Letters to the Editor: Read Two Alumni’s Perspectives on the Vote for UCSD’s Move to D1 Athletics

6

Pro

I would like to take a moment to address a campus issue that is extremely important to me: the upcoming vote to move our athletics program into the NCAA Division I. I write this with firm appreciation and awareness that your decision is a personal one and that you will be living with the change as opposed to my opining from the bleachers. That being said, I want to press upon you that a successful jump into Division I would be a huge win both in the short term for you as UCSD students and in the long term for you as soon-to-be UCSD alums.

For some of you, the possibility of a Tritons March Madness berth is reason enough to cast your vote next week. However, even for those of you not interested in sports, helping UCSD become a Division-I school will affect you directly. A Division-I athletics program broadens the campus experience, bringing with it increased campus pride, a healthy rivalry with neighboring schools and a greater sense of belonging in the community — even when it is a virtual one.

Moreover, a move to Division I would help upgrade UCSD’s visibility and stature. As the CEO of a firm that advises media and technology companies, I know firsthand that brand is everything. A successful brand has incredible benefits: It can increase a company’s earning potential and scale, and help it gain traction in the competitive marketplace.

UCSD is a brand. By voting to associate us with NCAA Division-I sports — one of the biggest draws for college admissions — you will be elevating UCSD in the eyes of prospective students, and help to bring in the best new academic talent. Remember, these students will be the future of your alumni network.

The direct benefits you reap from a bolstered UCSD brand do not end there. We all know first-hand the level of our academic excellence. The prestige that comes with an NCAA Division-I sports program will help increase awareness of UCSD’s excellence to the broader community, which will in turn give you a leg up when it comes time to show your resume to potential employers.

Division-I athletics at UCSD will bring profound short-term and long term gains for you and for the university as a whole. Please don’t pass up this chance to make our great school even better. As Wayne Gretsky famously said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Next week you have a real shot at shaping the future of your school. I urge you to take it. Vote to make UCSD an NCAA Division-I school.

Aryeh B. Bourkoff, ‘96 | Founder and CEO of LionTree, LLC

Con

The purveyors of the trickle-down benefit theory of intercollegiate athletics would have you believe in the same kind of magical thinking that lures people into buying lottery tickets: a fanciful promise of fame and fortune that any reality-based analysis demonstrates to be an exceedingly poor investment decision. This is coupled with the time-honored psychological tactic of a “phased implementation”; the superficially less expensive decision of the present is easier because it forever mortgages the finances of future generations of students. Further appeasement of the unsure is accomplished by the diversionary “no football” ploy.

Study after study has shown that the true beneficiaries of the enormous resources dumped into sports departments are almost exclusively those departments themselves, the vast majority of which nevertheless run significant deficits. The over $9 million in annual ICA fees currently extracted from students subsidizes an enterprise in which a mere 2 percent of undergraduates are athletes, and yet now a substantially larger financial burden is justified with the mythical claim that it will somehow tangentially improve everyone’s job prospects upon graduation (because employers and grad schools care not about academic qualifications, but rather what teams made it to which finals). It’s hardly a coincidence that those marketing the imposition of even more fees will also most directly benefit when this new windfall is funneled into their coffers and wallets.

In its first 50 years, UC San Diego has grown to be an enviable academic powerhouse, a reputation built upon the combination of outstanding students and first-rate research. This excellence is a genuine source of pride and school spirit that is earned, not purchased. In a country where the highest paid state officials are overwhelmingly college coaches, is the model of an expansive athletic empire really one we want to emulate, or do we stay true to what has, over the past half-century, made us all unequivocally unique and exceptional among our peers? A vote for Division I is a vote for a costly conformity that will now and always tax the many to benefit an elite few.

David J. Hutches, ‘93 | Chief Technology Officer and Director, Jacobs School of Engineering, UC San Diego

6 COMMENTS

  1. While individual motivations might vary, parties on both sides of the Division I divide likely have the best interests of the institution at heart. Differences of opinion vary on what constitutes “best”, of course. Because this is such an important vote, it’s useful for students to have as much information as possible, even from old alumni, so they can make an informed decision.

    As a practical matter, the results of the referendum will have limited material impact. If it passes, the intercollegiate athletics program will get the additional funding it desires, athletes will be able to compete at a new level, and students will pay more in fees; if it does not pass, these things will not happen. Based on the empirical research data previously cited, other predictions, both dire and glowing, are speculative at best, and at worst, wishful thinking.

    Beyond unsupportable anecdotal marketing claims, the transfer of money is a zero sum game, making the referendum an economic question. But what seems like a paltry sum to alumni with real jobs may be a very different matter to students and their parents. Though it was many years ago, remembering what it was like to live below the poverty line both as an undergrad and grad student, I cannot in good conscience ask students to cough up even more money than they already do.

  2. David, beautifully written. I do have utmost respect for your comments and they’ve been points I’ve thought about a lot over the last few weeks. We may find ourselves more similar than different:) Your points highlight why this has been a debate for me for over 20 years. Your comments about UCSD making our own history is a statement I absolutely agree with. I also concur with your insights about being ranked #1 in for Global Impact and what risks we may need to manage moving forward. We have to tread carefully, if the students vote to go D1. I think there are positive models of academic-non-football-D1 approaches that can make UC San Diego walk a path of academic excellence as well as athletic pursuits. I was surmising your Gator experience might have been the way you described it. But to share one more thing, I was very involved(meaning I put in a lot too) and so were my undergrad UCSD friends and fellow Alumni Board members, and even still we yearn a stronger connection and wish for more opportunities to share our pride and see potential for more community engagement. I want to thank you actually for your excellent points, insights and passion. I’m happy 2 Tritons of opposing viewpoints can have a good debate over this. Hopefully over a pint… at your earliest convenience ? cheers, Ping

  3. As when it has been rejected by UCSD students in the past, a move to D1 is highly contentious, with strongly held opinions on both sides of the issue. Thus I fully appreciate a fellow alum’s passionate recitation of talking points from the Division I marketing plan. I also appreciate the attempt to invalidate an opposing view or question one’s commitment to an institution in the absence of precisely the same student experience as the claimant. Be that as it may, given that there are both current students and undergraduate alumni who oppose the Division I move, the asserted uniform infallibility of direct knowledge is perhaps somewhat suspect.

    Even as a mere grad student, I found supportive and engaging communities in and outside my discipline, through intramurals, student orgs, and elsewhere. The many connections I made with grads and undergrads alike were immeasurably valuable, and thus my experience of UCSD did not correspond to the persistent meme of a tragically inadequate existence that can only be remedied by attending Division I sporting events. Maybe I was just lucky. Maybe I got out of my time at UCSD what I put into it. Maybe had I been an undergrad here, my life would have been as spiritless, dreary, and fractured as the D1 proponents contend.

    Of the schools I’ve attended, UCSD is the only one I genuinely consider to be my alma mater, which is in marked contrast to the University of Florida, a Division I powerhouse at which the sports culture isn’t just pervasive, but utterly dominant. I did go to games, but with friends I already had; the sort of partisanship and us versus them mentality that’s intrinsic to the intercollegiate athletics arms race created little more than a superficial sense of community. To the extent that I feel any connection to UF, it is because of the lasting friendships I made, not the athletic events I attended.

    Since the founding of this university, we have set a course for ourselves that challenges the traditional approaches of much older schools. We explicitly opted not to be too anchored to the past. Our competitive advantage is that we try the unique approach, we experiment, we play by different rules. I accepted at UCSD over higher profile universities with better “brand recognition” because it was distinctive in its very forward thinking, interdisciplinary focus; the university felt comfortable, personal, and genuine, something that UF’s overzealous, feel good boosterism could not manufacture or replicate.

    What I found here was a gutsy and fearless school that deliberately chose to differentiate itself from the path taken by older, more established institutions. This created an agile and flexible environment that has paid off hugely in building an academic reputation on a par with schools that have been working at it for 100+ years longer than we have. It’s satisfying to see the conventional wisdom about what makes a university successful turned on its head by the pioneering trajectory UCSD has pursued. It’s why, for example, we’ve never left the #1 position in Washington Monthly’s influential ranking of schools that contribute to the public good. How ironic then, that in spite of the imaginative philosophy that has differentiated us from our peers and made us great, we now ponder the premise that the path to greatness is to be like everyone else. The genuine Triton approach to solving the issues we face, be they student life or alumni engagement, is to explore new, innovative trails rather than trudge down those rutted by hundreds of years of tired, old feet. Tritons are leaders, not followers. We don’t repeat history, we make it.

    But much of what I’ve said here comes from the strong feelings I have for the university I think of as home and about which I care deeply, so I’ll close with an appeal not to emotions, but one based on actual empirical data: http://www.knightcommission.org/collegesports101/chapter-8. While it’s worth reading both the summary article and the referenced studies, the following excerpts are of particular note:

    “Rigorous studies of the subject, however, suggest that there is no significant institutional benefit to athletic success. In a 2004 report for the Knight Commission, Cornell University economist Robert H. Frank, after reviewing the extant scholarly literature, concluded any links to football and men’s basketball victories and increased applications and the SAT scores of the applicants “is small and not significantly different from zero” (Frank, 2004).”

    “In a report on about 50 university programs that reclassified from Division II to some subset of Division I, the authors found that:
    * Programs that stepped up from Division II to Division I spent more than they took in, experiencing “an average deterioration in net operating revenue” of more than $1 million each;
    * Schools that switched divisions did not generally tend to experience a significant increase in enrollment, although some did;
    * Student fees – and, so, institutional subsidies – increased considerably as programs moved from Division II to Division I;
    * Switching to Division I increased alumni giving earmarked for athletics, but there was no evidence it helped general alumni donations (Orszag & Orszag, 2005).”

    • David, beautifully written. I do have utmost respect for your comments and they’ve been points I’ve thought about a lot over the last few weeks. We may find ourselves more similar than different:) Your points highlight why this has been a debate for me for over 20 years. Your comments about UCSD making our own history is a statement I absolutely agree with. I also concur with your insights about being ranked #1 in for Global Impact and what risks we may need to manage moving forward. We have to tread carefully, if the students vote to go D1. I think there are positive models of academic-non-football-D1 approaches that can make UC San Diego walk a path of academic excellence as well as athletic pursuits. I was surmising your Gator experience might have been the way you described it. But to share one more thing, I was very involved(meaning I put in a lot too) and so were my undergrad UCSD friends and fellow Alumni Board members, and even still we yearn a stronger connection and wish for more opportunities to share our pride and see potential for more community engagement. I want to thank you actually for your excellent points, insights and passion. I’m happy 2 Tritons of opposing viewpoints can have a good debate over this. Hopefully over a pint… at your earliest convenience 🙂 cheers, Ping

  4. I’m an alum (BS, MS) of UC San Diego and I support the pro vision that Aryeh describes.

    To share with you my perspective, here are a few things that I’ve been involved with through UC San Diego.
    I helped spearhead, lead and cofound organizations, events and objects such as – Triton Statue, DECaF Career Fair, Triton Engineering Student Council, The Student Foundation and an Alumni Chapter Group. I also serve on the Alumni Board of Directors and call over 50 incoming high school seniors every year who get accepted by UCSD and who have to choose between us and other great institutions. I have also attended D1 graduate institutions such as Northwestern, Stanford and the University of Minnesota. I mention the above because it gives me a perspective of what the D1 experience is and the opportunity UC San Diego has before us.

    To shed light, there are several factors that I believe why David does not have clear optics on this issue.

    1. David was NEVER an undergrad or masters student of UC San Diego, which means… He never experienced the college system. He never experienced the culture as an undergrad. He does not have a feel for the separate cultures that exist and the yearnings alums have that only have UCSD as their alma mater. He unfortunately uses fear and speaks as if he understands but doesn’t.
    2. David has 2 other alma maters to rely on. One happens to be the Univ. of Florida, Gators. One of the most die-hard close knit college cultures in the country. I have issue with those that say UC San Diego students should not experience a D1 culture when they themselves benefit from it. (I’m getting a feeling his anti-perspective is more of a fear that UC San Diego will be a premier academic-D1 institution that will squash his gators.)

    I have also done research with coaches that have played and coached at Division 1, 2 and 3. The insights are remarkable. It turns out coaches run THE SAME practices. There are so many NCAA academic and hourly requirements that the student-athletes stay on track. I’ve seen D1-final four level sports teams that are formed mostly of academic all-americans. Academics and athletics can go hand in hand. It can be done and with UCSD’s culture of excellence in the classroom and in the lab, that culture will continue to permeate on to the field and create a consistent powerful brand that will benefit each student and when they become alums.

    I have personally seen, heard and felt the impact D1 can make on a student body. At Stanford, Dartmouth, Northwestern and Univ. of Minnesota, I experienced how an academic-D1 culture resonates with the local community, student body, and alumni. Recall how all the Harvard alums came out of the wood-work during March Madness this year? They were always there but through D1-publicity they were able to express their pride broadly and loudly. And, recall, Harvard is a pretty good academic institution:)

    Vision….
    We can continue to brand ourselves in D2 with the likes of Stanislaus State and Alaska… or we can elevate ourselves to compete against our peer academic-D1 powerhouses like Stanford, Harvard, Texas, Wisconsin, UCLA…

    Imagine our UCSD D1 campus experience. I can see RIMAC field on Game Day as we prepare for a meaningful game against SDSU as they travel by light rail(coming in 4 years) to our campus. I can see our Triton colors, hear the laughter and music and smell the foods like Korean BBQ wafting in the La Jolla sunshine. (You know what I’m taking about.) Then, an hour before the game, we charge in through the lower levels of RIMAC and cheer TOGETHER on ESPN, after the announcers introduce UCSD by describing the latest ground breaking discoveries that our professors and teams have made.

    This is the moment for UCSD Tritons to take a stand against the crippling tag lines like Socially Dead. If that makes you sick like it does for me, let’s vote in favor of D1 and continue UC San Diego on it’s amazing trajectory. D1 will amplify our story, our history and allow us to share how we will change the world through our amazing research.

    D1 is a win because win-or-lose on the field, every event will be an opportunity to share why UCSD is one of the top universities in the world.

    With Triton blood flowing through my veins….let’s get D1 done!
    Ping

  5. From San Diego Magazine’s… Amanda Caniglia
    “We do want our students to become Triton fans, because fans have emotional ties. Fans want to engage. And fans want to give back. Fingers crossed. This vote is such a game changer for life on the Mesa.”

    Amanda earned a degree in political science at UC San Diego before embarking on a career teaching languages and dance. She is a self-described “networker extraordinaire” and co-owner of Bella Vista Social Club and Caffe, located on the bluffs of the Torrey Pines Mesa. Leading researchers, CEOs, and top graduate students frequent the café to talk science and surfing. You want to know what’s really going on around The Mesa? Ask Amanda.

    Rumor Has It…
    This is it. This is UC San Diego’s chance to change the student experience. It’s also their chance to create a stronger bond with our city. My fellow Tritons have the opportunity to vote “yes” for Division I sports at the University this week. Can I get an amen?

    My parents warned me when applying here: “Amanda, you love to socialize and you love sports, you will miss it.” At 18 we think we know it all. I was focused on three things—UCSD’s Poli Sci Department, their study abroad program, and their proximity to Tijuana. I remember giving tours to incoming and prospective students. I would convince them that no Division I sports at our University was “a good thing.” I too had been drinking the Kool-Aid. A university with no sports? I was captain of the song girls. Our boys’ basketball team was California D1 state champs, back to back. Nothing brought a school together with more passion and pride than sports. What the hell was I thinkin’?

    Looking back now I realize that if it weren’t for my current Social Club, I really wouldn’t have had that much of a connection to my former University. Without sports, there was very little to keep us on campus. Freshmen year I would go to TJ two or three times a week, and sophomore year I ended up joining the Greek system. But in retrospect, having Division I sports would have made such a difference to my college experience. Given the design of the campus, with the divided college system, a strong sports program would have been the opportunity for the entire student body to gather. Students, staff, family, and alumni would have weekly events to unite them as they root on their fellow Tritons. Current opportunities do exist, but they are few and far between.

    A Division I sports team will not undercut the scholarly achievements of our students, but rather further highlight our top rankings on a local, national, and global scale. There’ll be excitement about our school on the Mesa, and alumni and locals will have a reason to visit and become engaged on our campus. This is it. This is the gateway for outsiders to come learn about this great place called UC San Diego. This is the bridge we’ve been waiting for to connect to our community. We do want to be like other college towns. We want places to hang and celebrate and mix with the locals. We do want our students to become Triton fans, because fans have emotional ties. Fans want to engage. And fans want to give back. Fingers crossed. This vote is such a game changer for life on the Mesa.

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