A Leap Too Far

Despite all the discussion surrounding moving UCSD to Division I, in the midst of a budget crisis when libraries are closing and professors are being laid off, this is no time to talk athletics.

Student activism pushed UCSD into Division II 10 years ago, and students should be once again commended for raising enthusiasm for the move to Division I. And statistically speaking, UCSD would better fit D-I than D-II: With almost 24,000 undergrads, UCSD is incredibly large for a D-II school, which typically has around 3,000 students. Additionally, our sports conference, the California Collegiate Athletics Association, has much lower average SAT/ACT scores than UCSD.

So we look like a D-I school, but despite the fact many of our teams compete against Division I, and that our baseball team is at the top of Division II, as a D-II school there will always be fewer fans. With fewer fans and less enthusiasm for sports teams, athletics on this campus isn’t much of a priority. Consequently, the university has never seen a reason to make sports programs a budgetary priority, which  means the athletics department depends on student fees for athletic scholarships (and basically all other necessary funding.)

According to an A.S. Council and Athletics Department-sponsored study, the athletics program needs an additional $4.8 million by the 2012-13 academic year to move to D-I. And in the absence of outside sponsors at a university already taking cuts, there’s only one place to find that money: the students.

While students were indeed the impetus for moving to D-II in the past and also for D-I now, the cost of moving to D-I is, to put it plainly, unreasonably high for the time being. According to the study, for the university to make the move, student fees need to be increased by an estimated 50 percent from $120 per student per quarter to $180 per student per quarter — or $540 per student per year.

Moving to Division-I means that instead of paying athletics $260,000 in aid, we’d be required to increase the budget by nearly $3.3 million to $3,666,293.

While raising fees for D-I would actually give us a new product for our fees — instead of having our tuition raised for a deteriorating education — voluntarily raising fees for athletics while guilting the regents for not prioritizing students’ finances is more than a little hypocritical.

As little as a few years ago, raising that amount of money might not have been too much to balk at. But when students are already paying more money for less, and both state and federal funding is being hacked to shreds, the time is not right.

Money matters aside, it’s possible that UCSD students won’t even have the chance to vote on whether they want to move to Division I. The only feasible conference to join is Big West Conference, which houses the other UC D-I schools (except for Cal and UCLA, which are in the more exclusive Pac-10).

But there’s no guarantee the Big West Conference will allow UCSD into its sphere. After two separate four-year moratoriums, Big West and NCAA recently opened applications to allow new schools to enter their D-I conference; both UCSD and University of Hawaii expressed interest, but the Big West opted to add only University of Hawaii in 2012. Should Big West refuse to extend an invitation to UCSD, all bets are off, and no amount of student fees will be enough to move us to D-I.

There’s no doubt that UCSD deserves to be in Division-I. But the university is already struggling with a budget crisis that has already increased student fees by 40 percent over the past two academic years. CLICS is slated to close next year, and the UCSD Medical Hospital is closing on April 1.

Currently, students pay a $120 quarterly fee for the athletic department, and our contribution makes up $6.9 million of the department’s total $7.3 million. While student activism efforts like this one are always laudable, when UCSD’s athletic’s department requires more money than students can provide, their constant reliance on students becomes a problem.

It would be a different story if the university did, in fact budget athletics, at this point, hoping for that they’ll be able to squeeze out another $12.1 million a year is little more than a pipe dream.

Which poses the question: If not now, then when? While it’s a shame for our athletes to be confined to Division-II, students should prioritize the absolute necessities.

When libraries are closing and professors are being laid off, extending our athletics — no matter how deserving — is not the best option. What we can do, however, is look for alternatives. Our go-to solution shouldn’t be to pass a referendum to raise student fees.

Instead, A.S. Council should form a committee to see why our athletics department is almost solely funded by student fees and see if it’s at all feasible to work the bulk of the costs into the university’s budget.

Maybe it’s not possible, but at least we would have the knowledge that we’ve exhausted every other option before turning to the students for more funds.