After many years of watching far too much ESPN, I’ve come to grips with the fact that the network – along with the majority of this country’s media outlets – is heavily East Coast-biased. The braintrust that runs “SportsCenter” would much rather show you live coverage of Alex Rodriguez sneezing than air any type of story about a team west of the Rocky Mountains. It’s sad but its true, and you know what? By this point I’m used to it. I can understand the capitalistic reasons behind their show of love for the big East Coast markets. What I can’t understand is the similar favoritism that seems to exist amongst those who run collegiate soccer.
While it’s disappointing that only seven West Coast teams made the 48-team NCAA tournament bracket, the disparity is magnified when you look at the matchups. UCSB played San Diego State in the first round, assuring an early exit for one California team. Some might argue that a UCSB-SDSU matchup reduces first-round travel, but at this point I’m sure the Aztecs would gladly pay any long-distance travel expenses to avoid the Gauchos. After disposing of the Aztecs, the Gauchos earned the privilege of traveling to Dallas to take on #1 Southern Methodist University, which they promptly destroyed. But instead of coming home, the Gauchos were forced to travel to Virginia where they not only took on Old Dominion, but an Atlantic Coast Conference referee as well. One saved penalty kick later, the Gauchos finally made it back home where they defeated Northwestern on Saturday night to advance to the College Cup for the second time in three years.
After the Northwestern Game, UCSB Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg talked about how he likes to see West Coast teams succeed, but the NCAA is making this task as hard as possible. Elsewhere in the bracket, Washington lost to Santa Clara in the second round, meaning that two of the seven West Coast teams were eliminated by their opponents in the same time zone. Despite it all, three West Coast teams made the Elite Eight, with UCSB and UCLA qualifying for the College Cup. This is not the first time that UCSB has been overlooked. The Gauchos inexplicably ended up as the #9 seed in the 2004 tournament despite being the consensus #1 team in the country. Last season the Gauchos played fellow West Coast teams SDSU and Cal State Northridge in the first two rounds, once again forcing Pacific Coast teams to eliminate each other.
The recent run of West Coast success won’t do any good for UC Irvine – the Big West runners-up who were left at home despite a 13-4-3 record – but hopefully it will lead to more respect in the future. It’s time for the rest of the country to recognize the fact that some of the best collegiate soccer is being played out west by some of this country’s top players. Sadly, only one of the 15 Hermann Trophy semifinalists goes to school on the West Coast, a trend that will hopefully change in future years.
Luckily for Gaucho fans, our current team has shown a remarkable ability to succeed no matter where or under what circumstances they have to play. If the stunning attendance on Saturday was any indication, Vom Steeg has built a program that we can all be proud of. There’s some great soccer being played out here by the Pacific; I only wish the members of the NCAA would stay up late enough to watch it.
Daily Nexus sports writer Alex Pavlovic fully intends to punish the East Coast elite by taking a bag of In-N-Out burgers to St. Louis and slowly eating them in front of NCAA officials.