Soccer is one of Alaska’s most prominent and competitive sports. The game has seen Alaskans go onto the USA national team, Division I and Division II schools, as well as other competitive leagues. While the sport remains one of the most popular in Alaska, UAA still is without a soccer program.
Last year, 327 male soccer players and 334 females registered to play soccer just in the Anchorage School District (ASD) alone, according to Derek Hagler, the high school supervisor of ASD.
Of those players, 34 went on to compete at a collegiate level, 15 women and 19 men.
“I am confident in saying at least half would have loved the option to stay and play in Alaska,” Dan Rufner, founder of Alaska Northstars and boys varsity soccer coach at Service High School. “I am 90% sure that every other school in GNAC, besides UAF, has a soccer team,” he said.
Not having a soccer team at UAA doesn’t just mean that current students who are capable of playing are missing out, but also that the university could be loosing potential freshmen that want to play the sport.
“When you have a sport that obviously so many people are interested in, you look at the possibility of adding it. The other thing is we’re exporting a lot of talent and we he some people that would like to stay in state that can’t because it’s not offered,” said Dr. Cobb, UAA Athletic Director.
Up to 18 players each year in Alaska graduate and go on to play collegiate soccer, which a little less than ten percent of the senior class that plays soccer, each year. That is more than double the national average.
The possibility of adding either a men or women’s team has been tossed around. Recently, the athletic department looked seriously into adding a women’s team.
“We’ve got our Title IX in such good shape that we don’t want to get it out of kilter because Title IX goes both ways now, so we’re looking really at a million dollars. Recurring funding,” Dr. Cobb said.
If the funding is what is preventing UAA from having a team, how do the other universities do it?
“Roughly 75% of schools that have athletic programs have women’s soccer as what they offer. Only Basketball and Volleyball have more,” Rufner said.
There are 268 DII schools nationwide and only 50 of them don’t include women’s soccer.
While some may argue that the cost for the team to travel would be too high, it wouldn’t be much different than that of the hockey or volleyball team, and there would be less supplies to transport, unlike the hockey team.
Although UAA doesn’t have its own turf field, signing with the Dome would always be an available option. The UAA Cross Country and Track and Field Teams already have.
Kincaid is also scheduled to open a new turf stadium this summer. Another possibility would be to add another three million to the $109 million sports complex UAA is constructing and scheduled to open in 2014. After all, they already added an additional $24 million to the original $80 budget.
However, more goes into adding a soccer team at UAA than rounding up some players, renting out a field, and finding funding.
“You have to add sports at politically correct times,” Dr. Cobb said. “We’re a lightning rod for criticism. Just like the president got a raise well everybody goes crazy because the economy is down. Well, if we were to announce we’re moving a million dollars into our department to start soccer, the library would be screaming that you cut me and so chancellors have to be pretty quick.”
Although soccer remains absent in UAA’s athletic department, it is a work in progress.
“Women’s soccer would be top of the list if we were to add any sports,” Dr. Cobb said. “They’re not in our immediate plans right now for the simple reason we don’t have a way to pay for it.