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UM Soccer Club Strain Indicative of Institutional Challenges

By Logan Williamson
Special to Hottytoddy.com

Club president Ridge Brohaugh said the UM Soccer team is establishing a name within its division.

“(Before 2017) we never qualified for regionals, and now it is becoming a standard for our club. It’s a huge token of progress.”

The UM Men’s Club Soccer Team at the Regional Tournament in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Nov. 3, 2018. Photo by Scott Sabbert.

Although it had unrivaled success during the season, the team lost all three games at regionals, causing its captains to identify what is hampering the group’s success.

The UM Men’s Club has a practice team and a travel team that costs $200 for players who choose to compete. Brohaugh said some students may choose not to pay the league fee because of a mentality that their soccer career is over.

“Scouts for professional teams aren’t interested in players at our age in a club setting,” Brohaugh said. “Getting players to commit (to the travel team) and understand that this is more than just a side hobby is difficult.”

Travel team members are not mandated to attend games and practices.

“If players miss practice, we can’t make them run sprints, or else no one would play,” said Hunter Douglas, vice president of the club and acting coach along with Brohaugh.

“It’s difficult to have a self-driven team,” Brohaugh said, suggesting that an official coach as an “unbiased authority” would help keep players accountable.

Brohaugh and Douglas expressed interest in an official men’s soccer program at the university.

“It would give players in Mississippi an opportunity to aspire and excel,” Brohaugh said. “The university could serve as an ambassador to male players who identify with the culture of soccer.”

Title IX Restrictions

At the University of Mississippi, the only competitive outlet for male soccer athletes is the Club team officiated by the Department of Campus Recreation.

Because the school does not meet the standards of proportionality enforced by Title IX, it cannot offer the same SEC-sponsored program for men that it does for women. Currently, there is a 15 percent disparity between undergraduate female students and undergraduate female athletes.

“It is not appropriate for the school to add a men’s soccer program,” said UM Deputy Athletics Director Lynette Johnson.

Out of the 393 students who participate in team sports at the University of Mississippi, 163 of them are female estimating 41 percent of student athletes. Female students comprise 56 percent of the number of full-time undergraduate students at the university, resulting in a 15 percent disparity.

In 1996, the Office of Civil Rights clarified Title IX regulatory requirements for intercollegiate athletics to confirm that universities are providing equal athletic opportunities to male and female students.

Schools can monitor one of three criteria to monitor Title IX: proportionality, history and continuing practice, or effective accommodations.

Proportionally, the school must get within 1 percent of undergraduate male and female athletes compared with the male and female percentages in the student body. To keep within this margin, the school needs to add 67 more female student athletes.

For “history and continuing practice,” the school needs to show it is adding sports for the underrepresented sex (in this case, women). No sports have been added at the university for men or women since 1997.

The University of Mississippi chose to “effectively accommodate” its female athletes. Johnson said the school has a plan based on “best” practices to accommodate the interests and abilities of its undergraduate female population.

“Since it doesn’t meet the needs of the overall department to add a men’s sport, we won’t do it,” she said, maintaining that the school takes a holistic approach to any additional sports.

An Even Larger Issue

The lack of a men’s varsity team is a symptom of a larger problem facing men’s competitive soccer culture in Mississippi, including a lack of pathways for young, ambitious players to play professionally, the club coaches reiterated.

“If you are from Mississippi, you grow up feeling like you don’t have a genuine chance,” Brohaugh said.

In Mississippi, there are five NCAA Division 1 schools (the biggest student bodies, the largest athletic budgets and the most athletic scholarships). None of them offer men’s soccer programs.

Generally, there are four layers of youth development: D1, D2, D3 and DA (or Development Academy), which is classified as the top tier for youth soccer and a platform to get noticed by scouts.

There are no DA teams in Mississippi.

The Oxford Park Commission no longer offers competitive soccer after recently changing the makeup of its athletic program.

Jared Barkley, the OPC athletics manager, said the commission revisited its philosophy over the past year on how to effectively service young athletes in the community.

“As a public recreation provider, we want to offer a place to play for anyone regardless of income or socioeconomic status. We realized we could no longer support competitive sports if we were to abide by that philosophy,” he said.

Competitive youth soccer is also selective because of its high costs.

According to a report from The Conversation, it’s not unusual for an average family to spend $10,000 for a child to play soccer.

“It’s definitely a rich person’s game,” Barkley said, adding that it raises a question of whether being “talented” is enough to be recruited to play for college.

“There’s an ideal of the ‘American Dream’ of sports, but the reality is, if a (young athlete) lacks the financial resources, their likelihood of playing at a D1 level is low,” he said.

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