D-I sports not right for UCSD

In a recently released report, the NCAA found that nearly 50 percent of Division I schools have at least one sports program that fails to graduate even 50 percent of its student-athletes, with the worst offenders being men’s basketball and football. In an era when CBS is paying the NCAA $6 billion for the broadcast rights to March Madness and major conferences are receiving payouts of nearly $20 million for placing teams in the BCS bowls, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that college sports have become more about the dollars than love of the game.

Eugene Wu

And of course, to get at this embarrassment of riches, universities — even public ones — are pouring more and more money into their athletic departments. The University of Texas, one of the top public universities academically, recently completed a $50 million renovation of its basketball arena. The University of Florida, a basketball and football powerhouse, opened a $10 million practice facility for its basketball team in 2001. Not even its main facility, mind you — its practice facility.

Granted, the money likely comes from boosters and alumni who would probably not donate to academics anyway, but as the NCAA report shows, the cost is more than financial. The top football and basketball recruits needed to build a successful program are no longer making even a pretense of being in school for an education; they see college as a steppingstone to the pros. If UCSD were to have a successful Division I football or basketball program, it would have to sacrifice its academic standards to get the players needed to build a winner — and those players would see UCSD as nothing more than a means to a big payday. Even worse, many of these recruits commit to schools based not on the school or the coach or the program, but simply based on how much money or how many under-the-table benefits the school is willing to provide.

Duke University’s men’s basketball program, supposedly as squeaky-clean as they come, was implicated in a recruiting scandal in 2004 when it was discovered that former player Corey Maggette had received illegal payments from agents while supposedly still an “amateur.” A simple Google search for “NCAA recruiting violations” returns 35,600 results. We might as well hire people to put on UCSD jerseys and play for us. College athletics are not meant to be like that. College sports are supposed to be about rooting for a group of your peers who represent your school, not rooting for the best players your school’s money can buy.

And all the additional alumni donations that would supposedly result from a big-time athletics program? How much of them would go to students, and how much would go to the multimillion-dollar facilities, coaches and “incentives” needed to compete?

It’s easy to point at UCSD’s lack of an exciting athletics program as the reason UCSD supposedly lacks school spirit or has a low alumni donation rate. Of course, the school with the nation’s largest endowment, Harvard University, also lacks a glitzy athletics program. Of the top five schools in Princeton Review’s “Happiest Students” ranking, only one (Stanford) has a high-profile athletics program.

Sure, it would be fun to see the UCSD Tritons in March Madness or go to the Rose Bowl to root for a Triton football team. But when you get right down to it, that wouldn’t be too different from going to a Lakers game because you’re from Los Angeles or a 49ers game because you’re from San Francisco. Having the school spend millions of dollars and a lot of effort to essentially hire pro teams to play for UCSD would be a fool’s errand.