Hitting the Books or Hitting the Ball

Ever since I arrived at UCSD last year, I have heard continuous complaints about our school’s lack of a football team or its Division II sports teams. Many people think we should have at least a football team and make our Division II sport teams more competitive so they can become Division I teams. These people often refer to UC Berkeley or UCLA’s football and basketball teams as model teams that UCSD should have or emulate.

Melissa Chow/

I believe otherwise. I like our school’s present focus on academics instead of sports. Notice I am not against having many sports teams, or even trying to make our present sport teams better. However, I am convinced that UCSD needs to keep its academic focus in order to fulfill its role as a university.

A university is typically defined as an institution of higher learning. For a university to focus more on sports instead of academics is to be inconsistent with a university’s function. The definition usually does not mention sports. Based on the previous definition, any respectable institution that regards itself as a university should not make sports its primary focus.

It is perfectly acceptable for a university to have teams in every conceivable sport. I personally support sports and anything that advances sports to a higher level. However, I believe sports should remain only as extracurricular activities in universities, and nothing more.

Melissa Chow/

Some might say collegiate sports are very important because they help prepare athletes for professional sports. If so, people should create organizations expressly to train and provide assistance for aspiring athletes. Athletes should not look toward universities as stepping stones to professional sports, nor should they make sports their primary reason for going to colleges and universities.

My second argument against making UCSD more sports-oriented concerns the students and their contributions to a university’s overall academic standard. I believe a school’s focus on collegiate sports affects that standard adversely.

Students influence a university’s academic standard even before they arrive on campus. The caliber of the students that a university attracts and admits indicates that university’s educational quality. Top universities with strong athletic programs often try to attract potential athletes by lowering admission standards and granting athletic scholarships. These preferential admissions lower the overall quality of admitted students and are unfair to other qualified students who are also competing for admission.

Athletic scholarships have the same effect. One’s athletic, not academic, abilities determine one’s access to these scholarships. Academic achievements become minor factors, and universities often overlook them as they try to attract able athletes.

These admission and scholarship issues occur most often at universities with famous athletic programs, because they are trying to maintain their athletic reputations. The pressure comes from students and others who focus more on sports than academics. Universities like UCSD can prevent their academic standards from sliding further by making academics their top priority and giving athletic scholarships only to athletes with strong academic backgrounds and admitting them according to general academic standards.

Athletes continue to influence a university’s academic standard once they arrive on campus. Often, when student-athletes enter college, they become more athletes than they are students. There is strong pressure to do so partly because college sports compete at a higher level than high school sports, and partly because schools that are known for their athletic programs care more about their athletes’ performance than their academics.

The long hours athletes in universities across the nation train for competitions reflect this pressure. Sometimes these practices total more than 40 hours a week, which is comparable to what a full-time job requires. Some people might disagree and refer to the NCAA regulations on sport practices. NCAA regulates formal sports practices, but it doesn’t regulate informal, or “”optional”” practices.

On the surface, these so-called optional practices sound innocuous. In reality, they are mandatory. Some coaches allow their players to play only if they attend these optional practices. Whether all athletes do train excessively is unknown, but one can be sure that there is pressure to train hard, and that the stronger a university’s athletic department is, the stronger the pressure. All this training eventually turns an extracurricular activity into the student’s primary activity. Reduced study time translates into lower grades, which lower the university’s overall academic standards.

Universities that emphasize athletics are also disadvantageous to their students. Their athletic programs are more likely to pressure their athletes to dedicate themselves to the team and the bare minimum to themselves. Often there is no happy medium between the time for the team and time for one’s studies, which eventually forces the student to choose between the two. If the student chooses sports and the team over himself and his studies, then he will make his decisions for the team’s benefit. Universities that focus too much on athletics and pressure their students to do the same jeopardize their students’ futures instead of furthering them.

By staying academic instead of turning athletic, UCSD is in step with the definition of a university. It serves both the community and its students adequately by providing them with a precious opportunity to obtain higher education in their fields and valuable job skills in order to meet today’s job market challenges. UCSD’s academic reputation and standard will continue to rise as a result of its dedication to education and research, instead of sports.