The Bruins have just one game left in their Pac-12 schedule.
But the game will come against an opponent who isn’t even a true member of the conference, illustrating the underlying problems of Pac-12 men’s soccer.
When UCLA men’s soccer (5-9-3, 1-6-2 Pac-12) travels south to face off against San Diego State (4-11-2, 1-8-0) on Saturday, it will be the second meeting between the two teams this season.
SDSU – which is designated as an affiliate school of the Pac-12 – competes in the conference because a majority of full Pac-12 members don’t field Division I men’s soccer squads.
The Aztecs should be competing in the Mountain West Conference alongside schools such as Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada. And all but three of SDSU’s Division-I teams play those schools in their conference schedules.
Men’s soccer is SDSU’s only sport to compete in the Pac-12 conference, and it really shouldn’t.
The Aztecs’ production in the Pac-12 seems to back up the fact that they don’t belong. Through nine conference matchups, the Aztecs have won just once and conceded the most goals on average in the Pac-12.
But the Aztecs’ participation in the Pac-12 is only a symptom of the underlying problem: It’s hard to really put the blame on SDSU given the circumstances. The conference is void of teams from over half its member schools.
Absent from the Pac-12 is USC, both Arizona and Arizona State, Utah, Washington State and Colorado. In fact, the current league has only six teams, including the black sheep that is SDSU.
The Pac-12 – the number 12 standing for the 12 member schools in the conference – might as well be called the Pac-6 for men’s soccer. Or maybe the Pac-5 if only full members of the conference are counted.
On the women’s side, the conference is complete with all 12 member schools fielding teams. Just last week, UCLA women’s soccer took down USC during the two squads’ annual rivalry matchup.
But there was no such thing as a crosstown showdown on the men’s side, stripping the program of the chance to attract fans from all over Los Angeles and grow its base with a historic rivalry.
The Pac-12’s lack of ability to field a conference of more than six teams is embarrassing for the sport that’s supposedly the most popular in the world, and one that does well at all other levels in Southern California.
Ask any of the schools that don’t field a Division I men’s soccer team why that’s the case, and they will probably give the same answer: They need to comply with Title IX restrictions.
That’s exactly what USC Sports Information Director Tim Tessalone told the LA Times back in 2009. Tessalone stated that, in order to comply with Title IX restrictions, the university wouldn’t look to add any men’s sports. One decade later, that still holds true.
Title IX requires that universities allocate equal resources for both men’s and women’s sports, including the number of available scholarships. Presumably, if schools were to create a men’s soccer program, either another men’s sport would have to bear the consequences or more women’s scholarships would have to be given out – whether that’s to existing female athletes or a new team of them.
But why are UCLA, California, Stanford and others able to manage both men’s and women’s soccer teams while also fielding a diverse range of other sports across both genders?
It’s understandable that schools dump money into their football and men’s basketball programs, leaving less money to work with when supporting other men’s sports. The same must apply to USC – after all, the school’s athletic department garnered almost $117 million from July 2017 to June 2018, with the football program alone bringing in $60.1 million.
But looking at the top-ranked men’s soccer teams in the nation – right now Clemson, Georgetown, Virginia and Stanford – those same schools also boast some of the best football and men’s basketball programs in the nation.
Supporting a nationally acclaimed football or men’s basketball program, along with a multitude of other men’s sports shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.
It’s not a problem with Title IX restrictions. Rather, it’s indicative of the second-class status that men’s soccer holds in the United States.
But on the West Coast at least, the passion for soccer seems to be on the rise – with MLS teams like the Los Angeles Football Club, the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders rising in prominence.
The Pac-12 should reflect that change as well.
It’s time that the schools in the conference work to support men’s soccer teams at the highest level of collegiate athletics, because it’s pretty pathetic to be missing teams from half the schools of Pac-12 members.
And it’s more pathetic to go crawling to the Aztecs asking them to join the Pac-12 conference, just so the other teams can have some semblance of a conference schedule.
Right now, the Pac-12 should come with a big asterisk next to its title.
Twelve teams – but not for all sports. And substantially less for men’s soccer.