When Will the Well Run Dry?

    After the Division I Referendum was shot down with more malice than really warranted in 2011, it may be years before UCSD will even be eligible to make a move to Division I. It may be many more years before we will have a spot in a Division I conference. And then there’s the wait to compete in the postseason, and after that the wait to be competitive in the postseason — and so on and so forth, or so the argument goes.

    I’m not going to dredge up the old back-and-forth, nor open any old wounds for the sake of our athletics department. But even in the light of our 30 national championships and our 1,130 All-Americans, there should be someone to ask the question of how long Division II domination can last.

    There could be many more classes of potential high school seniors before there’s a noticeable impact in the wins column for UCSD. But with the economic downturn making the UC system less and less accessible, the pool of hypothetical athletes will shrink. One thing which will only hasten the effect of the rising price of a UC education on UCSD’s projected performance is the Athletic Department’s refusal to issue athletic scholarships. UCSD remains the only institution competing in Division II not to award grants on the basis of athletic merit. To the credit of UCSD’s student-athletes, this has yet to affect us in competition. We continue to strive despite our inherent disadvantage. ?This phenomenon, how UCSD is able to overperform without the aid of athletic scholarships, is well-documented. Obviously, there are a number of reasons why we’re so successful, amongst which is our sheer size in comparison to other Division II colleges, as well as our ability to attract students from all over California.

    But the major reason why the Tritons are able to outplay other, more well-funded schools is that we have a monopoly on the breed of athlete we attract. Every year, your UCSD student account is inundated with emails with subject lines that remind you of how lucky you are to be enrolled at a university that consistently cracks the top-30 in a number of college rankings. Student-athletes coming to UCSD are those that put academics well ahead of athletics. These are individuals who have ambitions toward graduate school — not becoming professional athletes. That’s an interesting intersection, and it accounts for a very small sliver of the population of potential student-athletes.

    UCSD Athletics has reached an easily disturbable stasis, where the price of attendance is still appealing for this particular type of student-athlete. Something as commonplace as a tuition-hike could easily cut into the number of potential athletes that can afford the price of UC tuition, and aren’t lured to other universities willing to allot scholarship money.

    Fortunately, UCSD is perfectly situated to harvest these individuals. San Diego is in proximity to some of the most wealthy cities in America. Further, the city has a tradition of birthing great athletes — 20 percent of the U.S. 2012 Olympians were either born or live in San Diego, while nine of 24 players on the men’s water polo team hail from San Diego county.

    Looking back on UCSD’s most recent national champions — a Texan who’s currently at USD law, a biology major who transferred from UCSB — both their credentials suggest that coming to UCSD was motivated more by the school’s prestige than the athletics program. The former, a javelin thrower who was offered full-rides at lesser schools in Texas, is the perfect embodiment of the athlete we’re hoping to draw. Someone with the means to pay tuition, someone who’s got the chops to cut it amongst some of the smartest kids in California, as well as someone with the talent to win two back-to-back national championships.

    But there’s always a threshold. In economics, it’s called the willingness to pay — when marginal benefits are no longer greater than marginal costs. Our price of tuition has yet to reach that magic number, but it’s clear that as tuition rises and the economy has yet to reverse itself, we are sure to reach that point some time soon.

    This is not something that’s easily remediable. In fact, the only foreseeable fixes would work counter to driving down the price of attendance — either moving to Division I and (very) slowly building a program that’s self-sustaining or (fingers-crossed) even profitable, or issuing athletic scholarships. In either case, banking on our very large student-body and finding athletes that fit our very specific niche can only work so well for so long.

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