Is Title IX a Threat to the Future of the US National Team?

The College Sports Council, despite its' neutral and uninformative name, is an organization with one particular, well defined mission:

The CSC is the leading organization working for reform of Title IX regulations that have led to the widespread elimination of opportunities for male athletes.

For that reason, and despite the fact that the organization is built around and endorsed by any number of college coaches and athletic administrators, you need to be a little cautious when citing their public statements and media releases on the topic of Title IX and the damage it has done to the mens' side of the college sports equation.

Having said that, it's also true that the numbers and statistics they use to reach their conclusions are almost entirely drawn from easily accessible and unassailable public sources, most notably the NCAA itself.

So when the CSC issued a study pointing out that there is an "OPPORTUNITY GAP" BETWEEN MALE AND FEMALE NCAA SOCCER PLAYERS, even if it was quite obviously timed to coincide with the FIFA World Cup in the hopes that vastly increased public interest in soccer would translate into increased concern over the steadily decreasing number of roster spots available for college soccer players with hangy-down thingies, much of what they relate is beyond dispute:

For example, despite the explosion of soccer participation which was engendered by the launch of MLS in the mid-90's - which was, of course, part of the point - as of today there are 310 Division I college soccer programs for women but only 197 for men.

This is particularly startling because "women's college soccer reached rough parity with men in number of teams in Division I in the 1995-96 academic year (197 men's teams vs. 187 women's teams) and rough parity in total number of athletes in the 1996-97 academic year (5,043 women vs. 4,966 men)."

According to the NCAA, in 2010 this translates into 8,117 female players in Division I, but just 5,607 male players, with over 93% of schools offering womens' soccer but only 59% of them fielding a mens' teams.

What's more, the NCAA allows 14 soccer scholarships for womens' teams and the men are permitted only the equivalent of 9.9, meaning that the disparity of opportunity is more than 2-1 (4340 to 1950.3).

This despite the fact that according to the National Federation of State High School Associations there are actually more males than females playing on the High School level, which means that out of every 197 high school boys soccer players only one will get a Div I scholarship. For the girls, it's one out of 79.

As the CSC had undoubtedly hoped, the release of this study on June 10 did indeed generate some notice as well as a few articles here and there with titles like "Is Title IX Going to Destroy the US National Teams' Chances for the Future?".

Surprisingly - or perhaps not - very little notice was taken within the soccer community, and there are probably two good reasons for this:

First, while those numbers may come as a shock to the general public, there are but darn few US soccer fans who aren't at least somewhat familiar - however roughly - with the nature of the problem if not the precise figures.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, most hard core American soccer fans have more or less abandoned any hope that the NCAA will ever become, or even cares to become, an assembly line churning out top level players.

Most of us recognize that despite some recent loosening of the rules, generally speaking a three month season under a college coach and played against a decidedly uneven level of competition by an accounting major is a poor substitute for 5 or 6 days a week training, 12 months a year, under a professional staff.

There's really not much contest or room for argument.

So we dream of a world where the best and brightest of our youth soccer stars are summarily yanked out of the current high-school-to-college progression and introduced to high level, full time professional training at age 18, if not sooner.

To this end, the IMG Academy at Bradenton came into being and although the severely limited number of slots and the basically single age group format of the place necessarily reduced it's impact, by and large it has done a reasonable job with the small cadre of super-elite youth it has been able to identify and bring in.

And of course MLS' Generation adidas (nee Nike Project 40) program has also been effective at gleaning at least some of the cream from the gaping maws of NCAA soccer.

Even more exciting is the establishment of the MLS Academy system, particularly since they reach down into much lower age groups than were widely served previously. This system contains many of the seeds we hope will one day bear the kind of fruit we all recognize is necessary for the US to make any serious push towards international elite status.

The problem though is a gargantuan one, namely that the Academy system is currently serving mainly as the best-ever recruiting ground for the NCAA, not for MLS. If any proof is needed, take a look at TOP DRAWER SOCCERS' COLLEGE COMMITMENT LIST for 2010; the overwhelming majority of those incoming Div I players are coming directly from one of the 64 MLS Academy system teams.

It's impossible to say exactly how many of them have been offered MLS "homegrown player" spots, but a fair number of them have and have turned them down in favor of at least a couple years of learning to play beer pong.

This is not primarily because, as some would have it, the number of homegrown spots is so severely limited by league rule. Ask any MLS GM and he'll happily tell you that the real problem isn't lack of spots or lack of talent but rather lack of players who are willing to accept an MLS offer in lieu of a nice fat college scholarship. The money isn't there, many parents are skeptical of MLS in general and, despite what you and I might think, a college education is a sure thing, something you sure can't say about a career as a developmental player with the Rapids.

The promise of a GenA deal just isn't that appealing to most. There are a lot of reasons for this but most of them boil down to: "I want my son to get an education first."

All of which is by way of saying that like it or not - and most of us don't - until MLS can offer these kids something more substantial in terms of money and security, the Academy System tournament touchlines are going to continue to be jammed cheek-by-jowl with Division I coaches looking for talent. And they'd all like to thank MLS for making it possible. Really.

During the World Cup
, noted know-it-all Juergen Klinsman went on a rant about how the reason the US doesn't produce enough world class players is because the youth levels are conducted on a pay-to-play basis.

But that's changing, and changing quickly. More and more of the Academy teams are free, and the expectation is that all, or virtually all, soon will be.

What's more, that whole argument has always seemed a bit beside the point anyway, partly because in a nation with something on the order of 3 million youth soccer players, expecting to find someone to pay for them all to get professional coaching - assuming there were anything like enough coaches - is simply ridiculous. And if he's only talking about the best of the best, well, as noted we're working on it.

More to the point, that's just how it works over here in the US of A. Our baseball teams are reasonably good by all accounts and the vast majority of Little League teams send Mom and Dad a bill. Ditto Pee Wee football and yet, somehow, they're getting all the athletic talent they could possibly ask for. Basketball too.

But that's an argument for another day.

A glance at the team Bob Bradley took to South Africa demonstrates the problem: of 23 players, only seven did not attend college, and six out of that seven graduated from Bradenton, which is as mentioned a terrific program with severe limitations in terms of numbers.

All of the rest, sixteen players, attended college for at least a year or two (although it seems like fudging to include Edson Buddles' year at State Fair Community College, Home of the Roadrunners). And there's not much chance that the 2014 team will be much different.

In fact, Russia 2018 isn't likely to see much if any change in that formula either.

So whether we like it or not, for the present we need to see to it that as many potential pros (and future national teamers) as possible can continue to play after high school. And that has to include the proverbial late bloomers since, as we all know, if you go back five or ten years and look at the so-called "top college recruits" and/or US Youth National teams, the majority of the names are unrecognizable.

We need to cast as broad a net as possible.

Which, like it or not - and I know of very few people who are wild about it - brings us back to the NCAA.

And what makes this something of an issue today, more than the release of CSC numbers which we all pretty much knew about anyway, is the new set of rules under which Title IX will be operated going forward.

In 1995, in an effort aimed at injecting a note of sanity into the "gender equality" sweepstakes which was causing colleges to jettison mens' programs by the truckload, the government issued a set of guidelines which allowed for "interest surveys".

These were intended to gauge whether there was in fact any actual desire or need for additional womens' teams in various sports. It was meant to correct the sadly common situations where, for example, womens' college coaches in sports like field hockey and fencing and underwater basket weaving were forced to go out and recruit girls who had never played those sports before and talk them into accepting scholarships in order to fill up their teams.

So-called "Womens' Sports Advocates" were outraged. Indeed, no less an authority than our friend Julie Foudy (and if you're going to call the CSC biased in this area then you're going to have to concede that Foudy is every bit as biased in the other direction) offered up this classic bit of utter nonsense:

"I can hear it now. 'We lost a women's team because the e-mail survey got stuck in my spam folder for six months.' "

Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, said at the time, "How many people open, let alone respond, to e-mail surveys? This is simply an underhanded way to weaken Title IX and make it easy for schools that aren't interested in providing equal opportunity for women to skirt the law."

(I'm reasonably certain that her comment about skirts was meant in a metaphorical, if unintentionally ironic, sense.)

In April of this year, the US Department of Education formally RESCINDED THE "INTEREST SURVEY" GUIDELINES in favor of a policy of strict proportionality.

This despite the fact that no less an authority on the subject of equality than the US Commission of Civil RIghts said just this year that TITLE IX HAS CAUSED AN "UNNECESSARY REDUCTION OF MEN'S ATHLETIC OPPORTUNITIES"

What this may mean for Divison I soccer programs is impossible to say, since we don't know how many schools were using the "interest survey" method to avoid having to provide strict, mindless, one-for-one proportionality.

If you're talking about hot-button topics, bringing up Title IX, college soccer and soccer development in the US is, basically, creating the perfect storm.

But as Sunil Gulati noted after the US was knocked out of South Africa, we've now gone two successive World Cups without a US forward putting the ball in the net, and that's simply not acceptable.

I honestly believe that somewhere out there across the fruited plain there is a kid who, with the proper training, can develop the technical and tactical skills to fulfill that role. And, unfortunately or not, we may very well need some NCAA program to do part of the job.

Let's all hope there's a spot for him.