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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Editorial: Take a stance

On Wednesday, UC Davis held its first of four open forums that will allow students, faculty, alumni and members of the public to get to know finalists for the position of athletics director. While we most likely won’t know who Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi selects until after commencement, the new athletics director will have a tough task ahead, and will need to be decisive in the way they handle the position.

The purpose of collegiate athletics is to provide entertainment to the student body and to promote school spirit — something that Aggie teams have struggled to provide over the last few years. This needs to change. Since UC Davis began the move to Division I athletics in 2002, the University has placed itself in an unrealistic position that is the basic equivalent of athletic purgatory.

UC Davis has 23 sports programs, all of which receive funding from student fees, despite the fact that only a few of them have the potential to generate any revenue whatsoever, let alone break even. The result has been largely mediocre teams in major sports programs such as men’s basketball and football, which has been reflected in the lack of student attendance at games.

Students passed a fee referendum in 2002 to fund athletics as UC Davis began the move to Division I. Presumably, this was approved with the expectation that Aggie athletics would improve over the years. Instead, the athletic department has stagnated. As the main financial backing for the athletic programs, students should be able to get something out of them.

With this in mind, UC Davis has two options.

The first is to give up the dream of becoming a major athletic power and return to Division II. UC Davis was highly successful at the Division II level, winning national championships in multiple sports as well as Director’s Cups. This move would allow UC Davis to drop the student fees, and might even improve the school spirit as Aggie teams begin to win, even if it is at a lower level of competition. Still, Katehi has made it clear that the University will not consider a move backward, and it seems highly unlikely that any of the current athletics director candidates would be willing to take that step back either.

That leaves the remaining option of shifting funding to so called “revenue producing sports.” UC Davis currently spends more money on athletics than any other school in the Big West Conference, but due to the excessive number of sports, it pays among the lowest number of dollars per student-athlete. Furthermore, UC Davis has access to a largely untapped market for sports in the greater Sacramento area, and strong sports, if managed and advertised effectively, should ultimately be able to draw in enough money to significantly diminish – if not remove altogether – the need for student fees to fund athletics.

The unfortunate consequence is that in order to reach an appropriate funding level, UC Davis would most likely have to cut sports. While this is clearly a very serious and painful cutback for those involved in these sports, the overall impact would not be felt by the campus as a whole, as less popular sports do not receive much attention from students, no matter how successful they may be.

So whoever the new athletics director may be, we request that they make a firm decision immediately upon taking office, so that we can move out of athletic purgatory instead of being forced to relive this debate again in a year or two.


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