We Need to Go All in With Move to Division I

For those of us in sports, our alma maters remind us of our crazy college days, and give us pride as we attend blue-gold games and homecomings and check up on how our old teams are doing. My dad, a UC Riverside basketball and track star, still keeps up with his teams no matter how bad they are, and wears his old jerseys around the house on Saturdays.

For him, it’s really cool to see his school in the NCAA Division I when it used to be a Division-II school that competed in the CCAA — the same conference as UCSD. I now find myself in a position similar to my father’s. UCSD has the opportunity to go D-I — but at what cost?

Let’s review the situation. For nostalgic purposes, seeing your school in a D-I conference, most likely the Big West, will give you a huge boost in pride and might also help make your alma mater more recognizable on a job application. But there are also some issues that the new initiative has brought up that I urge you to consider.

The Division-I feasibility study released in March, as we knew was likely, nixed football altogether. In today’s economy, the exorbitant budget required for football would call the student body to riot. Further, that amount of money would smother every other sports team and kill our proud athletic program. To be blunt, football is not a reality now or in the next 50 years. Sorry.

The funding for Division I is the biggest issue at stake. There are three options on the table: Go D-I fully funded, go D-I with partial funding, or stay D-II.

Fully funded across-the-board D-I would mean that each team we have gets its full amount of scholarship money through the student body. Right now, UCSD is competitive in D-II, with only $260,000 in scholarships. The recommended increase is around $3.3 million according to the report, which is taking the second option of partial funding.

The main ball sports, such as basketball and baseball, would receive massive boosts in scholarship money, while other sports would receive only modest gains. This means that rather than the 12.6 and 18 scholarships the track & field program could have — the maximum amount allowed by the NCAA for men’s and women’s teams, respectively — it would only receive 1.5 and 2.  In contrast, baseball would move from its current 0.88 scholarships to 11, and both men’s and women’s basketball would move to the maximum amount.

There are 40 or more members on a track team, and that’s not including cross country, which shares these small scholarships. Every sport but the main ball sports would be underfunded, and staying D-II for these teams would be more beneficial than going D-I with only partial funding.

Purely from the athletic side, we need to go D-I fully funded or not at all —  for the integrity of our history of athletic performance and our dignity, as a partially funded program will not give us the results we are looking for.

In the Big West, we will be competing against schools that can get athletes in who are not on academic par with the rest of the student body. UCSD won’t compromise in this area, and I cannot blame them. But what this means is that we will be trying to take athletes away from institutions such as Stanford and Berkeley. The fully-funded sports will be able to do this, or at least have a fighting chance.

UCSD’s academic reputation is rising, and our teams would doubtless rise to meet the challenge. We did it in our move from D-III to D-II in 2000. In track, we became the best in the CCAA year after year, winning multiple conference titles. Our baseball team has made several NCAA College World Series appearances. Our women’s track team has placed third nationally, while the baseball team finished second just last season.

These feats are outstanding. Our success is widespread, with good coaching that makes skill sports excel with our highly intellegent athletes. We could do this in D-I, but we need the scholarships to do so.

This is because there is a huge leap in athleticism from D-II to D-I. The athletes at the D-I level are simply freaks. You know UCSD athletes and you know San Diego State athletes. Take a second and compare the athletic talent on the SDSU basketball team with the talent on ours. Don’t get me wrong: our team is technically superb, but they’re not throwing alley-oops to our point guard on a nightly basis.

In track and field, the women’s team from last year would have been fifth in the Big West. The men’s team would be dead last. In the CCAA, the team was second in both genders. But, that was the best women’s team and best men’s team in our history, without question. To put our program in the Big West without the scholarships we need would be suicide for many teams. We would still have a few good athletes every now and then, but the base would still be technically adept athletes, and we would have to resign ourselves from getting serious athletes that can get better scholarship from a school such as UCLA or Stanford.

So which would you rather see? Do you want a half-done D-I program, a la UC Riverside or UC Santa Barbara? Do you want a terrifying program that truly defines sports in the NCAA, as seen at UCLA or Cal? You, the student, need to speak up for full funding for all sports, or no move to D-I at all.

You can speak with your words to the administration and to incoming A.S. Council President Alyssa Wing. Next fall, you can speak louder by approving a small increase in student fees that could make our D-II tradition of winning translate into D-I dominance. The exact dollar amount hasn’t yet been decided, so it is imperative to fight for full funding to be on the ballot. Otherwise, we are wasting our time.

Speak up, be loud, be proud and push Triton Athletics toward the program you want to see in 10 years or 20 years. Then you can give a proud answer when your kids ask, “Hey dad, mom, didn’t you go to UCSD?” when they see our teams beating Stanford, UCLA, Berkeley, Texas and USC into the ground.