Still Goliath in DII?

    UC Davis recently announced plans to reclassify its intercollegiate athletics program from National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II to Division I. The Aggies could begin the four-year transition process in the fall of 2003 and will become a full-fledged member of Division I in 2007, leaving behind UCSD and the rest of the California Collegiate Athletic Association. Information disseminated by UC Davis indicates that Division I is by far a better fit for the athletics program there. But the announced move has some here at UCSD questioning whether or not Division II is the best fit for UCSD’s athletics program.

    Kenrick Leung

    Still fresh in the minds of many senior Triton athletes and sports fans at UCSD are the days of Division III. UCSD began competing in Division II athletics just two years ago, in the fall of 2000. Prior to that, UCSD competed as an independent in Division III. In Division III, UCSD dominated the competition in virtually every sport. Because of this, UCSD was rejected by area athletic conferences and was forced to play an independent schedule.

    In a report outlining the reasons why a move to Division II was necessary, Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Joseph Watson said, “”UCSD is viewed by other Division III schools as Goliath competing against little Davids.””

    Creating a schedule for each team when there were no guaranteed opponents was no easy task for Triton coaches.

    According to Associate Athletic Director Ken Grosse, “”It was very difficult to schedule with any sort of consistency [in Division III]. In basketball, we’d have games on a Monday and Wednesday of one week, and then Tuesday and Thursday of the following week. And then there would be no games for two weeks.””

    These difficulties in scheduling resulted in headaches for the coaches who arranged the games, and made it impossible for fans to attend games with any sort of regularity.

    In addition to scheduling difficulties, UCSD’s Division III teams had a tough time drawing fans to games. But it wasn’t for their lack of athletic talent; a likely cause of disinterest among students was the lack of quality opponents. In 1999, record attendance was set at the annual basketball Spirit Night. However, it was not the fact that UCSD was playing Master’s College that drew the 3,713 fans to RIMAC Arena. An assistant basketball coach had challenged students to break the record in an unusual fashion — he pledged to camp out on the roof of RIMAC until the attendance record was broken.

    To help alleviate the problems that teams were facing, the athletics administration proposed the move to Division II. Following a lot of debate and disagreement, the Academic Senate finally approved the move in 1998.

    At the start of the Division II era in September 2000, UCSD Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Earl Edwards said, “”[The move to Division II] puts us more in line with some of the other California schools that are in the conference. That will eventually create some familiarity and some rivalries that we haven’t had in the past.””

    Indeed, the move has placed UCSD in better company and has provided for better competition. UCSD now competes in the CCAA, which is composed of 12 schools.

    “”[In Division III], most teams would play several tough opponents, but would walk all over the rest of the teams on their schedules,”” Grosse said. “”Now, when we play CCAA opponents, it’s a battle every time.””

    As far as rivalries go, many individual sports have developed their own rivalries. The women’s volleyball team has developed a rivalry with Cal State San Bernardino, and the women’s soccer team has been perennially clashing with Cal Poly Pomona. On the whole, UCSD has started to develop a rivalry with UC Davis, but with the possible departure of UC Davis for Division I in 2004, it appears that rivalry’s days are limited.

    Most teams have had a tougher time competing in Division II. In the 1998-99 season, the UCSD men’s basketball team posted a record of 20-5, but went just 4-23 in its first year of Division II competition.

    Familiarity with the other opponents is something that’s debatable. Nearly every athlete at UCSD will be able to rattle off the familiar list of CCAA opponents, but can fans?

    “”Many [UCSD fans] may not know our CCAA opponents like they know Division I schools,”” Grosse said when asked to compare Division III opponents to those of UCSD’s current conference. “”But I think overall, fans identify better with these [CCAA] schools.””

    The CCAA is composed of two UC schools (Davis and UCSD), one private school located in Arizona (Grand Canyon) and nine CSU schools (Chico State, Sonoma State, San Francisco State, CSU Stanislaus, CSU Bakersfield, CSU Los Angeles, CSU Dominguez Hills, Cal Poly Pomona and CSU San Bernardino).

    In contrast to the athletics department, the makeup of the CCAA has led some students to question whether or not UCSD belongs in the conference. After UC Davis leaves, the conference will be composed almost entirely of California State University schools — except UCSD and Grand Canyon. So what’s the problem with that?

    Officials at UC Davis have cited the “”peer institutions”” issue as one of the largest factors in deciding to move to Division I. Though UC Davis has enjoyed numerous successes at the Division II level, including five Sears Directors’ Cups, it has not been able to sustain competition with schools it identifies with on more than just an athletic level. The one exception in the CCAA has been UCSD. Both UC Davis and UCSD are large public research institutions with similar enrollments, similar faculty, similar research and similar students. Both draw from the top 12.5 percent of California high school graduates and attract world-renowned professors and researchers.

    Some other schools that both UC Davis and UCSD can consider peer institutions in the region are the rest of the UC system, the University of Washington, USC and Stanford University. What some view as a more complete list of UCSD’s peer institutions can be found in the membership directory of the Association of American Universities, “”founded in 1900 to advance the international standing of U.S. research universities.”” The AAU includes schools like Yale, Stanford, Duke and Columbia.

    Though the AAU was founded on academic principles, the athletics programs of its member schools follow a distinct pattern. Only two have Division II athletics programs: UCSD and UC Davis, which is soon to be a Division I school. Of the 62 members of the AAU, over 40 have Division I athletics programs, and a handful of East Coast AAU schools compete at the Division III level.

    With the recent approval of a fee increase by UC Davis students to support the move, the future of the UC Davis athletics program looks all but certain. But what about UCSD’s? Though UCSD has not won a Sears Cup at the Division II level, it has finished in the top four in every year since the program moved up from Division III. UCSD’s enrollment is far larger than the average Division II enrollment — in fact, it’s larger than the average Division I enrollment. And UCSD can hardly consider Cal State Stanislaus or any of the other Cal State schools in its current conference to be peer institutions.

    Through the move to Division II, UCSD has been able to join a conference that provides consistent scheduling, but has much else changed since the days of Division III? Though fan support for UCSD athletics has been much improved since the move up, do fans really care about playing Cal State schools that they have virtually nothing in common with? Is Division II the best division for UCSD’s athletics program?

    Part two: What is the best fit for UCSD athletics? See Dec. 5th’s issue of the Guardian to find answers to this question and others.

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