Pictured above: San Diego State vs UC Riverside -Photo credit to Dirk Hansen aka SD Dirk

I don’t claim that SDSU is a better school than we are because they have a Division 1 Basketball team. But I do claim that the games are a lot of fun, and that out in the community SDSU is the by far better known school. I also claim SDSU alumni are more enthusiastic about their alma mater.

One moment characterizes one of the main reasons I’ll be voting yes on the referendum. When mentioning I went to UCSD in Clairemont, San Diego (much closer to UCSD than SDSU) I had numerous people correct me.

“Do you go to University of San Diego?”

“No, I go to University of California San Diego.”

“Ohhh you mean you go to SDSU?”

Technically we're the other school

A photo posted by cindy l huang (@cindaalynn) on

Here Snoop Dogg gets it wrong

This is pretty anecdotal, but I think it has to do with a combination of factors. I think that instituting a Division I athletic program, no matter how dubiously competitive, would help offset this lack of community attention.

Recently Pradeep Khosla, the Chancellor of UCSD tried to explain the difficulty UCSD had has in attracting outside donations. The article also features the choice quote

A degree from UCSD carries a lot of weight. It’s a difficult and challenging school, but it doesn’t foster the college experience. It’s like an island up there.— Slade Fischer, who graduated from UC San Diego in 2006

This article also notes that “Less than 5% of the private donations UC San Diego secured last year came from alumni. The average for colleges nationwide was 28.3%.” This isn’t for no reason, and Associated Students (which I broadly dislike, but agree with on this occasion) may be trying to address this via the Division I referendum.

These image and alumni issues do a good job in framing the argument for UCSD Division I athletics.

I contend:

  1. Competitive athletics are fun and foster student spirit. A team need not be that viable to be fun to attend, but it is pretty demoralizing watching your team get butchered by CSU Stanislaus when you attend a large and fairly prestigious institution. Some of the most fun I’ve had during college has been attending other colleges sports games. I really didn’t anticipate having a great time, but I did, and I think largely the student body doesn’t realize how fun athletics can be. To me, this is in of itself a fairly strong argument.

  2. As Clark Kerr put it, “The three purposes of the University?–To provide sex for the students, sports for the alumni, and parking for the faculty” This witty statement is nonetheless not untrue. UCSD has long struggled with alumni caring, let alone donating. An athletic team that appears vaguely relevant may encourage alumni networking, and caring. This is a broadly good thing.

  3. The community is pretty damn unaware of UCSD. While those in technical industries and admissions boards may not particularly care about D1 athletics directly, and may be familiar with UCSD, those entering fields where UCSD isn’t quite as known, specifically the humanities or business may well be helped by increased name recognition. It works in politics, it potentially and intuitively could work for job applications. Given a candidate from UCLA and UCSD, if you know of UCLA and not of UCSD, intuitively you would take the UCLA candidate. It may be the case that UCSD has a higher ranked program, but they sure as heck don’t know it. I’m not sure the value of this, but it isn’t an argument which can be immediately written off. To rip off Oscar Wilde, and the linked study there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about. UCSD isn’t really discussed by the average person, and while its name recognition and prestige may carry candidates far in certain fields, the average American or Brit is aware of Cal and UCLA and Harvard and Yale. While we have comparably ranked programs, we just don’t have that. Again, D1 sports certainly won’t entirely address this, but it will help raise the UCSD name into the consciousness of those who follow sports. I certainly would hope it would raise the profile of UCSD in the local community.

  4. I think this is the most speculative, and perhaps the most frail argument I put forth. Nonetheless I think it potentially has the largest impact. UCSD still very much has the feeling of a commuter school. A stronger athletics program could help to address that. It’s a small component of a larger climactic vibe. UCSD doesn’t have the sort of latent energy and vibrancy that I feel when at some other campuses of both better and worse schools than UCSD. This has to do some with location, some with enthusiasm, and some with those who choose to enroll. Athletics is correlated with this sort of energy, although I won’t say it’s causal. I also felt this energy when at Cambridge, but over 500 years of history and prestige may be the substitute for them. It certainly isn’t for UCSD. Now I may be unique in feeling this, but although I really do like UCSD this is the one thing which is lacking for me. I think moving closer to other top institutions with sizable sports programs is a reasonable, even prudent move. I’d contend all of the top, well known, prestigious public research universities have D1 sports. Whether it be University of Michigan or Rutgers, these universities have a very different feeling than UCSD. It’s a pretty good feeling, in my book. I will admit on this point I have no concrete evidence, but moving this direction is worthwhile to me. Also worth mentioning is the fact I have no clue about the specifics of Rutgers. I know it’s in New Jersey and they play football. I also get the feeling it’s good, but that’s frankly largely because it’s known. This is illogical, but people aren’t always logical about such things. This lack of school spirit is what causes people to say “I’m a Bruin” or “I’m a Bear”, and people to go “Yeah I went to UCSD. Great school!” People like the school, and think it is good but don’t identify with it per se. If people did, alumni networks could strengthen, improving outcomes for all students.

  5. UCSD having Division I athletics would probably help the applicant pool. As I contend above, very few people go to college thinking “Man, I just can’t bring myself to go somewhere with a Division I program.” However, many people follow college sports and would like to be part of it. Qualified applicants who get into UCSD, but want to participate in such things may choose not to attend. This on the whole makes UCSD admit more, and hence less qualified individuals. It also means that given a choice between Davis and UCSD, Davis has the edge in this department for some individuals. While I understand many people at UCSD may not want athletics, in part because they knew going it in wouldn’t have athletics, to say that because members of the current student body are against Division I that all following student bodies would, or ought be, is disingenuous.

Joe Vandal High Fives a Fan Despite far worse academics, a smaller student body, and limited success athletically, students at the University of Idaho thoroughly enjoy their Division I athletic program. Pictured: University of Idaho Mascot Joe Vandal

The costs are sizable and should be taken into account, but arguments which say the money would better be spent elsewhere are weak. We aren’t voting on a referendum to provide students textbooks. We’re voting on a referendum to raise fees that would be earmarked for athletics. We either raise them or we don’t. If you are of the belief that all of these possible benefits aren’t worth the fee, then vote no. But we aren’t voting against some sort of student relief by voting for it.

For me, the combination of the above points leads me to enthusiastically vote yes on the referendum. Although it’s a significant amount of money, I think there is a lot of potential return on investment above and beyond the expanded athletics programs and enjoyment students could get from them.

I will admit, my arguments aren’t bulletproof. D1 does increase student fees. It depends on what one thinks the impacts of Division I athletics will be, and the probabilities of the positive externalities occurring. I personally concluded that the benefits exceed the negatives, and hence I will be voting yes.