Sweeping change has been proposed to the UC Davis Athletics Department.
As part of the university’s continuing search for a new Athletic Director, the Chancellor’s office sponsored the release of an analysis completed on Oct. 5 regarding the future of the athletic department.
The Dempsey Report
The so-called Dempsey Report (named for Cedric Dempsey, former NCAA commissioner and head of the commission doing the analysis) recommended radical change, beginning as soon as possible.
Dempsey’s research developed four models for the future of UC Davis athletics. The first is to remain at the status quo, maintaining the athletics department as presently constituted.
While Dempsey acknowledges this model as a possibility, he recommends against it – instead pressing for models that he feels will lead to the growth of UC Davis as an athletic power.
His other three models stress the move of UC Davis away from an “educational model” and toward a “business model.” The three proposals outline strategies for UC Davis to dominate the Big West Conference (the conference most UC Davis sports currently compete in), compete at the level of the more prestigious Mountain West Conference or to compete at the level of the Pacific 12 Conference, considered by many to be one of the most powerful conferences in the nation.
Each of these three proposals requires that UC Davis redistribute the money spent in the athletics department. The report cites that UC Davis spent over 21 million dollars on athletics last season, a number that exceeds other institutions in the Big West, and is just nine million behind most universities in the Mountain West. As the report points out, however, due to UC Davis’ 23 sports programs (well above the NCAA Division I requirement of 14) UC Davis spends just under $30,000 per student-athlete, well below other comparable institutions.
Dempsey sees an increase in per-athlete spending as the ideal method for reaching any of these three proposals.
In order to reach this level of spending, all three methods would require UC Davis to cut an additional five sports – dropping the total number to 18.
Further, UC Davis would be required to focus its spending on large sports such as football and basketball, by allocating fewer funds to smaller sports.
Finally, the Dempsey Report insists that UC Davis must increase the capacity of its sports facilities in order to continue building revenue for the athletics department. The report suggests that UC Davis add another 10,000 to 42,000 seats to the football stadium, and between 2,500 and 5,000 seats to the Pavilion, depending on the proposal.
While UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi has stressed that this report is only meant to be a guide for the commission tasked with advising the chancellor on hiring a new athletic director, some people with knowledge of the situation take a much more cynical view.
“When you pick a consultant,” said former chair of the UC Davis Academic Senate Dan Simmons, “you pick the person who is going to give you the advice you were looking for.”
Indeed the Dempsey Report came under intense fire at Thursday’s town-hall meeting held to discuss the proposals.
The vast majority of speakers came out vehemently against the Dempsey Report, citing a variety of issues.
One of the main concerns raised was the lack of student involvement.
Opponents argued that when UC Davis chose to move to Division I in 2003 the students were heavily consulted, and the student body voted in favor of the move – even agreeing to accept an increase in student fees in order to facilitate the transfer. But this time, student opinions were not being considered, and very few students attended the town hall meeting.
Furthermore, according to a USA Today survey, more than 61 percent of the UC Davis athletics budget came directly from student fees. That contrasts with less than 30 percent at Cal Poly and Sacramento State.
“I am concerned that not enough student involvement has taken place on this issue,” said graduate student Erik Loboschefsky, who was an undergraduate at UC Davis during the transition to Division I. “Given that these issues are highly relevant to all students on campus, I am concerned that not enough even know what’s going on.”
Beyond that, opponents also expressed concern regarding the Eight Core Principles – a set of rules meant to limit UC Davis athletics in the move to Division I and to ensure that things were done in the “Davis way.”
The Eight Core Principles (known as the Inviolate Principles when they were created in 2003) are seen by many as one of the main reasons that UC Davis students and faculty agreed to make the transition to Division I.
The cutting of four sports in 2010 was a violation of the fifth principle which states that UC Davis will seek not to cut sports, but instead to add them, and some fear that the principles could be thrown away completely.
Indeed the Dempsey Report calls for UC Davis to “evaluate and adjust the Eight Principles to more closely coincide with Division I… philosophies and practices.”
It even goes so far as to suggest that four of the principles could be done away with, stating “principles 3, 5, 6 and 7 contradict the philosophy of Division I institutions.”
Others took a less favorable view of revising the core principles.
“The core principles were a key part of the students voting in favor of the move to Division I,” Loboschefsky said. “We need to make sure that we consult the students before we remove them.”
The Chancellor’s office has also come under criticism for its handling of the Athletic Director search.
The panel tasked with advising Katehi features two alumni donors, both of whom are known for contributing large sums of money to UC Davis football. Skeptics believe this shows the direction that Katehi wants to take the program, and provides a clear bias in the commission’s opinion.
Vice Chancellor Fred Wood, a member of the advising committee, however, was quick to point out that while both donors are directly connected to the football program, they have also donated to academic programs at UC Davis, and Wood claims they have the best interests of all athletic programs at heart.
Further, criticism has stemmed from what some perceive as the university’s rush to choose a new athletics director.
Wood has repeatedly stated that he believes that the decision will be made by the end of 2011, pointing out the advantages of making a choice as soon as possible in order to have someone on top directing the program.
Critics, on the other hand, point out that the decision to move to Division I was made over the course of a year, allowing students, faculty and administration to adequately inform themselves on the issues.
By contrast, this decision will be made in just a few months.
“To have this all done by the end of the calendar year, it seems really quick,” Loboschefsky said. “I understand that there is a need to move quickly, but to within a short period of time come up with a complete reversal of what UC Davis athletics has stood for decades, it seems a bit ludicrous.”
While this decision will take months, some members in the athletics department believe that change has already begun.
Entering this school year, Wood opted to release a large percentage of the Athletics Administrative Advising Committee (AAAC) – the Administrative Advisory Committee charged with advising the Chancellor’s office on the academic standing and admission of student-athletes.
The turnover included the most senior members of AAAC, including the former chair and the Faculty Athletic Representative (FAR), who is “the main liaison between athletics and the institution.”
Sources close to the situation say that removing the most tenured members was a mistake, because it takes several years to become adequately familiar with the athletics system. These sources also intimated that the Chancellor’s office had opted for change in order to maintain better control of the board, one of whose charges is ensuring that proper channels are followed regarding student athletes’ academic evaluation.
Wood, however, provides a different explanation. He said that Katehi wanted to ensure that all Administrative Advisory Committees received some fresh blood.
“You want to give a broad spectrum of people an opportunity to be a part of the committee,” he said.
Another town hall meeting regarding the search for a new Athletics Director, and the direction of UC Davis athletics as a whole, will be held at 5 p.m. on Oct. 26 at the UC Davis Conference Center.
TREVOR CRAMER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.