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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Guest Opinion: Aggie Athletics

“My intention is to review the input you provide, and then set a course for achieving excellence in our program and our student-athletes.”

With that statement Chancellor Katehi recently declared her intent to decide the future of Aggie Athletics. She’s hiring a new Athletic Director, so she’s decided that the very nature of the program is up for grabs. Her grabs. Oh, and that she considers neither Aggie Athletics nor Aggie student-athletes “excellent” now.

It turns out there are very good reasons why Aggie Athletics is the way it is and why Aggie student-athletes are nothing short of amazing. There’s even a name for it: The Davis Way. It’s the real source of Aggie Pride. It’s what makes UC Davis unique and why it won six Director’s Cups at the D2 level. It’s about doing college sports in a principled, values-based way that is almost unheard of in D1. It’s based on an “educational model” and remembering that athletes are students first. It’s what the Ivy League does. It’s what Stanford does (albeit with a much larger budget). But almost no other schools you have ever heard of. Everybody else is going for the gold. Everybody else plays the lottery. College sports are a terrific thing, but like even a good drug, it can be abused. And abuse is rampant in big time sports where money and egos hold sway over values and principles.

In 2010 the chancellor argued that fiscal sustainability required that four important sports be dropped –– and she got away with it.  Where is her fiscal sustainability argument this year? What’s sustainable about needing to double or triple spending on Athletics? How much will it cost to add at least 30K seats to Aggie stadium? When the NCAA caves to pressure to pay big time college athletes actual salaries in addition to scholarships, what will UC Davis do then? We’ll have to “remain competitive,” won’t we? If any of this were ever about fiscal sustainability it would be ludicrous to even consider going “big time”. All but a few D1 schools bleed money through their athletic departments. Thus, her very proposition amounts to an admission that this has nothing to do with fiscal sustainability. It’s about money (yours) and it’s about ego (hers).

Whose program is ICA anyway? Who’s paying for it? According to the recently completed UC Davis Athletics Strategic Audit, the students are directly responsible for $19M of the $22M annual ICA budget. And of that $19M, $16M is based on voluntarily self-taxation (SASI, CEI, FACE initiatives). The annual cash flow provided by ASUCD is equivalent to a nearly $400M endowment. ASUCD is the largest donor UC Davis Athletics will ever know. In your four years at UCD, you’ll contribute over $2,400 to ICA. Do you want that investment to continue to enrich your university and enhance its reputation as a principled leader, as did your predecessors? Or are you OK with your family going further into debt to subsidize the farm systems of the NFL and NBA?

Webster’s defines “piracy” as “the unauthorized use of another’s production, invention or conception.”  What the university community has been experiencing for nearly two years now is nothing short of piracy. Allow this administration an opportunity to reconstitute ICA and the program we know and cherish will cease to exist. The pressure put on football and basketball to win and be profitable will be unrealistic and unfair. It will put good people in bad situations. Expectations of additional fundraising will be irrational, and when those efforts come up short, many more sports will be cut. It will end up looking like our failure, not hers.

Don’t be fooled by those who say this is just about choosing an AD. Don’t accept that this has anything to do with achieving true excellence. And it’s not about going back to D2, either. It’s about doing D1 right. The Davis Way.

Get informed. Get involved. Know where your money goes and accept nothing less than full transparency and accountability. It’s your program, it’s your house and it’s your turn to defend it.


  1. Is every department on campus funded with the same amount of money? Students should be excited about a new model for the athletic department. Currently he department is operating with heir hands tied behind their backs. Professor go out and apply for grants to help further their research, but athletics has to rely on student funds. Why the double standard?

    The next AD needs to be a very good fundraiser. Shake hands and kiss babies and get companies and donors to write checks.

  2. We aren’t going to “go for the gold”. We aren’t going to “enter the lottery”. We aren’t selling out. We’re providing our athletes with the best possible opportunity to succeed on AND off the field. Our student athletes are here to shine both inside the classroom and on the playing field. Does moving to a business model eliminate that? NO. Not at all. We can keep our high academic standards as well as put talented, prepared teams on the field.

    Duke, Cal, Stanford, Notre Dame, UCLA, USC, Vanderbilt, Michigan, Georgetown, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Boston College. The list of schools ranked above us in the US News College rankings which have top tier D1 athletic programs. Some of these schools have major violations which are shameful to their institution but most of them have a great blend of academic and athletic success. We have the potential to be one of these schools. Will it happen overnight? No. It will take years of building up our athletic department. It will take the support of the faculty, staff, and most importantly, students and alumni.

    Aggie Pride will only grow as our athletic department grows and excels in the Big West/Big Sky and beyond. The ugly truth is that the average college student and alumni cares about football and basketball. They have the highest national exposure and are the sports which are the flagship for top athletic departments. By building up these two programs, we can build up alumni donations, corporate sponsors and ultimately exposure for the entire athletic department.

  3. You know, my model of working for a living isn’t really paying off that well so I’m thinking of just quitting and then winning the lottery. Between quitting and winning the lottery I’ll just live off of, um, oh well I’ll figure it out later.

    This opinion and issue at large is about critical thinking of the subject. Where would the money come from to adopt a new model for athletics? By cutting additional sports teams? By cutting PE classes? Those savings would amount to pocket change compared with the costs to expand/build new stadiums. And in the interim of possibly a decade or more before money can be generated internally (assuming it ever could), the students then still get to pay the full price for an athletics program that’s a fraction of the size it was only a few years ago?

    UCD Athletics must indeed make some changes- internally and externally, but those changes do not need to come through major shifts (i.e., trashing the “Davis way”) that have uncertain outcomes.

  4. Simply stated, the “Davis way” and the educational model at UC Davis are not working.

    Students should not have to be paying upwards of 70% of the UC Davis Athletics budget only to have a lack of pride in their teams. By adopting a new model, the money will be generated internally, taking the burden away from the students.

    Placing more of an emphasis on UC Davis Athletics will not only increase the department’s own standard of excellence and the expectations of others on the department, but will also ensure that UC Davis is excellent both on and on the field. UC Davis students and alumni are aching to be proud of their teams. Just competiting is not enough. Just getting on the same field as Cal, Stanford, and UCLA is not enough when halfway through the game Aggie fans are covering up their shirts. Our student athletes want the opportunity to not only compete, but also to be competitive in have the chance to win. The current model does not allow our student-athletes to do that and it is at the students’ expense.


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