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Could SEC Network Launch Open the Door for Men’s Soccer within the SEC?

SEC Network Logo

Photo via @PickSixPreviews Twitter.

Two nights ago at 6PM EST, college sports coverage entered into a new era with the arrival of the SEC Network. The SEC Network will take the most storied conference in college sports and turn it into a 24-hour channel that will air 160 basketball games, 40 volleyball games, 45 football games, 50 softball games, 75 baseball games, and 25 women’s soccer games as well as original content ranging from talk shows to Hard Knocks-esque documentaries.

But one sport that is blatantly absent on the SEC Network and in the SEC is men’s soccer.

Just two teams in the SEC boast NCAA Men’s Soccer teams, the Kentucky Wildcats and South Carolina Gamecocks, who both play in Conference USA due to the lack of in-conference teams.

One of the reasons that SEC schools do not have men’s teams is because, under Title IX, a school must offer two more women’s sports teams than men’s sports teams. However, increased revenue generated by the SEC Network could give schools the ability to add another women’s sport and subsequently add men’s soccer. The number of sports a school offer has more to do with revenue then it does with what is demanded by fans.

However, a major misconception and obstacle in the addition of men’s college soccer in the SEC stems from this train of thought – that the Southeastern United States, and, more importantly, the SEC wouldn’t support collegiate men’s soccer teams.

That statement couldn’t be further from the truth, and all you have to do is look at the rise of soccer across the country and, specifically, in the South.

Major League Soccer averages higher fan attendance numbers than both the NBA and NHL. Let me repeat that. Major League Soccer averages higher fan attendance numbers than both the NBA and NHL. That’s not an opinion that soccer is on the rise; that is a statistical fact.

MLS continues to sign ground-breaking television deals with NBCSports and ESPN and is finally re-expanding into the Southeast with future MLS franchises like Orlando City SC (2015), Atlanta FC (2017), and Miami (Pending).

Look even closer at teams like fourth-division NPSL side Chattanooga FC, who average over 2200 fans a game and brought in 8878 fans – higher attendance than the average for all but the top four minor league baseball teams, all but the top six Arena Football League teams, and higher than the average attendance for every team in the NBA D-League – for a fourth-division semi-final game. Chattanooga lost in the NPSL final to the New York Red Bulls U-23.

But soccer teams aren’t just spread out over the south randomly; several are near major SEC schools.

Sporting Kansas City (MLS), as well as several other Kansas City and St. Louis based lower-division teams, are just under two hours from the University of Missouri. The Houston Dynamo (MLS) is around an hour and a half from Texas A&M University; FC Dallas (MLS) is just over two and a half hours away from the Aggies. Florida is a hotbed for high-attendance boasting, lower-division soccer teams like the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers, but Orlando SC (MLS) is approximately an hour and half away from the University of Florida.

It’s not just Major League Soccer that proves that SEC country can handle the world’s most popular sport. When you move towards the lower divisions of American soccer, the trend continues.

Nashville FC (NPSL), who are the first supporter-owned club in the United States and had nearly 2000 people at their opening home game in 2014, plays at Vanderbilt University. The Knoxville Force (NPSL) are near the University of Tennessee, the Georgia Revolution (NPSL) are located an hour from Athens, GA, and the University of Georgia, the Mississippi Brille (USLPDL) are located two hours from both the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, the Charleston Battery (USLPro) and Charlotte Eagles (USLPro) are just under two hours away from the University of South Carolina.

Not only is the demand present for men’s soccer in the areas surrounding SEC schools, but several rival schools boast talented teams.

Kentucky’s big in-state rival, the Louisville Cardinals, have a fairly successful men’s soccer team, as does South Carolina’s in-state rival, the Clemson Tigers. Both teams have had success, are currently ranked nationally, and ultimately have led to the acquisition of a collegiate team by Kentucky and South Carolina. The more SEC teams that begin to add men’s soccer teams, the more likely other teams will follow.

Will the SEC jump into collegiate men’s soccer as early as the next few seasons? No. But has the arrival of the SEC Network increased the speed at which the SEC will adopt men’s soccer and take steps to bring men’s collegiate soccer to a campus near you? Yes.

More fans, equals more revenue for colleges and more viewers for the SEC Network. The addition of men’s NCAA soccer would be a win-win situation for everyone involved.

The SEC Network provides extra revenue to each school’s athletic department as well as a platform to market the sport. As much as universities say they are all about helping the student-athlete, the main value that every college holds dear to their hearts is increased revenue. The SEC Network would benefit from the addition of men’s soccer by being able to add more live programming to their schedule, likely bringing in more viewers than several other sports expected to be shown on the network.

As long as there is a demand for a sport, which there clearly is a growing interest in soccer across the South, the SEC will find a way to get involved. It may be years in the making, but we might finally be nearing a time in which you can flip on the TV to see.

Related:

How Chattanooga FC, Nashville FC and the NPSL are Proving the South Is Ready For Soccer

Taylor Sturm is a Columnist for StoppageTimeSoccer.net. Follow him on Twitter @TSturmRS, like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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