Women's soccer kicks into high gear despite budgetary restraints

October 29, 1991|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Evening Sun Staff

Cost-containment is one of the catch phrases of college athletics in the 1990s. Chopping coaches or schedules -- or whole programs -- out of a budget is a common method of dealing with a rise in inflation and a drop in funding.

That makes the growth of women's soccer at the intercollegiate level a phenomenon. A decade ago, 77 members of the NCAA were fielding women's soccer teams. This year, there are 348 with women's soccer programs, 33 more than a year ago. In 1992, two and possibly three more colleges in Maryland will fund the sport.

"It's about time," said Jamie Watson, UMBC's first full-time coach for the sport. "College administrators ought to get out of their offices and see what's happening at the recreation sites on a Saturday morning."

The U.S. Soccer Federation estimates that 14.3 million Americans play organized soccer, and 5.7 million of them are female. More than 300 high schools in the United States add girls soccer each year, and this fall seven of the newcomers are in Prince George's County, making it the eighth county to participate in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association tournament.

TC High schools discovered the sport in the 1970s, and some colleges responded quickly. Essex Community College fielded the state's first intercollegiate program in 1982, and won a national junior college title the following year.

St. Mary's in Southern Maryland was the state's first four-year college to add the sport, in 1983. Western Maryland followed in 1987, Maryland and UMBC joined the fold the following year, and Goucher (1989) and Notre Dame (1990) also have intercollegiate teams. All but UMBC upgraded club programs.

Next year, Loyola and Towson State will take the plunge. Mount St. Mary's also will add a women's fall sport in 1992, and it's telling that the Mount doesn't have a club field hockey team, but it does have one in women's soccer.

If Salisbury State adds a sport, it will tab its women's club soccer team. Navy, Johns Hopkins and Frostburg State also have club

teams. Washington College had a club team in the past, but none this year. Reflecting the lack of inroads the once ethnic, now suburban game has made in the cities, none of the state's four historically black colleges fields a team.

With the addition of soccer, women's teams will outnumber men's 12-10 at Towson State.

"We've answered a number of questions from the [U.S] Office of Civil Rights in the past," said Nance Reed, an assistant athletic director at Towson State. "Our student population is approximately 60 percent female, but two-thirds of our student-athletes are male. Are we meeting the desires and needs of our student population?

"You have to deal with availability of fields, locker rooms and hiringa coach, but soccer is fairly inexpensive compared to other sports. Plus, there are so many girls playing, it's much easier to recruit than some other sports."

A negative is that soccer is replacing field hockey on some campuses. UMBC (1987) and Mount St. Mary's (1990) dropped field hockey, and Loyola will do the same after the current season.

"Field hockey's not a dead sport," Loyola coach Flo Bell said, "but it doesn't have a male counterpart, especially on college campuses. There are few males coaching field hockey, and most of the athletic directors are males. That's not in the sport's favor."

The trend toward women's soccer came too late for one generation of players.

Watson, the UMBC coach, played field hockey as a sophomore and volleyball as a senior at Dulaney High, and boys soccer as a junior because Baltimore County didn't make girls soccer an interscholastic sport until 1984. There were no women's soccer scholarships in-state in 1982, so she headed to the University of Massachusetts, helping it to four straight trips to the collegiate Final Four.

"Most of my teammates at UMass played for their high schools," Watson said. "Here in Maryland, we're playing catch-up. I know there's a commitment here at UMBC. Three years ago, there wasn't a recruiting budget, but this year we've got $18,000 for scholarships and maybe more in the future. I want to build a nationally ranked program with Maryland players."

What a kick

8,

Growth of women's soccer teams in NCAA

Year .. Div. .. I Div. .. II Div. ..III Total

1981 .. 17 .. .. 15 .. .. .. 45 .. .. .. 77

1986 .. 64 .. .. 39 .. .. .. 127 .. .. ..230

1991 .. 91 .. .. 60 .. .. .. 197 .. .. .. 348

Source: NCAA

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