On Covering Sports at UC San Diego

To end his final article recapping the 1968–69 sports season at UC San Diego — the first full year of publication for the fledgling Triton Times that is today The UCSD Guardian — sports editor Bob Gorby wrote, “Sportswriting for the Triton Times has been a harrowing experience. When I have had what I considered an important sports story, I would find that there was no room for it. Then when my protests earned me plenty of room in the paper, the Triton sports world would hit a dead week and I would not have enough articles.”

As the editor of a college newspaper sports section during most of a pandemic in which all collegiate sports ground to a halt, and in which my section went from having five writers down to two and back up to five, I’m not sure I’ve related more to anything I’ve read in a newspaper.

Gorby wrote those words during a time of great transition in UCSD sports. Most on campus wanted to avoid big-time athletics and focus on school, as was the vision of founder Roger Revelle. But demand for athletics on campus was growing, and 1968–69 saw the sole, ill-fated winless season of the UCSD football team, which most notably gave California Institute of Technology its first win in four years.

Things are both similar and entirely different today, as UCSD has undergone the transition to Division I, beginning in 2020 and still underway. (In this article’s sole piece of actual sports news, the Big West submitted a waiver to the NCAA this week requesting that the Tritons be allowed to compete in NCAA championships next year instead of the typical four-year reclassification stay on postseason competition.)

We no longer play schools like Sonoma State, California State University, Monterey Bay, and California Polytechnic State University Pomona, having moved up to now compete with the rest of the SoCal UC campuses and (in an exciting but logistically nightmarish twist) the University of Hawaii. It seems that big-time athletics may indeed have arrived in La Jolla, but it certainly has not taken over the academic and research reputation of the school like some feared 50 years ago. Far from it.

Covering this transition has been the focus of the sports section ever since I began writing for it in April 2019, and the move to Division I was one of the most anticipated moments in campus history. This transition, like so much else, was entirely derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. (The men’s basketball team had a particularly bitter end to the 2020 season, as they racked up a historically great 30–1 record and earned a top seed in their final Division II NCAA Tournament, only to have the entire tournament canceled the day before their opening match.)

I have often pitched the appeal of the sports section as we don’t need to come up with article ideas if we don’t want to — tons of Triton games happen every week and we pick a couple to cover. This made for a rough time over the pandemic when those sports stopped entirely, but for me, it offered a chance to think and write about the sociology and culture of sports in ways I never had before, whether it was what injuries say about fans’ relationships with athletes, the aftermath of the Jacob Blake sports strike, sportswashing, or a number of other topics. (I also got to make a pun about a Robert Burns poem in an article about the 2020 World Series. Being your own editor has its perks.) As someone who is generally averse to looking at my past work, I’m surprised to find myself quite proud of nearly all those articles.

As far as I can tell, I’m The Guardian’s active leader in articles written by some distance — this one will be my 75th listed on the website. I’m not sure how many people have read any of them. But I’ve also learned that if I write for the sports section of a college newspaper in a notoriously sports-averse campus, which can sometimes feel like yelling my hot takes into a jar and throwing them off Scripps Pier, then my validation for what I write needs to come from within.

But I’m probably making this too much about me. If this section is meant for anything, it is to celebrate the athletes and coaches at UCSD, and I hope we’ve done a good job at that. This isn’t a campus where great players are household names (usually, the way I recognize athletes is by seeing their jersey numbers and sports on their school-issued backpacks), but I’ve constantly been astounded by the time and effort our athletes put in to not just compete at a Division I level, but also get a top university education — unlike some other schools, athletes aren’t getting an easy ride at UCSD.

I don’t know whether athletics should be a bigger part of life here, and I’m certainly biased. But I do hope that one day, when we do something like knock off an undefeated No. 1 Hawaii volleyball team or defeat UC Berkeley in basketball, more people around campus are aware and excited about it.

Alas, dear reader, I have little more space to spare. It boggles the mind that I have been allowed this space, with color images, on the back of a real newspaper for so long. I’m a data science major, and I will probably do math and write code for a living for the rest of my life. Having this space to write and be creative has meant the world to me. I’m still going to be a UCSD grad student for the next two years, so you might see my byline on this page again. But only when I feel like it.

In 1969, Gorby ended his article with the following, and I will not pretend to have anything better to say: “Under the friendly, capable hands of the people in the UCSD Athletic Department I am sure the Triton athletics will always be a worthwhile experience and that the program will never far[e] wrong.” If you’re the editor of the Guardian sports section 53 years from now — the only person who will probably relate to any of this — I hope those words still ring true for you. I also hope the Padres have finally won that World Series.

Image courtesy of Steven Calista / UC San Diego Athletics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *