We got some pretty big NCAA men’s soccer news on Wednesday morning, as the Big East announced that Akron would be joining the league as an affiliate member in men’s soccer.
If you’re saying to yourself, hey, wait, isn’t Akron in the MAC, you are correct. On November 11th, the day before the MAC Championship game, the conference announced that they would be ceasing sponsorship of men’s soccer as a sport. Here’s an explanation why:
- In 2016, the MAC had six teams in the league, five full time members and affiliate member West Virginia.
- In 2017, Buffalo had ceased sponsoring a men’s soccer team, and SIU Edwardsville joined the MAC as an affiliate member.
- In 2021, Georgia State and Georgia Southern joined the league as affiliate members, while SIUE joined the MVC.
- In 2022, the Georgia programs and West Virginia moved to the Sun Belt as that league reorganized and brought back the sport after a year off. That left the MAC with four full time conference members and affiliate member Chicago State.
And that’s just a snapshot of what was going on with the league in the last few years much less any long term shuffling of the membership. The fact of the matter is that not enough full members of the MAC choose to have a men’s soccer program, and so it’s just not worth the time and effort on the part of the conference to continue to operate the sport.
Which brings us to the Big East adding the Zips to the league. All 11 members of the Big East continue to sponsor men’s soccer, so it will now be a 12 team league. The Big East will be split into two divisions going forward:
- East Division: Connecticut, Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, and Villanova
- Midwest Division: Akron, Butler, Creighton, DePaul, Marquette, and Xavier
The league schedule format will change to eight matches in total, where each member of a division will play the five teams in their division every year and three crossover matches with the other division. There is no mention of the Big East tournament format in the press release, but that’s a question for six months from now. If I had to guess, I would imagine it would still be a six team tournament, but in this case, it would be the top three teams in each division advancing to the six team field.
Adding Akron to the league is a major boost to the conference as a national power, and the Big East was already a pretty strong league with three teams qualifying for the 48 team 2022 NCAA national championship tournament. Akron won their 21st MAC regular season championship this fall and is in the NCAA tournament for the 35th time in program history as well. In fact, they haven’t even started their NCAA tournament path yet as the bracket was only announced on November 14th. #16 national seed Akron will host the winner of Thursday’s Pitt/Cleveland State contest this coming Sunday afternoon. Head coach Jared Embick has been in charge for 10 years, running up a record of 124-53-25 in that time, which is actually a drop off from the clip that they were running at when he was only an assistant coach. Since Embick joined the staff in 2007, Akron is the winningest program in the entire country, posting a winning percentage of .746 and a record of 234-66-41.
So, yeah, it’s a big deal, and that’s without pointing out that Akron drew an average of over 1,300 fans in attendance for their home contests this season. That would be the third best average in the Big East, trailing only Connecticut and Creighton.
Marquette is 1-8-4 all time against Akron. Most of the series took place in the 1980s with the first match coming in September 1980. The Zips won the first five encounters, but Marquette is 1-1-2 in the last four dating back to 1995. The most recent match was in 2013, and that was the first meeting since 1998. If “Akron in 2013” is ringing any bells for you, it should. That match was Marquette’s first ever NCAA tournament victory in program history as Coco Navarro knocked home a dream of a cross from Paul Dillon to defeat the Zips 1-0 in extra time.