By David Bayer
When I started out writing this article, part of my intention was to point out the disparity between men’s and women’s soccer programs, and the lack of opportunities for women. However, after doing some research, I discovered that I couldn’t totally go with that approach.
According to studies and looking at statistics, across the board of the NCAA (Division I, II, and III) there are about 200 more soccer programs for women than men. Scholarship opportunities are also greater for women. Each Division I team is allowed 12 scholarships for women and 9.9 for men. In Division II, the figures are 9.9 for women and 9 for men. Division III does not offer scholarships. Unlike football and basketball, soccer programs can spread the wealth and split their scholarships into partial scholarships. Before patting the NCAA on the back and thanking them for being so generous, I read further and found that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is what provided the “coercion” to give women their fair share of collegiate athletics. The Title IX law states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” (College Sports Scholarships, 2010, www.collegesportsscholarships.com/title-ix.htm). It would be nice to think that women’s soccer has benefited from Title IX based only on its immense popularity, and the kindness of athletic departments, but dollars and cents have also had a big impact. Because soccer is a relatively inexpensive sport (not much equipment, and the ability to play on an existing football field) it has been a financially sound addition to comply with Title IX rules.
So, everything looks pretty rosy if you’re a woman, right? Well, if you’re 18 and just entering college, yes. But what happens when you’re 22 or 23, it’s time to graduate, and you want to pursue a professional soccer career? This is when the numbers become skewed. Major League Soccer (men’s professional) has 18 teams and 540 players. With the WPS now at six teams, there are 132 roster spots available for women. Of course that’s 132 more than there were before the WPS started, but with foreign competition and veteran players in place, the chances of landing a coveted spot are limited. But that “carrot” does, thankfully, exist and even with the numbers seemingly against them, many young women will chase the dream.
One such woman is Kylie Wright of the UCLA Bruins. I mentioned to her that I wanted to talk to someone who was chasing the dream, and she said that she was definitely the right person. Kylie started playing soccer at age 5. I could go on and on, listing all her accomplishments in high school, college, and as a member of the U-23 National Team. Let me just say that she’s really, REALLY good. Kylie had a few scholarship offers, but chose UCLA because the campus, team and coaching staff “clicked” with her and “felt so right.” And, being a homebody, it was close to her family. She entered school in 2007 as a sociology major and switched to history in her sophomore year. Soccer was her main focus though, and she looked forward to four great years with the team, and then planned on continuing playing soccer in one form or another. She was “thrilled” in 2008, when she learned of the WPS coming into existence. Right away, playing in the league became a goal for her. She described it as a “motivation,” but said it never changed how she had always trained and played … hard.
And now, Kylie waits, nervously, for draft day. She feels she has a “fairly high chance” of being drafted, but she’s keeping an open mind and just taking it day by day. She would love to play with some of the women that she connected with at UCLA. There is a great sense of camaraderie. If her name is not called, the dream will not end. She will make the trip to the East Coast, away from her comfort zone, and attend a team tryout. Giving up this “once in a lifetime opportunity” is not something that she intends to do. The excitement in her voice made me very happy that the opportunity for women, no matter how small, does exist.
On Jan. 14, Kylie and her friends and family will be crowding around a computer watching the draft, eating pizza, and hoping that her dream comes true. I hope it does.