Podcast, Ep. 10 – Ronnie Woodard on women in coaching, youth soccer madness


Tennessee Soccer Club’s Ronnie Woodard is a legit women’s soccer pioneer — first scholarship player and goalkeeper at Duke, one of the first wave of women’s soccer players to move into the coaching ranks. She has coached college and elite youth teams, winning 2016 NSCAA Coach of the Year honors, while launching a consulting business for college prospects.

We talk about what’s keeping women out of coaching (10:20 mark) and what’s better or worse in youth soccer today (25:00). Then I rant about my youth soccer weekend (coach ejected!) and some upcoming Ranting Soccer Dad programming.


NCAAmageddon and the numbers

The NCAA has released updated numbers on how much money is being flushed down the pipes at your local athletic department, and Sports Law Blog relates it to the sure-to-be-landmark O’Bannon vs. NCAA case.

I think O’Bannon has a case that shouldn’t hinge on such things. The initial argument was whether O’Bannon was entitled to money from his likeness being used in a video game. You’d think a judge could simply say yes, giving athletes a small but substantial victory.

But no, as this SI piece says, a judge instead interpreted “profiting off likeness” to include televised games. I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me that if they win, TV news broadcasts would suddenly be responsible for paying everyone who appears on camera. Welcome back to the age of radio.

Perhaps common sense will prevail, and everyone will make a deal allowing athletes to be paid if their images are being used to sell video games and T-shirts. Or not.

In the meantime, the NCAA numbers once again feed all sorts of arguments, particularly Title IX.

Is a major in sports really any worse than my music major?

Should athletes have the opportunity to major in sports?

Yes, argues a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education, which recently offered yours truly a special deal for “university professionals” in a reassuring demonstration that advertisers do not know everything about you.

And it’s a terrific argument. Add a psychology requirement, and players who don’t make the professional grade (which is still the vast majority of players, even at the top football and basketball schools) will be uber-qualified coaches. That’s not a bad thing.

A related argument: Are “one-and-dones” making a mockery of college basketball? Should they stay at least three years like baseball players who pass on the draft? Do athletes gain anything when their only academic goal is to pass enough classes in their first semester to stay eligible through March?

Also related: A new wave of concern of about athletes after their playing days are done, everything from the eye-opening ESPN film Broke to this piece from Michigan about former football players hoping to latch on somewhere.

Consider three goals of education (not necessarily prioritized):

1. Expand the mind.

2. Learn critical thinking and life skills.

3. Job preparation.

The first goal can be accomplished (somewhat) in a year. Maybe even in one class, if it’s a good one. Hopefully, it triggers a lifelong interest in learning.

The second goal is easy to stress in the first couple of years of school. Writing classes help. Basic economics would help.

The third goal is best reserved for the last couple of years of school, when students have done some exploration and can pick something. If they’re ready for major pro sports, then they can skip out.  As Yoda might say, no more training do they require. We can only hope the lessons of those first two years will keep them from sinking their fortunes into strip club “rain” and room-sized aquariums.

Schools shouldn’t give players tons of academic credit just for playing. Music majors only get fractional credits for orchestra or lessons on their instruments. Newspaper staffers that I know of don’t get academic credit for the 20, 30, 50 hours a week they spend in the office, even though that trains them for their first jobs in ways that no class can duplicate.

But studying sports topics doesn’t have to be a joke. Not if it’s done right. Not if it’s done as part of a general education that helps people who seek careers in sports, whether they make the big time or not.

Other reactions to this:

Sports Law Blog says the devil is in the details, which is true.

Deadspin: “Why can’t aspiring professional athletes just major in sports, the way that aspiring dancers major in dance and aspiring actors major in theater and aspiring dickheads major in journalism?”

I don’t think aspiring whatevers major in journalism. They all want to work at Deadspin, which probably doesn’t hire a lot of journalism majors.

But what do I know? I was a philosophy and music major.

Soccer shocker in Richmond

Richmond, Va., isn’t just the home of a lot of Civil War history and Carbon Leaf. It has been a legitimate hotbed of U.S. soccer for a couple of decades.

The Richmond Kickers won the 1995 U.S. Open Cup. And they’re still around, making a strong run in the 2011 Cup. They’ve also built one of the strongest youth-through-pro clubs in the country.

And the Kickers are one of TWO U.S. Developmental Academy teams in town. The Richmond Strikers are also in youth soccer’s big show.

So this news is a little shocking:

SoccerAmerica – Men’s soccer dropped for … lacrosse 09/24/2012.

And no, it’s not women’s lacrosse. This isn’t a Title IX issue.

Let this sink in: A college in a town with a long, strong history in soccer has ditched its soccer team for a lacrosse team.

Soccer fans have been crowing recently about MLS overtaking the NHL and NBA in attendance (never a fair comparison, since MLS plays few weeknight games and plays in larger venues). Should soccer fans be worried about lacrosse instead?

Title IX-related questions

I pride myself on being less cynical than the typical journalist. And I’m certainly not someone to rain on the parade of Title IX’s 40th anniversary. Griping about an anniversary commemoration is like showing up at a July 4 fireworks display to gripe about drone attacks or Guantanamo or all the Native Americans who died when Columbus came over here. Time and place. Time and place. And besides, I think we’d agree that Title IX, like the Declaration of Independence, is generally a Good Thing.

That said, this sort of celebration brings out a few groups of people:

  1. People who have legitimate concerns over Title IX enforcement.
  2. People who twist those concerns into spurious self-defeating arguments and defenses of every penny spent on football.
  3. Title IX advocates who understand some of these concerns.
  4. Title IX advocates who ignore these concerns and won’t rest until every college and high school has a women’s modern pentathlon team, no matter how many men’s sports are cut to reach that point.

(All right, I’m exaggerating slightly on groups 2 and 4. Slightly.)

I’m in no mood to write an essay. I did that 15 months ago, and I either got it right at the time or haven’t made enough intellectual progress to think of anything better.

But I’m hoping the following list of questions — to which I’m willing to listen to answers — will spur some reflection among groups 2 and 4 to ease them into groups 1 and 3. Maybe they’ll even find some middle ground and become group 13. OK, 31.


– Shouldn’t we be more concerned with mostly male Georgia Tech adding more female students than majority-female North Carolina adding more female student-athletes to a staggeringly successful women’s sports program?

– Who’s going to speak up for traditional nonrevenue sports against plans like this while football programs bleed athletic departments dry? (Yes, they quite often do.)

– Why do we see NCAA numbers showing how few programs make money while the Business of College Sports blog ranks programs as if they were Forbes billionaires wondering which building should be rebuilt in marble?

– If you’re trying to meet the desires and aptitudes of the underrepresented gender in your student body (one of the prongs of the three-pronged Title IX test), wouldn’t a JV soccer team be better than a varsity equestrian team?

– Why is Title IX all about sports, anyway? What about us musicians? We draw bigger crowds than some sports teams. We travel a bit.

– And what about scientists? Your daughter has a better chance at a career in medicine or engineering than she does at a college soccer scholarship. Shouldn’t she be pursuing it?

– Why should college scholarship opportunities play any role in determining what counts as a sport? I can tell you right now that 95 percent of the kids in my local U8 boys soccer league have no shot whatsoever at a college scholarship. Should they quit?

– Why does the third-string tight end for the football team need a scholarship while the starting left midfielder doesn’t?

– Why are colleges adding sports such as rowing in which nearly 90% of all intercollegiate athletes had no experience before entering college? (See the study.)

– Women’s wrestling is a valid Olympic sport in which the USA is pretty good, and adding it requires little to no new equipment for a school that already has a wrestling program. Why aren’t colleges adding that rather than cutting their men’s wrestling programs?

– Why are schools so good at adding rowing and bowling but so bad at the very basics of meeting all female students’ needs? (Case in point: sexual harassment)

– College biathlon. When’s it gonna happen?

– Can’t some sports be identified as Olympic development and protected in some partnership with the USOC?

– Does anyone have patience to let sports grow? For example: When I was at Duke, women’s basketball rarely drew in the hundreds. Now they draw in the thousands.

– Why do we tolerate the corrupt college football bowl system?

Maybe that’ll get the conversation started so that we really will preserve all that’s good about Title IX and not end up with a bunch of lawsuits and a ton of program cuts blamed (rightly or wrongly) on the law’s enforcement.

Anonymous Genius: Fighting elitism with sexism and racism

I went to Duke, but I get it. The country is tired of hearing about how great it is. Ever since the back-to-back titles in ’91 and ’92, they’ve been overexposed and at times overrated. Plenty of reasons to get a little irritated.

Then there’s this from “RealTalkIowa,” the latest nominee in our “Anonymous Genius” series:

Must be the fat chicks and little Asian kids are spending too much time at the library.

Maybe this is why the Duke atmosphere is thought to be fading. Dukies used to be mean! I mean — they threw Twinkies on the court when Dennis Scott was introduced! Coach K went scrambling over to apologize to Bobby Cremins.

But when it comes to sheer obnoxious hostility, Duke simply can’t compete with the Anonymous Geniuses of the Web. Those days are gone.

For the record — Duke is just getting harder and harder to get into, and out of an undergrad population of 6,000 or so, it’s no longer realistic to expect 20% of them to find the time to camp out.

Fabled Cameron Crazies succumbing to Cameron monotony at Duke – NCAA Division I Mens Basketball – CBSSports.com News, Scores, Stats, Schedule and RPI Rankings.

Questioning the place of sports in college: Drop football, save academics?

A Chicago-area junior college has dropped its football program. Sad day for student-athletes? A tale of Title IX excess? No, says the Chicago Tribune‘s John Keilman (listed as “reporter” though this is clearly an op-ed).

I think a lot of bigger schools would be well-advised to study Harper’s sensible example. What would they discover if they put their athletic departments under a similar microscope? Do their teams really add to the educational experience? Or have they drifted into isolated orbits, estranged from their schools’ true purpose?

I have a feeling that if other colleges and universities had the courage to act on what they found, America would have a lot more empty football fields.

So on one hand, we’re being told that sports — particularly women’s sports — cultivate a sense of belonging and empowerment that go hand in hand with learning and developing our full potential. And yet a football team at a junior college somehow ruins that school’s educational mission?

How education helps athletes

Monica Gonzalez wasn’t writing specifically about high school and college soccer here, but she makes an argument here that bolsters the notion of keeping the USA’s “school and soccer” combination alive:

Education affects sports performance. Think of it as a gym for the mind. Sitting through classes hones concentration. Incorporating studies into life trains discipline and focus. And studying for finals prepares one for stress and pressure. Every player on Canada and the U.S. has either finished college or will soon. I can say the same for only half of the Mexican womens team. Even fewer on the Mexican mens team, but dont get me started on them. Boys are forced to quit school to enter fuerzas basicas, which is the pro system. It is a flaw on the Mexican mens side, but thats another article for another day.

via Monica Gonzalez: CONCACAF must close the disparity gap – espnW.

The war on nonrevenue sports, ctd

The argument as laid out in Sports Illustrated:

1. There’s a lot of money flowing into big-time college sports.

2. They should give some of that money away toward charitable causes.

3. But wait, many athletic departments are actually losing money. So …

“The first obligation is to restore fiscal sanity by using [the savings in salary] to plug that hole,” says Zimbalist, who also proposes reducing the number of football scholarships, having FBS schools cut spending on nonrevenue sports and instituting an NCAA football playoff.

The Zimbalist here is Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College professor who has done pretty much all there is to do in sports economics, from research on Ken Burns’s odes to baseball to a Title IX analysis with advocate Nancy Hogshead-Makar.

(I do have to mention that Zimbalist appears in Long-Range Goals, testifying on behalf of MLS players in their lawsuit against the league, much to the bemusement of Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner:

The players called sports economist Andrew Zimbalist to show how Division I competition could have driven up salaries. (Rhett) Harty’s 1996 salary, to give one example, would’ve been $115,275 instead of $41,356. Gardner was unimpressed: “For an entire session, this totally fictitious exercise dragged on, as the good Professor Zimbalist revealed charts and calculations to ‘prove’ what must have happened had a whole series of improbable conditions existed. They never did exist.”)

In the case of college sports, Zimbalist certainly understands the issue. It’s just curious to see him and SI‘s Alexander Wolff tossing aside nonrevenue sports as collateral damage.

But that’s not the first time we’ve seen such a suggestion from SI. Or elsewhere.

So if you believe in college soccer, swimming, track, volleyball, wrestling, lacrosse, tennis, golf, etc., you might want to start speaking up.

(The first “war on nonrevenue sports” post is here. I’ll start tagging them from now on. Not that I’m hoping for more.)

Questioning the place of sports in college: Character

Forget about the BCS for a moment. Forget Title IX. Forget conference re-alignment. In the post-Penn State scandal world, we’re seeing something that runs far deeper: People who aren’t sure colleges should be in the sports business at all.

They’re popping up a bit more at the Washington Post’s education page, where Jay Mathews bemoans the greater attention paid to the BCS than to a study showing a lack of analytical skills among college students. (Frankly, he should take that issue up with his editors rather than his readers.)

And The Chronicle of Higher Education has taken up the topic, today with a lengthy take on whether sports build character:

Do Sports Build Character or Damage It? – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The piece hints at something I had drilled in my head by my father, a philosophy major and high school QB who went on to become a biochemist: Ancient Greeks believed strongly in developing mind and body. But the writer has a different take here, calling on Plato to bolster the argument that sports help warriors find an outlet for their aggression when they’re not at war.

In a civilization that doesn’t send many people to war (no disrepect to Iraq and Afghanistan vets — their numbers are simply far smaller than the entire generation sent to WWII), that argument suggest that we don’t need quite as many athletes. Maybe we should all be re-training our brains for gentler pursuits like deconstructing 19th century’s women’s literature through the lens of 17th century patriarchal hegemonic archetypes for a post-structuralist buzzwordist obscure-termist discourse, or whatever English departments are doing now while the entire country forgets how to speak English. But I digress.

It’s a funny coincidence — some might call it “ironic” — that people are questioning the idea of sports as character development while Title IX enforcers give a hard sell on the notion that sports are good for women. But it’s not such a bad idea to stop and take stock while the sports landscape is rapidly changing.

And while most questions on sports lead back to football, the most violent and warlike (but also the most complex) of our sports, we can’t forget how much these questions apply across the board. Grantland had a story this week about concussions in football, saying the risk in football was far more than the second-placed sport. But that second most dangerous sport was one that may surprise parents. It’s girls’ soccer.