NEW POST: Introducing the Tank 7 Collegiate Athletics Conference
We will bring back regional sensibility to the non-Football and Basketball sports played by college teams in and around the general Kansas City Metropolitan Area
I haven’t posted anything about it yet but I really am morbidly fascinated in big time conference realignment in college athletics, much in the same way that I become morbidly fascinated in whether achalasia spasms can kill someone whenever I’m suffering from achalasia spasms. I touched on it on the UAC blog the other day, but the specific quickness with which the news of UCLA and USC’s move to the Big Ten broke along with the illogic inherent in their move has pushed me to more anxiously look for more new information about what happens to either or both of my schools even though there has been nothing of substance in the pipeline since that move was revealed.
I am starting to think that something like this (though obviously not exactly like this) could happen at some point, where the non-revenue/Olympic sports break off from the current superconference football-first structure (or maybe more likely the other way around) and recognize the benefit presented by regionality. It might seem unlikely, but I would offer the example of the currently forming Sun Belt Men’s Soccer conference as exemplary of a possible push towards regional sensibility in a non-revenue sport.
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Of the current Power 5 structure, three conferences (Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC) sponsor Men’s Soccer, and the other two (SEC and Big XII) do not. Most football schools don’t sponsor men’s soccer, as Title IX requires there to be an equal number of scholarships between men’s and women’s sports at any school that gets federal funding. Football takes up so many scholarships in the fall that most of them don’t sponsor another men’s fall sport, which is what Men’s Soccer is. There are currently three, and starting next season four, NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer programs at institutions in conferences which don’t sponsor the sport - West Virginia, Kentucky, South Carolina, and UCF. These four programs, each of relatively large size and stature in men’s soccer - West Virginia and Kentucky both have made the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals in the past few seasons, UCF should an alumnus (Goalkeeper Sean Johnson) representing the US at the World Cup this fall, and South Carolina had the one guy in Hootie and the Blowfish that wore South Carolina Soccer shirts all the time - Will each join the Sun Belt conference for men’s soccer in either this year or next.
The Sun Belt, while perhaps not offering the money and stature as the American Athletic Conference would after the death of the Conference USA, which housed Kentucky and South Carolina and was about to house West Virginia had the AAC not siphoned off most of the C-USA’s most relevant members last season, presents a regionally sensible footprint to these programs, each of which are in the Eastern US. South Carolina will join in-state rival Coastal Carolina, West Virginia will join in-state rival and recent national champion Marshall, Kentucky is in relative proximity to those two programs as well as James Madison in Harrisonburg, VA, and UCF presents a relatively regional rival for the Georgia Schools, specifically Georgia State in Atlanta, a city that already has a soccer rivalry with Orlando through their MLS clubs.
The Sun Belt is an interesting, surely competitive, and regionally coherent soccer conference (and football conference, for what it’s worth) now, and those four programs will well suited for it. While it’s only one example, I think it shows that, unshackled from the expectations of the Superconference structure, most non-revenue sports would pick regionality over national relevance. You have to take into account (in particular now with the growth of the MLS, USL, and USSF DA youth academy structure having taken some relevance from NCAA soccer over the past two decades) that most of these athletes are not there necessarily with professional athletic aspirations. Most of them in the non-revenue sports (and I’ve worked and work with college student-athletes at different levels so I feel like I have the ethos to say this) are there for the benefit of their educational aspirations, and I worry about those students at UCLA and USC who didn’t necessarily sign up for cross-country flights every week during conference play (I suppose they do have the ability to transfer without losing eligibility now, but I still wonder about that in terms of their recruiting ability in the non-revenue/Olympic sports going forward, especially compared to other Southern California programs at similarly prestigious institutions like UC Santa Barbara or UC Irvine).
It is fascinating and I’ve also focused way too much on it over the past few weeks. I have so many thoughts on this whole thing, very few of them good, but I will probably turn it into something more in the next few months.