Conference USA brings positive changes to North Texas' soccer program, as it prepares for its first conference match in its new league in 2013. The league has sent multiple women's soccer teams to the NCAA Tournament in every season since 2005.
"I'm excited because, I think its going to help all the sports in general, our fan base, recruiting, being able to build rivalries," said North Texas Head Soccer Coach John Hedlund. "It presents a challenge to the soccer program, but I love challenges."
The league provides tough competition to challenge Hedlund's program, as Conference USA has sent multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament every season since its last major realignment in 2005, with three teams visiting the tournament in 2005 and 2006.
Overall, eight of the current 13 C-USA schools, including North Texas, have made the NCAA Tournament since 2005.
"The NCAA really considers C-USA one of the better conferences in the country. Yes, there is always going to be the Pac-12, the ACC and the Big 12 and so forth, but Conference USA, is up there," said Hedlund. "A lot of those teams that made the NCAA Tournament beat some of the bigger schools to get there."
The league, with its increased name recognition and plethora of regional opponents, should be a boon for recruiting.
"We're reaching out to players now that we never had a chance to, players that wouldn't come up for a visit, or wouldn't call us back," said Hedlund. "People in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area are very familiar to Conference USA. Without a doubt this will help our recruiting."
"One of our biggest sells is players having the opportunity to play games where their family and friends can watch them play," added Hedlund. "Now you have more teams, outside of our non-conference schedule, that their family and friends will see them play. It's not just 10 out of 20 games now. It's up to 14 or 15 games. That's a huge selling point for us."
Looking ahead to the league, North Texas has historically had success against the current C-USA members in soccer, putting together an 9-4-0 record against new conference foes, and an 10-3-1 record against FIU, who joins coming from the Sun Belt Conference.
C-USA has 13 schools that sponsor women's soccer, but there is one change from its football and basketball-playing members; Tulane dropped its women's soccer program after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and Colorado College competes as an affiliate member.
The Colorado College Tigers, normally a Division III program, sponsors men's hockey and women's soccer at the Division I level. Located in Colorado Springs, Colorado College has competed in women's soccer at the Division I level since 1985 and has made nine NCAA Tournament appearances, most recently in 2006. The Tigers have five Women's College Cup appearances, and have played in two national title games, losing to North Carolina each time. Colorado College joined C-USA in 2006, jumping from an independent to take the place of Tulane in the soccer schedule.
The Mean Green won its two games against C-USA teams in 2011, but both of those squads, SMU and Houston, are departing for the Big East.
"It's only positive," said Hedlund. "We should get great crowds when we bring these teams in. Tulsa, Rice, UTEP, when you're bringing teams in like that, not just for soccer but for other sports, will create great crowds and great atmosphere."
Coach Hedlund will be at the Dallas stop of the Mean Green Club Coaches' Caravan on Thursday, May 10th at the Hilton Dallas Lincoln Centre from 6-8 p.m., talking about his program, the move to Conference USA, and socializing with guests.
Mean Green Olympic Sports Passes, which provides admission to all home soccer, volleyball and softball events, are available at the Mean Green ticket office for $50 for adults and $30 for children 17 and under.
Recent NCAA appearances (Last trip):
Colorado College (2006)
North Texas (2005)