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Which Pac–12 School Should Start a Men’s Soccer Team?

The announcement that the WAC is sponsoring men’s soccer starting in 2013–14 would not seem to have a big impact on the Pac–12. “Wake me when the Big 12 expands or Texas comes around to our way of thinking” might be the prevailing attitude. But the move could have a big impact for Pac–12 soccer that the conference needs to address.

Because only five Pac–12 schools sponsor men’s soccer, the conference has relied on affiliate members to get to the six teams needed for an automatic bid. San Diego State is scheduled to exit the Pac–12 in 2014 as part of its move to the Big East and Big West. Cal State Baskersfield was scheduled to take the place of the Aztecs as the sixth member.

But the changing nature of the WAC’s membership gave the conference enough members to gut the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and start their own conference. That means the Roadrunners will not be joining the Pac–12. It might also mean that all the schools from the Rockies west with soccer teams are spoken for. If the Pac–12 wants to stick with affiliate members, it would need to pry away one of the WAC affiliate members (San Jose State, Air Force, Seattle, UNLV) or steal New Mexico, who recently left the MPSF to join Conference USA.

Now every day it looks more and more like SDSU will rejoin the Mountain West, which would keep its soccer team in the Pac–12. That would avert this crisis temporarily. But with the shifting nature of conference realignment, sooner or later the Pac–12 needs to stop relying on affiliate members for a borderline revenue sport. That means having one or more of the seven Pac–12 teams without men’s soccer to add the sport.

Criteria for Ranking

The goal for adding a team would be for the Pac–12 to have another competitive member as quickly as possible. RPI is so important in sports other than basketball, so carrying a weak member for an extended period of time hurts the conference. With looser transfer rules in a Western region that has been weaker in recent years, a team should be able to challenge for an NCAA bid almost immediately.

All the Pac–12 teams have women’s soccer, so some basic facility needs are met. We’ll assume that none of the schools have space within Title IX compliance, so additional investment in women’s sports will be needed, including possibly a new women’s team. Here are the criteria we’ll be using to rank the team:

  • Recruiting: Is there an untapped market for recruits in the area? Are there US Soccer Development Academy teams, especially MLS academies nearby? Have many recruits left the state, potentially willing to transfer back?
  • School Characteristics: Does the school have low in-state tuition to attract walk-ons? Does the quality of the school help attract scholarship recruits from further away?
  • Coaching Candidates: Does the school have the ability to attract top coaching candidates? Is it a desirable location that will make established coaches jump at the opportunity?
  • Ability to Invest: Does the school have money to invest heavily in men’s soccer right off the bat? Does the school have a history of starting and competing quickly in new sports?
  • Support of a Soccer Team: Will the school jump in and support a soccer team right away? Does the school get strong support at non-revenue sports?

Ranking the Schools

#1: Oregon

Key Facts:

  • Facility: Pape Field (opened 2012, capacity 1000)
  • Academy Teams in State: 1 (Portland Timbers)
  • Resident Tuition and Fees: $9,258
  • US News & World Report Ranking: #115

Pluses: Oregon would boast a brand new facility, a history of massive recent construction and expansion of facilities, Nike support, and a nearby MLS club. The Ducks are coming off the successful launch of the baseball squad, and would possibly be able to tap into the rich Cascadia soccer tradition, with lots of local rivalries including Oregon State, Washington, and Portland. Oregon would also be able to throw money at a top staff, and attract them to beautiful Eugene. The school is also very affordable for instate walk-ons.

Minuses: The Pacific Northwest does not have a surplus of players. There is only one academy team in Oregon plus three in Washington. There are plenty of teams (the rivals above plus Seattle and Gonzaga) already working this recruiting ground, not to mention large national programs competing for the top recruits. Oregon’s recruiting success would depend heavily on closing the borders and venturing outside the state to Washington, British Columbia, and Northern California.

Verdict: Oregon’s currently riding the wave of one of the most successful periods in its athletics history. It should cash in with a men’s soccer team.

#2: Colorado

Key Facts:

  • Facility: Prentup Field (opened 2003, capacity 2000)
  • Academy Teams in State: 3 (Colorado Rapids, Colorado Rush, Real Colorado)
  • Resident Tuition and Fees: $9,664
  • US News & World Report Ranking: #97

Pluses: Colorado’s single biggest advantage is the rich and untapped recruiting grounds in the state. Colorado has three academy teams, all not that far from Boulder. In the state, there are only two Division I teams: Denver, an expensive private school and Air Force, a service academy. In fact, in Colorado and the surrounding states, there are just five Division I schools: New Mexico, Denver, Air Force, Creighton, and Nebraska-Omaha. Boulder is also an attractive destination for coaching candidates. And there’s always the benefit of play at altitude.

Minuses: Colorado does not seem to have a surplus of cash for a new program, considering it is not getting full Pac–12 payouts and is investing heavily in its struggling football program. In-state tuition is somewhat pricy, although Colorado does well with scholarships and grants. And while Colorado has had some good crowds for big women’s games, the area is not known for its soccer culture.

Verdict: Colorado’s tremendous built-in advantages make a program easy to start cheaply and successfully.

#3: USC

Key Facts:

  • Facility: McAlister Field (opened 1998, capacity 1000)
  • Academy Teams in State: 13 (Chivas USA and LA Galaxy academy teams nearby)
  • Resident Tuition and Fees: $21,861
  • US News & World Report Ranking: #24

Pluses: USC would start off with the strongest brand name and richest recruiting environment of any potential new Pac–12 men’s soccer team. Southern California has eight academy teams, including two MLS academies, not to mention a strong high school history. USC would be able to attract a name head coach to Los Angeles based on expected support and investment and the prestige of the USC name. Being the highest ranked school of the bunch doesn’t hurt either.

Minuses: That rich recruiting ground is picked over by the plethora of men’s soccer programs in Southern California including name programs like UCLA and UCSB. The Trojan’s field is older and small, and expansion or a new facility in cramped downtown Los Angeles will be difficult. As a private school, USC would enjoy none of the benefits of resident tuition, and would have the highest price tag for walk-ons.

Verdict: USC’s reputation and resources would overcome many of the disadvantages, and USC would not start a team if it couldn’t compete right away.

#4: Arizona State

Key Facts:

  • Facility: Sun Devil Soccer Stadium (opened 2001, capacity 1051)
  • Academy Teams in State: 1 (Real Salt Lake)
  • Resident Tuition and Fees: $9,722
  • US News & World Report Ranking: #139

#5: Arizona

Key Facts:

  • Facility: Murphy Field at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium (opened 1996, capacity 1000)
  • Academy Teams in State: 1 (Real Salt Lake)
  • Resident Tuition and Fees: $10,050
  • US News & World Report Ranking: #120

Pluses: The state of Arizona boasts a number of great players, including many at Real Salt Lake’s residential academy, one of the only of its kind in the United State. And until Grand Canyon University joins Division I, there are no schools competing at the NCAA’s top level of men’s soccer in Arizona. Combine that with the ability to recruit in Colorado, Las Vegas, and dip into Southern California from time to time. The desert Southwest is also helpful in attracting a coach.

Minuses: With only one other Division I team in the state, scheduling is a bit of a challenge. Expect a lot of nonconference road trips to Southern California. Both these schools are also not exceptionally cheap for in-state residents either. Arizona State has to deal with the heat during summer camp and the early part of the season while Arizona has an older stadium that it shares with the intramural program.

Verdict: Arizona State gets the nod over Arizona because its big disadvantage (the heat) can be a blessing as well. Arizona’s stadium issues cannot be overlooked. Academy Of Art University.

#6: Utah

Key Facts:

  • Facility: Ute Soccer Field (renovated 2004, capacity 2000)
  • Academy Teams in State: 0
  • Resident Tuition and Fees: $6,424
  • US News & World Report Ranking: #125

Pluses: Utah has a decent existing facility with lights. Salt Lake City would not be a hinderance for attracting coaches. Utah has had some recent success in women’s soccer, and the Utes could potentially capitalize off the success of Real Salt Lake. Utah might also be the school of choice for Mormon men’s soccer players considering BYU has only a club team.

Minuses: Like Colorado, Utah is still ramping up as it begins its Pac–12 membership, but Utah is coming from a mid-major conference and potentially has further to go. Utah is not a very fertile recruiting ground, a situation not helped by the fact that Real Salt Lake operates its academy in Arizona. A men’s soccer team in Utah would also be incredibly isolated, making scheduling difficult and expensive since every road trip would require a plane ride.

Verdict: Early success would depend on the low in-state tuition and getting a ton of transfers back to Utah. A tall order without pouring money into the program early.

#7: Washington State

Key Facts:

  • Facility: Lower Soccer Field (opened 1989, no listed capacity)
  • Academy Teams in State: 3
  • Resident Tuition and Fees: $11,386
  • US News & World Report Ranking: #125

Pluses: Lower Soccer Field is an intimate and unique setting, surrounding by grass berms with dorms overlooking the field that students can watch games from. The school has had some recent attendance success, drawing two record crowds for women’s games in 2011. Any team in Washington should be able to get a bump from Sounders mania that has gripped the state since they joined MLS. The Cougars would have built-in rivalries with Washington and Gonzaga.

Minuses: Pullman is not normally listed as one of America’s great college towns, although Eastern Washington has attracted and kept some name coaches (Few, Leach). Recruiting would need to expand beyond the state of Washington, and the surrounding areas with less competition (Idaho? Wyoming? Montana?) are not rich with prospects. In-state tuition is expensive, although less than Washington.

Verdict: Too many disadvantages on the Palouse and it is unclear whether Washington State has the resources to put toward overcoming those obstacles.

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