Club soccer team hopes for varsity status

Sarah Mitchell

As Paul Krumrich huddled at midfield Monday to listen to the words of coach Alan Merrick, he blended in with the others on the Minnesota men’s club soccer team. But unlike his teammates, Krumrich has a tad more experience with Minnesota practices.
He is an eight-year veteran of the program.
In 1991, Krumrich committed to Minnesota’s men’s soccer club team, a long-standing program that seemed on the verge of earning varsity status.
Or so it seemed then. The young prospect was doomed to play his eligibility out on a club team.
At the prodding and promises of then-coach Craig Lange, Krumrich ignored other college suitors under the impression that Minnesota’s program would have varsity status by fall of 1993. But that year came and went long ago and so did Krumrich’s dream of playing intercollegiate soccer.
“You need numbers to get money,” Krumrich said. “So to keep people happy others get screwed.”
The numbers Krumrich referred to are better known as Title IX. The law calling for gender equity makes it impossible for Minnesota to add men’s soccer to its varsity menu right now — as it has been for eight years.
So as the team waits for female athletes to complete the proportionality equation — which might give them a chance at becoming a varsity sport — a group of more than 40 male soccer players waits. They take their allotted $4,000 from the club program and watch their female counterparts compete in a new stadium just down the road.
“Title IX served its purpose. Womens sports are here,” junior forward Damien Klug said. “We work just as hard and we get basically no recognition. We shouldn’t be punished for having a large amount of men who want to play.”
Around the Big Ten
Male soccer players compete for roster spots at six Big Ten schools and will soon have another home. Michigan plans to add varsity soccer next fall, leaving Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue lagging behind.
The Wolverines’ ability to start a men’s varsity sport while pumping money into football stadium renovations intrigues Gophers men’s athletic director Mark Dienhart.
“I think this was part of Michigan’s approved, gender equity plan,” Dienhart said. “How they were able to add a men’s program and really have the same amount of women’s participants that Minnesota does, I don’t know. They probably have different legal advice than we do. It’s legal advice I’d like to hear.”
Dienhart said the cost of a men’s varsity soccer team at Minnesota would be around $300,000 and was convinced the funds could be raised privately.
But even if the money literally walked into Dienhart’s office, the men’s athletic department couldn’t do anything because of Title IX restrictions.
Going South
The absence of a men’s soccer program at a state school has forced Minnesota’s youth to search out of state for a place to play. Currently two Minnesota natives play for the Wisconsin varsity team.
“It just kills me that the best players from Minnesota have to go to Wisconsin,” Dienhart said.
Members of the Gophers club team echoed Dienhart’s thoughts.
“That’s a jewel given away,” Klug said.
“Soccer in Wisconsin is good, but in Minnesota it’s ten times better,” first-year player Chris Schulz said. “The programs are so much better here and so are the players. So we build them up and then we send them away.”
An uncertain future
While the men’s club team doesn’t get the frills of a varsity sport, it still mirrors the competitiveness of a varsity level program. In his first season as a coach, Merrick brings his team’s 6-3-1 record into Saturday’s home and conference opener against Michigan Tech.
This might be Merrick’s only season at the helm, however. Minnesota recently found out their conference is disbanding at the end of this season. That means that the Gophers won’t be eligible for post-season play if they aren’t in a conference next year.
Despite the bad news, Merrick is learning from his coaching experience.
“This is the first time I’ve worked with this age group. I have to learn what buttons to push,” Merrick said. “I have to cope with them in a different way.”
Not all the news is bad for the team. If Dienhart has his way, eight-year veterans like Krumrich will be a thing of the past.
“I’m a big advocate of gender equity. With three daughters I live that everyday,” Dienhart said. “But if this is the genie-in-the-bottle routine, and I had one wish, it would be that there would be a soccer program here in my time.”
Sarah Mitchell is a general assignment reporter and welcomes comments at [email protected]