By Phil Dailey
Remain in the same small pond or go swimming in the big ocean, that’s what is at stake for the UC San Diego Athletic department in the coming weeks.
Starting on Feb. 27, students at UCSD will vote whether or not the athletic department should move up from Division II to Division I in all sports. Currently, the men’s and women’s water polo teams, as well as the men’s volleyball team, compete at the Division I level. The school’s other 20 athletic teams, however, do not compete at the highest level of collegiate sports.
The voting for the students is open until March 6 and with a majority of yes votes, would allow the Tritons to move forward, likely with an invitation to join the Big West Conference.
A majority of no votes would mean the idea would be shelved.
Though the first initiative to move to Division I came from students during the 2009-10 school year, particularly from Associated Students president Utsav Gupta, it’s some students on campus today who have concern for the move.
The UC system’s athletic programs
In total, there are 10 schools included in the University of California system, and of the 10, six are Division I schools — UC Davis, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, UCLA and UC Berkeley.
The four that are not are UC San Diego (Division II), UC Santa Cruz (Division III), UC Merced (started in 2005, NAIA) and UC San Francisco (no sports).
Ideally, UC San Diego’s athletic department wants to fit in with schools such as Davis, Irvine and Santa Barbara — not only Division I schools and members of the Big West Conference, but like UCSD, they are also in the select company of the Association of American Universities.
“When we are talking about moving to Division I, we are talking about competing with like institutions,” said UCSD athletic director Earl Edwards. “We should be in the same conference with those schools.
“It would put us in line with other major research institutions in the country that compete at the Division I level.”
Why make the move?
UC San Diego is the largest Division II institution in the country.
Currently, there are 302 Division II schools with an average enrollment around 4,500. Most all of the DII schools are small public colleges or universities (52 percent) or private institutions (48 percent). UC San Diego is neither a small public schools (with an enrollment of nearly 30,000) nor private.
Not only is UC San Diego the largest DII school in the nation, there are only six other DII schools that have an enrollment of more than 15,000. In fact, 244 schools have an enrollment of less than 7,500 students.
When comparing UC San Diego’s number of interscholastic sports, that too is way above average for DII. The Tritons have 23 NCAA sports, while the average DII institution only has 14.
According to Athletics Staffing and Consulting, the firm that produced a feasibility study on UCSD’s potential move, it concluded that the school does no fit the profile of an average Division II institution, but in fact is more in line with the profile of a Division I university.
No football will be added
If UC San Diego does move to Division I, it would not add a football program. The cost of starting a football program would add a cost of as much as $33 million just in facility costs.
Another reason that football would likely not happen at UCSD is that it would make the university non-compliant in with Title IX guidelines. Adding 100 male athletes to one sport would offset the balance that is required by the NCAA for gender equity.
Why not make the move?
The biggest hurdle that stands in the way of UCSD moving forward is how to finance it. The vote that takes place Feb. 27 to March 6 is one that will give the go-ahead to increase student fees for undergraduates. The current fee is $119.78 per student per quarter. The proposed referendum calls for an increase of $165 to bring the student fee to $284.78 per quarter. With the increase in student’s fees, UCSD would generate approximately $11 million in revenue for the move to Division I.
The most recent athletic budget on record at UCSD (2010-11 academic year) was nearly $7.5 million. In order to get on par with other Big West Conference schools, UCSD needs to have a budget in the range of $12-$14 million. In the feasibility report by Athletics Staffing and Consulting, it recommended to reach that level, an increase in student fees by a ‘minimum’ of 50 percent is needed. An increase of 138 percent is likely to be on the referendum to be voted on by students. There is a difference of about $8 million between what Athletics Staffing and Consulting suggests.
“Our current budget is around $7 million,” Edwards said. “The student vote would bring it to $16 million.”
The most alarming concern for students, according to Samson Mai, a Muir College representative who sits on the student fee advisory committee, is the drastic hike in student fees. That, and the lack of support community-wide for the move to Division I.
“The La Jolla community is not that adamant on the move to Division I,” Mai said.
The increase in fees is also a concern for Edwards, who said “The only (downside) is that it’s a heavy burden on the students.”
If ‘yes’ vote, what next?
With an approval, UC San Diego would next have to find a place to play, which would be in the Big West Conference. Current members of the Big West include: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge, Long Beach State, Pacific, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara. However, there will be two new additions to the conference as Hawaii (2012) and San Diego State (2013) will join the league in all sports but football.
UC San Diego will have to apply to the conference and if approved, would likely make the move in the fall of 2014. In total, the conference would have 12 members with one private school (Pacific) and one non-California school (Hawaii).
If the vote is a yes, the fee for the students would go into effect for the 2013-14 calendar year.
If ‘no’ vote, what next?
Edwards said for all intents and purposes the pending move would come to a halt. Without the approval of the students, and more so, the approval of a considerable increase in student fees, there would be no way to raise the money necessary to make the move to Division I.
“I don’t really see a downside in the sense of, we will still keep our foundation, which is to make sure our student athletes are outstanding students first and athletes second,” Edwards said. “We are not looking to change those standards.”