BYU men’s soccer is one of the most successful programs at BYU and the most successful club soccer program in the country. And this weekend, they just proved it again, winning their TENTH club national championship and their third in four seasons.
BYU won every regular season game they played this season, outscoring their conference opponents 30-2 while going 8-0 over that stretch. BYU’s conference includes Utah, Utah State, UVU (club), Weber State, and Boise State.
BYU continued their dominance with a Region Title, securing their spot in their fourth straight National Championships tournament. At the Region tournament they smashed Idaho 8-0, beat Montana State and Utah 3-0 each, and then beat Oregon 2-1 in the final.
At nationals, BYU dropped points in a draw vs Notre Dame before beating UCF 3-0 to advance to the Round of 16. They then beat Syracuse in the round of 16 5-0 and followed it up with a 3-1 win over Cincinnati in the Quarterfinals. In the semifinals they beat a tough Michigan team 1-0, before beating Texas in the National Championship 3-1. BYU finished the season with 64 goals for and just 5 against in 18 matches this season, going 17-0-1 overall.
But even during their repeat national championship run this season, fans were unaware that BYU even had a men’s soccer program.
I had no idea we had a men’s team even https://t.co/upXVP6ngvv— fan with dignity (@Y4LYFE) November 20, 2021
First time I’ve heard about our men’s soccer team— Q (@ilyjtja) November 19, 2021
I honestly did not know we had a club soccer team. #GoCougs— Steven Kennedy (@StevenKCoug) November 20, 2021
It’s not due to a lack of success or marketing by the team and its players. In fact, in the season opener the Cougars hosted a record crowd for men’s soccer at South Field with an estimated 3500 fans, the largest crowd since returning to club play in 2017.
Two years ago, I wrote an article here on Vanquish the Foe about the men’s team and their need for more recognition from the university.
Since then, we have seen a pandemic slow momentum and create a financial situation in 2020, which BYU fans helped with by donating several million to the athletic department to help them out of the red.
But in the last months, we have also seen tremendous positives for BYU Athletics. BYU has accepted an invite to the BIG XII, finally gaining Power 5 status starting in 2023. That move will further benefit the programs at BYU and will help with recruiting and provide more money for the athletic department. We have also seen the NCAA allow new Name, Image, and Likeness rules that have enabled the BYU fan base and boosters to financially support student-athletes. Built Bar is the first company to secure a massive deal for BYU athletes, providing financial aid to all BYU football walk-ons. SmartyStreets has also supported all the female student-athletes at BYU, providing $6,000 dollars and pairs of Jordans to all the BYU athletes competing in women’s sports, including cheer.
With the changing landscape in college athletics, could the men’s soccer program be even more primed to become an NCAA D-1 program?
A jump straight to NCAA Division 1 would be a massive jump for the athletic department and the program, full of hurdles and financial requirements. So what can BYU do in the meantime to help give the men’s program the recognition they deserve?
Perhaps the first step would be to move the extramural programs to the athletics department as a separate division, but with the support of the athletic department. Currently, extramural sports at BYU are men’s soccer, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s rugby, and racquetball. All these extramural programs are a part of the student life department, a much smaller department at BYU with far fewer resources for these programs.
Why wouldn’t BYU want to support these programs within the athletic department? After all, they are all athletic programs with huge success. Why do these teams not have the support academically, financially, with marketing, or even BYUTV?
Currently the programs are practically left on their own to find the resources, sponsors, uniforms, marketing, and broadcasting of their games. Most positions within the team are volunteer only, from the public announcer to the marketing teams to even some members of the staff. There is no media attention, no BYUTV coverage, and until recently, major BYU social media accounts refused to acknowledge them. Only recently has the ROC even acknowledged the program’s existence on social media, having cited in previous years that they were “unable to post/share content” put out by extramural programs. The men’s soccer program streams each home game on their YouTube channel, and while the coverage and camera angles provided are excellent, it pales in comparison to what BYUTV can provide.
While the end goal of Division 1 soccer can seem distant and difficult to achieve, there is so much more that BYU’s athletic program can do to support the men’s soccer program and other extramural sports.
Title IX seemingly remains the largest hurdle to overcome, but BYU Athletics is peaking. BYU fans are blessed to have Kalani Sitake leading our incredible football team and Mark Pope with our phenomenal basketball team. Women’s soccer is in the Elite Eight for the fourth time after beating 1-seed Virginia, and women’s volleyball has won 20 straight while dominating each opponent during that stretch, including several Top 25 teams. The BYU XC teams had two individual national champions and their teams are consistently Top 10 programs nationally and men’s volleyball reached the national championship last season after a dominant season. And perhaps most importantly, BYU is joining the BIG XII. BYU fandom is at an all-time high.
With new BIG XII money, NIL, and huge support from BYU boosters and fans, the pressure to add men’s soccer at BYU will only increase. Title IX seems to be the only hurdle.
Dropping existing programs won’t ever be considered at BYU, which is absolutely fair and should be the case. Tom Holmoe has made that clear. But given the popularity of soccer in the state of Utah and growing national relevance, adding programs should be an option. Men’s soccer would instantly become one of the most popular programs on campus, while other current programs at BYU try to convince fans to show up with free tickets and incentives like free pizza or donuts.
With BYU leaving Independence and the West Coast Conference to join the BIG XII, they will be joined by UCF, Houston, and Cincinnati. BYU beat UCF and Cincinnati’s club teams en route to their national title, and UCF also has a men’s Division 1 program that will need to find a new home with re-alignment. West Virginia also has a men’s soccer program that will be joining Conference USA in 2022.
With soccer programs continuing to grow around the state, BYU’s athletic program is only delaying certain success as a Division 1 men’s soccer program. Utah has two NCAA D-1 teams in Utah Valley and Dixie State, both of whom compete in the WAC. Westminster competes in Division 2, and all three junior colleges in Utah offer men’s soccer at SLCC, Snow, and USU-Eastern.
BYU could join the WAC as a soccer-only member in the future, and the WCC is also an option. As a current member of the WCC, only BYU and Pepperdine do not have men’s soccer programs. Those two programs both have men’s volleyball instead. While the WCC will give BYU some familiar foes, the WAC would also be an excellent option to begin. The WAC consists of several local teams as well as many MWC teams, as the MWC does not sponsor men’s soccer. The WAC currently consists of UVU, Seattle U, Dixie State, UNLV, Air Force, GCU, UTRGV, San Jose State, Cal Baptist, Incarnate Word, and Houston Baptist. The WCC has Saint Mary’s, Pacific, Portland, Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara, San Diego, San Francisco, and Gonzaga.
Soccer is continuing to grow in the United States, and especially in Utah. Utah Youth Soccer club teams won three national championships this past summer, and in-state recruiting could favor the Cougars should they join the NCAA. BYU is THE elite national powerhouse program in men’s club soccer, and if given the opportunity to recruit, offer scholarships, and receive athletic department and NIL financial support, could become a powerhouse in NCAA soccer in the west and the nation.