.S. college offers a sports program and turns away men students because not enough women students want to play school sports then true feminist equality demands that women students be compelled to play sports until everyone who wants to play can play.
    Or we could abolish the legislators who voted to authorize Title IX and the presidents who signed such authorization into law.
    Remember, defund the Left.

  10. While I sort of agree that college soccer isn’t 100% linked to national team success, people are claiming that US National Team-level soccer players don’t play in college. Well, in the current WC squad for the US, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann, Steve Cherundolo, Jon Bornstein, Jay DeMerit, Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Edson Buddle, and Robbie Findley all played at least some college soccer. There’s probably some role for college soccer in US youth development in the absence of good smaller club teams.

  11. As several commenters have mentioned above, Ms. Allen has taken her dislike of Title IX and tried to wed it to an argument about how it will harm America’s ability to produce first-rate soccer players. And yet this argument falls flat precisely because no first-rate soccer player should go to college, since the quality of competition in college is vastly inferior to that of other countries and of MLS,
    This state of inferiority means it is better for an American to turn pro early and perhaps go overseas for seasoning than to waste time in college. If we wanted our national team to get better, we would actually be best off dissolving all college soccer teams.
    Honestly, I’m a bit surprised someone with so little understanding of soccer would have the cheek to make such a bold assumption, without even offering any qualifiers. (You know, a phrase like “I’m no expert, but it seems to me…..”)

  12. The NCAA was around as was college sports long before such became a “feeder”-for less than 1% of even division 1 participants-and would survive if the pro teams vanished tomorrow. There may not be any mens’ teams, but that is another issue. I’m not sure why du Toit feels the professional teams have some sort of government protected monopoly. You could (maybe) blame the networks, but hardly the government, If the USA could find enough fans, then it might get a “farm” system for futbal. Very doubtful.
    Kim may have given up his blog-but not his attitude.

  13. College soccer has been dead for a long time in the development of US national players….anyone considering themselves seeking the best for their career…will be playing professionaly somewhere in the world right out of high school…you cannot waste those years playing in the college system. there are way too many opportunities out there for someone serious minded about furthering their career…

  14. Soccer in the United is hampered by the
    college coaches. Inventive and imaginitive players are not allowed to show their skills.
    You’ll find few Central and South Americans in the college ranks because the coaches do not let them show off their skills. Few college coaches come from those regions. Most
    college soccer can’t coach. Also, the quality of the referees is far below what is needed.
    Club teams outside the U.S. have development
    systems and teach kids in a system so that when
    the best players reach the top club their play becomes instinctive.

  15. Kim,
    Soccer in America suffers for exactly the same free market principles you rely on. Television revenues are minisule compared to NFL, NBA or MLB. Player salaries are a joke. Some LA Galaxy players earn as little as $11,000 per year. What is the minimum salary for a bench sitter in the NFL, NBA or MLB? Ten, maybe twenty times, as much?
    The truth is: most sports fans in America prefer “American” sports, i.e. NFL, NBA and MLB. To make any real money, American soccer players have to go to Europe to get paid.
    For better or worse, NCAA football and to a lesser extent basketball are the farm systems of their respective professional sports. In the process, they make a lot of money for their universities.

  16. End all governmental involvement in education (excluding military and police academies) immediately. Sell the assets to any non-profits willing to operate schools that are up-front about their ideological balances. Deport the educrats to Iran.

  17. I stopped reading in the second sentence, why is it so hard to grasp that England and UK are not synonymous? Whatever you said after that was irrelevant, you have no credibiity!

  18. The first guy that commented missed the point all together. It’s not about the way things work now, it’s about the Future.
    Football, Baseball, Basketball are all successful and dominated by the United States because we have younger class programs and then college or in the case of baseball. Minor Leagues.
    If we want to be successfull in SOCCER, we need to invest in college opportunities Now, like we do in other sports.
    This guy is too busy trying to make sure the guy that posted the Article looks like an idot.

  19. I yield to no one in my disdain for “Title IX”. But, I think the real problem is the entire athletic scholarship concept. Not only is it a solecism, but big time college sports are antithetical to the educational and intellectual missions of the University system. What we should do is take on the real problem and abolish the athletic scholarship, the million dollar coaches, and the college sports media complex. The professional sports leagues will take care of themselves, and the Federal government can take at least one step back.

  20. I just came here to point out that soccer doesn’t raise top-caliber players through colleges, but, rather, though youth development programs at the club level. That seems to have been adequately covered.
    For what its worth, the USA’s best days in international soccer/football are ahead. They will probably be genuine World Cup contenders by the time we (hopefully) host in 2018 or 2022.

  21. To everyone dismissing the author as clueless because of the way the system works right now… you are making the same mistake, just the other way.
    The American college soccer system can not be expected, as hamstrung as it is now, to produce good soccer players. That’s the point of the article.
    There is a bit of chicken/egg problem – with the college system so hamstrung by Title IX, it isn’t a good choice for an aspiring professional soccer player, but if none of the aspiring professional soccer players play in college, it will CONTINUE to be a bad choice, as the competition level will not improve.
    In fact, it may well be that those mocking the author on this point are actually MAKING the point even stronger – Title IX has already destroyed college soccer, and it may be too late for it to recover.

  22. The comments blasting the fact the best players do not play colege soccer are way off base. Why, you ask? Because there are a few items important in the development of the highest end players. One is a system by which the players themselves, individually, can be developed. Currently this is accomplished through clubs and national teams, as well as training offered by domestic, euro and other professional clubs.
    The other way high level players are developed is through competition. And, in order to have competition at the level to develop players that can convert to professional levels, there must be players with skills close to the absolute best players. The players offering this level of competitive ball are not those you will ever hear of, or who will compete at the World Cup or professional club level. These are players who, aside from a simple love of the game, are highly motivated by end results…LIKE COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS.
    A high-level U-19 competitive team, when travel, coaching, tournament fees, referee fees, etc. are all added up, will cost each player around $6,000-$10,000/year. This is an investment, not just in building talent, but also in education at high-level universities. Mind you, the investment at that level is primarily to expose kids to collegel recruiters.
    Keep in mind, most families lacking that added incentive will pull their kids from the sport, in order to better save money for college. At that point, the very competition required to help the Landon Donovans develop the skills necessary for the world stage will have evaporated.
    Please note, we are not talking about pointless “sports”, such as lacrosse, which is strictly regional in nature and, outside of occasional scandal, never heard from or mentioned. We are not talking about wormen’s rugby here.
    I am surprised, at a site directed toward the college campus, why so many readers would be so obtuse as to miss the glaring point of creating and fostering the competitive environment necessary to develop players at the highest level.

  23. I find it difficult to sympathize with any Title IX stories (and/or the injustices thereof) because “sports” and “college” are about as congruent as “fish” and “trees”. The entire concept of university is that of knowledge: sporting ability is completely unrelated.
    Only in America does the foolishness persist of making colleges a “feeder” program for professional sports. Football (aka. “soccer” to Americans) has it right: kids play at whatever age they can handle it — with a few age limits — and are made part of professional clubs’ farm systems, unlike in the U.S. where the pros’ farm system is outsourced to universities.
    Frankly, the whole NCAA nonsense should be destroyed, so that the free market can take over.
    I know, I know: an alien concept for so many Americans. But unlike for American football, international football doesn’t rely on a neo-socialist draft to try to create some kind of nonsensical parity between teams — the big clubs excel year after year, with no ill-effects on the game.
    Let’s be frank: America is large enough to support a massive professional league (or, preferably, leagues) instead of the couple dozen or so “franchises” as at present. England, with a population of 50-odd million, somehow manages to support hundreds of professional football clubs and dozens of professional cricket clubs.
    Our professional sports system is a series of government-protected monopolies. To call soccer “un-American” is to be woefully ignorant of the facts: international football is run far more like a free-market democracy than American football (and all other pro sports in America, too).

  24. Hire some South American stars, give them citizenships and lucrative contracts. Voila, a first class American Soccer Team. No need to fund pesky Title IX’s.

  25. “if you make such a glaring mistake in your thesis–one that could have been avoided by consulting Wikipedia–I’m not much interested in anything you have to say in the rest of your paper.”
    Look at footballfanphd getting all up on the podium! A dicto simpliciter. Why don’t most men soccer players go to college? Is it possible that it’s because they CAN’T play in college since there are limited opportunities? Whether this follows or not, to so arrogantly dismiss the argument w/o even considering this factor may indicate that what you are telling your students is that they shouldn’t be interested in what you’re saying!
    And YOU wouldn’t have even had to consult Wikipedia to deduce that possibility!

  26. First of all there is no “UK” team. It was England
    Second frankly the best players do not come out of the NCAA ranks. Landon Donovan for example did not play at all in college.

  27. I think we should stop recruitng for college football for men until we have filled stadiums with crowds watching college football for women.

  28. I agree that the strength of the U.S. men’s national team has no correlation to the number of men’s college soccer scholarships. The national team is drawn primarily from the national U-17 and U-20 teams. Players are recruited from local clubs and their ODP programs way before they are recruited for college.
    Look at the number of male youths playing at the club level. That will be more of an indication of the future of the U.S. national team.

  29. The problem isn’t womens sports, its the allocation of men’s resources to football and basketball.

  30. There’s an easy solution, but the Title IX bureaucrats may not like it: open all teams to both males and females. Tryouts make the team based on ability to play the game, nothing else. Anything else is just sex discrimination, separate-but-equal nonsense that should have been thrown out years ago with “white” and “colored” drinking fountains.
    Yeah, a lot of women won’t be able to hack it. So what? A lot of men won’t either, because of their physical characteristics. I’m 5’9″ tall — did “height discrimination” keep me off the UCLA basketball team?

  31. Good. These kids should be playing baseball. Soccer funding at the college level has eaten away at baseball programs everywhere.

  32. There’s an easy solution, but the Title IX bureaucrats may not like it: open all teams to both males and females. Anything else is just sex discrimination, separate-but-equal nonsense that should have been thrown out years ago.

  33. College soccer is a huge detriment to youth development. The USSF has been implementing programs to move away from college model for the last 15 years with youth academies such as the one in Bradenton Florida.
    Despite your views that Title IX is generally bad (a belief I share), you have absolutely no clue what when you are talking about youth development of soccer. Please stop.

  34. Not to worry. Our open southern border assures that millions of soccer fans are streaming into the United States from Mexico with each and every year.
    And with free health care, free education, an enoumous welfare state, better working conditions and a culture resigned to making English a second language, why shouldn’t they?

  35. In total agreement with the argument, but can you please avoid the same stupid mistake the legacy media keeps making – the US didn’t play the UK. The UK doesn’t field a WC soccer team. The US played England.

  36. Calamitous! How is the U.S. now gonna keep up with all the college soccer programs in Europe, or in Brazil and Argentina?
    (What university did Wayne Rooney attend again?)

  37. Lack of interest in men’s soccer at the high school/college age in America is mostly cultural and economic. Most of the best male youth athletes in the U.S. are drawn towards American football, baseball and basketball because they have media propelled idols (LeBron, Kobe, Derek Jeter, etc.) and those sports can make them multi-millionaires overnight. Some MLS players are so lowly paid they have to work day jobs. In fact, MLS is the farm system for European leagues, or the retirement home for European leagues. Landon Donovan has twice played in Europe, and most recently was on loan by the Galaxy to Everton of the EPL.
    Many high school athletes are multi-sport players. Of the number of male high school soccer players, how many play soccer exclusively or list it as their primary sport?

  38. What effect does college football have on this situation?
    If Title IX takes football into account when balancing gender access to sports, then it seems that would suck up a lot of the resources. After all, there are no college football teams for women.

  39. The marginal male player who does not receive a scholarship has no hope of playing at the World Cup level. Sorry. Otherwise agree it’s generally stupid policy, but the conclusion does not follow.

  40. I disagree. A recent article in New York Times Magazine touches on why college soccer is actually bad for the US National team.
    The MLS should not try to match the tactics of the NFL and NBA and have the NCAA provide a free farm system.
    What is needed is developmental leagues and MLS youth teams. In fact, the MLS often fields younger (16, 17, 18, 19 years old).
    I hate Title IX, like all rational people, but saying it is hurting professional soccer in the US is just not true.

  41. Not a big fan of title IX, but I don’t think this will have any real effect on the quality of american soccer. Soccer is more like baseball, in that players really need to be playing at a professional or semi-pro level at 17 or 18 in order to maximally develop their talent. The improvement in US Soccer over the last 10 years can be attributed in large part to the Generation Addidas (formerly Project 40) program, which specifically aims to give young american soccer players the ability to turn pro at a young age, whilst still guaranteeing them a college scholarship should they fail to make a career out of the game.
    If anything, a reduced emphasis on college soccer, is likely to improve the caliber of our men’s national team over the next 10 years. You could argue that that’s not worth the negative side of things, which will be a decline in the scale of NCAA soccer during the same period, but I’ll be very surprised if it lowers the standard of our professional game.

  42. Excellent…soccer is at its core, an anti-American game. The best case scenario for soccer is that it quietly (but quickly) slips away.

  43. The solution would be to develop soccer football players like baseball or hockey players: find the best younger players at clubs at the high school or younger ages and get them into developmental programs. That’s how the rest of the world does it. A player entering professional soccer football after four years of college is already too old.

  44. These policies by the U.S. Department of Education will have the opposite effect of what this article predicts, because the best American soccer players do not, for the most part, play college soccer. Instead, they join the youth organizations of European soccer clubs, where they get world-class training and competition, so that they have the opportunity to develop into world-class players.
    The model for soccer is becoming similar to the model for professional hockey players in Canada, where 16-year old boys play in what are professional minor leagues. Same model for baseball in Latin America.
    In fact, college soccer has stopped producing the best players on Team USA, and instead is merely an expensive form of glorified intramurals.

  45. Well, the solution to this travesty is clear.
    Reduce the opportunity for boys to play soccer at the elementary / middle school / high school level.
    That will eliminate the disparity.
    Sure, I’m being absurd about it. But then a lot of people think the proportionality test, when unhinged from surveys demonstrating student interest in playing, are absurd.

  46. Ms. Allen,
    The way you frame the issue in your opening paragraph reveals astonishing ignorance about how international football works that renders the remainder of your argument superfluous. In fact, only a small number of top-level US footballers have played the game for US college teams. Most American footballers who wish to pursue professional careers forgo college and try to sign on with professional clubs in Europe or here once they get to the age of 17/18. Most will never play for a US college team, or will play only a year or two before turning professional. In fact, US college football (soccer) is held in rather low regard by most people who are knowledgable about the sport; few college footballers will ever end up playing in the World Cup. Thus, framing your article as a defense of “the next generation of World Cup contenders” is a move that falls rather flat. As I would tell my students, if you make such a glaring mistake in your thesis–one that could have been avoided by consulting Wikipedia–I’m not much interested in anything you have to say in the rest of your paper.

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