D-I Athletics: A Lasting Investment


Ladies and gentlemen, pre-meds and comparative literature majors, it’s time for a special election. And while our student body has been less than enthusiastic about campus politics — 25-percent turnout rate, anyone? — this winter’s likely vote is one that everyone should be paying attention to; should it pass, all of us will be paying an additional $165 per quarter for Division I sports as soon as UCSD is accepted into the Big West conference. 

It’s been four years since then-Campuswide Senator (and later 2009-10 President Utsav Gupta) created the Football Feasibility Task Force and started seriously evaluating an underexposed aspect of UCSD: sports. Four presidents, one “student interest” survey and a $20,000 athletic consultant report later, football is still a ridiculously expensive pipe dream, but moving to Division I is just on the horizon. Last night, A.S. Council passed, 27-1-1,  the referendum that would allow students to vote on whether to institute the aforementioned fee; now it’s up to students to weigh the options. 

At the core of this highly divisive issue lie two opposing, and equally true, arguments. One is that UCSD deserves to be in Division I. The other is that UCSD is not a sports school. When it comes to the latter, signs of apathy are apparent at each game, at the continued lack of a football team, at the fact that few students even that our baseball and women’s soccer teams are some of the best in the nation, in D-II. Most students chose the school for the academics or location, not for the possibility of spending evenings crowded into bleachers, and as thus, care little about what we “could be” if we were to make the move. For the student who’s eager to get in, pass linear circuits and get out, paying extra money for “school spirit” and “athletic prestige” simply isn’t worth it.

Not to mention that, in all likelihood, there’ll be little increase in this famed and elusive “school spirit” that UCSD is notorious for lacking. Unlike the temptation of a football team, a move to D-II does not provide anything concretely new that supporters can rally behind. Hordes of students are unlikely to start showing up  to games simply because the Roman numeral next to our ranking has changed, especially because we’ll be going from wins to losses for the first few seasons. Not to mention that the national radar of sports — and the corresponding alumni donations — are focused so heavily on football that there’s no guarantee that an overall move will rake in the cash. 

But despite all this, the university has already outstayed its welcome in the Division II California College Athletic Association division and the natural progression calls for us to move. Since we moved to Division II a decade ago, we’ve been the only UC school in the division other than Merced, and we’re evolving so quickly that our statistics don’t match with our competition. According to the 2010 Feasibility Study commissioned by A.S. Council, which cites 2008 enrollment figures, both our enrollment and our academic scores paint us as the odd one out.  Our current competitors in the CCAAs are mostly Cal States; the CCAA average enrollment is 15,000 undergraduates, while we have nearly double that at 28,000. Academically, the numbers are even more telling; the average 75th percentile verbal SAT score for CCAA is 528 — UCSD’s is 660. For math: 542. UCSD: 710. 

Over time, a stronger sports program will bring the much-hoped-for prestige. There’s even a term for this phenomenon: the Flutie effect, named after Boston College’s Doug Flutie, whose 1984 football pass created an increase in applications to the university in the next year. Two University of Virginia researchers conducted a 2008 study showing that the effect is quantifiable; schools that make it to the Sweet 16 in men’s basketball see a 3-percent boost in applications the following year, while the champion is likely to see a 7- to 8-percent increase and simply making the 65-team field will cause a 1-percent bump. 

Our team won’t be making it to the Sweet 16 anytime soon; in fact, sports teams are unable to compete in national tournaments for at least a year after making the move. But given time and dedication, a strong sports program will mean not only increased alumni donations, but increased applications, lower admit rates and a prestige that will lend value to degrees retroactively, even if UCSD is currently known primarily as being a pre-med factory. 

Investing in Division-I is an investment for the university holistically. The class that passes this referendum and begins paying is the class that suffers most because of the time it takes for our teams to become competitive in their new division. And there’s no doubt that now is not a good time to raise student fees — but there will never be a good time. UC President Mark G. Yudof has vowed to ask the state for more funding, all while acknowledging that it’s more of a “wishlist” than a demand. Barring enormous political change, there will likely be little foreseeable change in the California economy in the next few years, save for it becoming worse. 

Those who like the idea of UCSD in Division I, just “not now,” can still take a breath. Even if the referendum passes, the fees will not go into effect until UCSD is accepted by the Big West Conference and — considering we were just rejected last year in favor of Hawaii  — the change isn’t exactly imminent. Ultimately, it’s important enough that the students be able to decide. Any referendum placed on a ballot suffers from the bias of being likely to pass due to low turnout rates, so it’s doubly important now that everyone votes.

This is an issue of what UCSD is versus what it could be —  the move needs to happen for UCSD to continue evolving, and there needs to be a class that pushes for it and takes the hit for long-term gain.

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