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All It Took Was Some Clegg Work : Aztec Soccer Team Takes Show on Road, Advances to NCAA Final Four

December 02, 1987|Dave Distel

Chuck Clegg had the platform. The spotlight was his. A cluster of microphones awaited his observations. Pens were poised over notebooks.

This was an opportunity to sell the sport he coaches, and maybe take a dig at the big guys.

Clegg, you see, is the soccer coach at San Diego State. You don't hear much about the soccer team . . . or the coach. It's one of the so-called minor sports.

That's the way it is in collegiate sports. Football and basketball are Broadway productions, and anything else is a kindergarten skit. The soccer team is more than likely perceived as a good place to train kickers for the real team.

And so it was a little unusual that Clegg was the only Aztec coach addressing the weekly media gathering at the stadium Tuesday. You almost expected someone to ask him how his name was spelled, and what it was he coached.

In truth, Clegg was Tuesday's man of the hour. As far as SDSU sports are concerned, he may well be the man of the year.

Indeed, Clegg's soccer team is having the dreamiest of seasons. It has a most marvelous secret.

The Aztec soccer team is in the NCAA Final Four . . . and got there by winning at St. Louis, at SMU and at UCLA. Winning soccer games in those places against those teams is like fighting polar bears on icebergs.

Beating UCLA anywhere has not been easy for the Aztecs. Clegg remembered the last time that happened. He was with the Aztecs then, too, except not as the coach. He was a player. A freshman.

"That was 18 years ago," he said. "I was beginning to wonder if we'd ever beat them again."

He has to wonder no longer, unless he wants to sit back and ponder the wonder of it all.

Final Four? The Aztecs are there. What they have done in soccer is probably equivalent to beating Kentucky, Louisville and Indiana . . . on the road, at that . . . en route to the Final Four in basketball.

"Getting to the Final Four is the toughest thing to do," Clegg said, "but we're not going with the idea that we're just happy to be there."

The Final Four will be played Saturday and Sunday at Clemson, a South Carolina outpost better known, naturally, for football and basketball than for soccer. SDSU will open on Saturday against Harvard, which makes up for its deficiencies in football and basketball by fielding excellent teams in soccer, crew and debate. Clemson and North Carolina will play in the other semifinal game, and the winners will play Sunday in a game ESPN eventually will show on a tape-delayed basis.

This would seem to be a great opportunity for San Diego State soccer to get some exposure . . . and maybe even put a few bucks in the bank.

What, Clegg was asked, will the Aztecs get for making the Final Four?

He scratched his head.

You know, he was prompted, what's the pay out for competing teams?

"Oh," he said, "we'll get our travel expenses reimbursed."

What?

"This isn't like a football bowl game," he laughed. "We don't have any $500,000 to $3 million to $6 million payoffs."

And now he had an opportunity to rant and rave. He had a chance to lament the unfairness of it all. The moment was his.

"Minor sports," he said, "are not minor sports. They're just nonrevenue sports."

Now he was rolling. Surely it was time to take his rips at those big headline-hogging, money-crunching "major" sports.

Not exactly.

"Soccer barely pays its expenses," he said. "Priorities have to be football and basketball. You won't see me asking to take eight scholarships from football to give them to soccer, because football has to be successful for the sake of the whole athletic department."

I guess it figures that a coach in such a team-oriented game should be such a team-oriented guy.

Clegg calls this a very special team . . . and it is also a very unselfish team. The NCAA maximum for soccer scholarships is 11, and this team has 3. Significantly, the Aztecs carve up the scholarship money, just as they have carved up the opposition.

These guys, it would seem, have taken nickels and dimes and turned them into a fortune in opportunity.

If these guys come home with the national championship, San Diego State had better be prepared to raise a toast. It has not had a national championship since the 1973 men's volleyball team. It will be time to throw ticker tape from the bell tower.

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