UCSB submits bid to bring College Cup back to Santa Barbara

Akron Zips - NCAA College Cup

Akron’s men’s soccer team defeated Michigan in Santa Barbara for the NCAA Men’s Soccer National Championship in 2010.

The event that brought Santa Barbara the moniker “Soccer Heaven” looks like it could be returning for more.

UCSB has submitted its official bid to the NCAA to host the College Cup again as soon as 2014. Athletic Director Mark Massari said the university will also – if unsuccessful for ’14 – seek to host the event in either 2015 or 2017, and 2016 for the women.

“The NCAA hasn’t figured out if they want to go somewhere permanently or rotate, so we’re trying to be in a West Coast rotation,” Massari said.

UCSB, which hosted the College Cup in 2010, will learn of the decision on 2014 as soon as November.

“We’re excited about the possibility that we could have it here again,” said men’s soccer head coach Tim Vom Steeg, who led the Gauchos to a national championship in 2006.

UC Santa Barbara's soccer-only Harder Stadium.

UC Santa Barbara’s soccer-only Harder Stadium.

In 2010, the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four brought Akron, North Carolina, Louisville and Michigan to Santa Barbara.

“I wish we were in it that year, I’m sorry that we got knocked out that year in the third round. But at the end of the day, there were two Southern schools and two Midwestern schools and 10,000 people showed up on a gorgeous December day,” Massari recalled.

“Our reputation nationally about what we did in ’10 is well known.”

UCSB’s men’s soccer team has led the nation in home attendance for six-straight years and holds the NCAA attendance record for an on-campus match. But that turnout in 2010 showed the NCAA that Santa Barbara can draw soccer fans even without a West Coast school involved.

Despite the positive track record established in 2010, Massari and Vom Steeg both noted that it isn’t a lock that the College Cup will return. There are now more soccer-only venues in major markets that may be more attractive logistically and it remains to be seen whether the NCAA will choose a permanent location like baseball has in Omaha for the College World Series. The university was turned down twice before landing the event the first time around and now there is more competition than ever.

“MLS cities that have built brand new stadiums are looking for events like this,” Vom Steeg acknowledged.

This year’s College Cup will be held at PPL Park in Philadelphia, home to the MLS’?Philadelphia Union.

Vom Steeg credited the local soccer community for embracing the sport and his program in a way that isn’t duplicated in major markets.

“What made our experience a very successful one is that it was on campus, and we have a large fanbase that I think appreciates college soccer.”

In order to win the 2010 bid, Harder Stadium received roughly $2,000,000 in upgrades to ready itself. This time around, Massari said the NCAA has asked for upgraded locker rooms and a separate grass practice facility in addition to some minor work on the 17,000-seat stadium and playing surface.

In 2010, the Final Four teams were shuttled to Westmont College in Montecito to practice.

“The biggest piece of the puzzle is a grass practice facility,” Vom Steeg said.

And while the locker room improvements are already in the works, some of the other improvements will have to wait until year’s end. The Gauchos are just starting their season.

Even though it was created as a slick marketing term for the 2010 College Cup, the slogan “Soccer Heaven” has seemed to stick.

“I would be surprised if it didn’t come back to us at some point,” Vom Steeg said.