Take a Note From Brutal ‘Sonicsgate’ Fiasco

    When I first stepped foot on UCSD’s campus over three years ago as a freshman, I was — like most first-years — pretty fucking scared. Traveling 500 miles and leaving behind family and friends was definitely daunting at first. Up there pretty high on the list of concerns, as well, was this pressing question: What kind of university doesn’t have a football team?

    And how was I supposed to survive here without one?

    Within my first month here, I emphatically joined the “Bring UCSD a Football Team!” Facebook group and piped in on every conversation I came across between other dismayed undergrads, contributing misinformed comments about how easy it would be to get a team, considering the apparently high interest.

    Now, after brushing up on some Title IX details and finding out exactly what it would take to get a team, let’s just say I’m a lot less optimistic. No matter how much people want a football team, there are just too many things working against the perks.

    Last month, a new documentary showed me how little the passion of fans matter to the head honchos of the sports industry. It covered the brutal side of sports business, the one that average fans remain unaware of, telling the tale of an amazing city that had its historic franchise taken away by greed and deceit.

    Fittingly, it has a pretty dramatic title: “Sonicsgate.”

    After setting several attendance records and making it to the NBA finals with Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton leading the way, the Sonics’ owner sold the team to Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz in 2001. With seemingly good intentions, Schultz oversaw the team during its descent to the bottom of the standings.

    Then, fed up with the Sonics’ poor performance and slim profits, Schultz sold the squad to a group of investors led by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett, stating that he was certain the team would stay in Seattle.

    Long story short, e-mails leaked out confirming that Bennett bought the team in hopes the Sonics would move to his hometown, and never intended to keep them in Seattle. Schultz obviously did not care about keeping the franchise in Seattle, content with sipping on his coffee and raking in the Star bucks. With no support from elected city and county officials, the fans’ chants of “Save Our Sonics” were ignored.

    Watching the Sonics franchise get systematically destroyed for two hours — a feat which actually spanned decades of history — I came to a conclusion that will break the hearts of any sports fan: We don’t have any real power over the teams we love, closely follow or even live and die by.

    OK — that’s not completely true. In 1993, a group of investors were ready to throw down some money, pack up the San Francisco Giants and move them out to Tampa Bay. The city rallied around the team and Major League Baseball blocked the move, keeping the Giants in NorCal.

    But that was in the ’90s, back when people had jobs and happiness wasn’t such a rare commodity. Unfortunately for Seattle, the issue with the Sonics played out a little bit differently.

    As alarming as Seattle’s sleazeball owner was, I was just as shocked at how many fans had taken for granted the fact that the Sonics would be in Seattle forever, not bothering to come to games or express their dissatisfaction with the front office. Once they realized the Sonics might actually leave, they grouped together and rallied to keep the team in Seattle — a gesture that was ultimately too little too late.

    So yeah, the documentary proved to be a real downer on several levels. I learned that professional sports is an industry based on money, with little regard for loyalty. And I found out that owners can get away with lying to an entire city without paying the consequences — as long as they have an extra-friendly relationship with the commissioner.

    More importantly, I learned we should cherish the teams we do have while we still have them.

    No, UCSD doesn’t have a football team, and probably never will. And yes, we currently compete in Division-II while most schools our size are in Division-I. But we still have teams that we can provide us with exciting memories. We just have to go to their games and stop complaining about what we don’t have, because you never know when you might become victim of a scandal as treacherous as “Sonicsgate.”

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