The men’s soccer team is certainly no one-hit wonder, and despite recording a platinum season, there doesn’t appear to be a promising payday.
The financial constraints on the UCSB Athletic Dept. are felt from top to bottom. Clearly at the top of the food chain these days is the UCSB men’s soccer program. The squad just completed its most successful season in school history; the Gauchos were runners-up to NCAA National Champion Indiana. Santa Barbara attracted over 10,000 fans to the College Cup in Carson, Calif. in addition to wowing a national audience on ESPN2 in a 5-0 trouncing of Duke and a penalty kick defeat to the Hoosiers.
Despite the success of the men’s soccer team, attracting thousands of hooligans to playoff games and generating national respect and exposure, the Athletic Dept. has not promised to increase funding for the program.
“My approach was that the success of our program would translate to the financial success of the department. You can’t put a dollar sign on being on ESPN on a Sunday afternoon,” men’s soccer Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “At this point, I’m not sure that I have enough money to do this again.”
Coaches are hired for their fundraising capability as much as their ability to breakdown a pesky defense or implement a counterattack. UCSB, like nearly every other competitive college athletic program, hires salesmen.
“Selling recruits is an integral part of the process, but the problem comes before that,” Vom Steeg said. “I spend most of my time trying to raise the money to then be able to recruit at the highest levels. I wish I was doing a lot more on the recruiting side so we can improve our program even more.”
Each year, the most promising high school talent assembles at the Educational Sports Program (ESP) tournament, attracting the top 100 players eligible for college soccer the next season. Despite finishing a single penalty kick away from being 2004 National Champions, Santa Barbara coaches will not attend this year’s ESP event.
“We’re at the point now where we are recruiting National Team-type of players, but we have to limit our recruiting to California,” Vom Steeg said. “I would love to bring in a top-notch guy from Ohio that wanted to come to Santa Barbara, but we can’t afford to spend money on an out-of-state scholarship.”
NCAA regulations mandate that men’s soccer programs can scholarship no more than 9.9 players, but the Gauchos have only 7.9 total scholarships due to the amount of money Athletic Director Gary Cunningham allotted the program.
Twenty-four players comprised the Gauchos’ 2004 Big West Championship roster. As a result, men’s soccer and other programs are forced to offer partial scholarships to certain players in order to lure in the big fish with the incentive of full scholarships.
“We have to get to be fully funded, but this is not an easy issue because we’re not there yet,” UCSB sport sociology professor Judith Dale said. “It’s tough to tell what teams need for them to truly get better. Should a team that is doing poorly have to cut scholarships to help out better teams?”
Vom Steeg said that in-state scholarships cost approximately $17,000, while out-of-state scholarships are worth $34,000. Due to its limited budget, UCSB scholarships primarily in-state players because the costs are considerably lower.
“Part of how we recruit a player is how much it is going to cost to get the player,” Vom Steeg said. “We have to continually evaluate the cost of the scholarship.”
Santa Barbara has six international players, each costing the program $34,000. Although an expensive investment, international talent has been crucial to the program’s success.
Freshman midfielder Tyler Rosenlund competed last night for the Canadian Youth National Team against the United States and senior defender Tony Lochhead will compete next month for the New Zealand National Team against Australia in London, England.
In addition to Rosenlund and Lochhead, junior midfielder Bryan Byrne (Ireland), senior forward Neil Jones (New Zealand) and freshmen defenders Myles Davis (Canada) and Andy Iro (England) all represent Santa Barbara from abroad. To finance the increased cost of scholarships and their ambitious road schedule, Vom Steeg said that Santa Barbara raised nearly $75,000 in fundraising and summer camp fees.
“We needed that money just to break even this year,” Vom Steeg said. “The chancellor has helped us out with fundraising, but as of right now, I have not been told that I would get more than the 7.9 scholarships I got last year.”
Top tier athletics programs and private institutions do not have the same scholarship burden. Vom Steeg said there is a funding discrepancy and that Santa Barbara’s competitors can afford to bring in more players on scholarships and have the money to secure out-of-state talent. Most Big West institutions provide more funding to their soccer programs than UCSB, but Santa Barbara has consistently won in recent years.
“There are some programs that have unlimited funding and can never get it done,” Vom Steeg said. “That’s our pitch. We sell recruits on the idea that one day you can win a national championship.”
Santa Barbara’s success creates a double-edged sword. More wins yield greater financial commitment. To maintain their national prominence, the Gauchos are now recruiting players that will require full scholarships to have them attend. Simply put, if Santa Barbara doesn’t offer a national player a full scholarship, somebody else undoubtedly will. The Gauchos must also continue to embark on ambitious pre-season road contests – each trip requiring considerable funding — just to maintain a high national ranking.
“The reality is that we would not have played for a national championship if we had not raised additional money ourselves,” Vom Steeg said. “[More money] is necessary for us to stay at the next level.
The university may be hesitant to provide more money to the Athletic Dept. because most college sports departments across the country lose money for their universities each year.
According to the study College Sports Inc: The Athletic Department vs. The University by Murray Sperber of Indiana University, only 10 to 20 of the 802 members of the NCAA, the 493 members of the National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), and the more than 1,050 junior colleges, consistently turn a profit.
Cunningham said that while UCSB suffers from financial constraints, bigger and smaller schools are presented with equally burdensome challenges.
“Bigger schools have a different level of problems,” Cunningham said. “We don’t have a very big staff to manage. There are challenges anywhere.”
Dale said that UCSB earmarks the largest amount of money from registration fees of any of the UC athletics programs. She said that while students pay $9 per quarter as a student lock-in fee, the figure pales in comparison to some of its non-UC competitors.
“To UCSB’s credit, it’s not cutting sports, besides gymnastics. It’s giving athletes an opportunity to strive to excellence,” Dale said. “Our coaches work miracles with what they are given.”
With its piggy bank as slim as the prospect of dollar bills sprouting from the turf at Harder Stadium, the UCSB Athletic Dept. hopes Vom Steeg can continue working miracles well into the future.