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Davis, California

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Guest Opinion: Playing by the Rules

What is the real value of sports? For me, above all, sports are about respect. Respect for one’s self, one’s teammates, coaches, fans and, yes, one’s opponents. But also respect for the rules. You can change them, but no one gets to simply ignore them.

Did you know that as an undergraduate you pay $650/year extra to fund the Intercollegiate Athletics Department (ICA)? All tolled that comes to $18 million each and every year. It’s the cash flow equivalent of a $400 million endowment. At no other D-1 institution is a self-imposed contribution by students as high. If UC Davis distinguishes itself from the usual approach to D-1, then in my opinion that investment is worth every penny. But it does so only to the extent it complies with the conditions of the 1994 Student Activities and Services Initiative (SASI) and 2003 Campus Expansion Initiative (CEI) ballot initiatives.

Yet since 2010 this administration has not seen fit to respect those conditions. In fact, when mentioned at all they are characterized as being somehow vague, open to interpretation or merely nice sounding goals. They are none of those things.

Consider the following:

Per the CEI they were not to cut entire teams, but they did anyway in spite of ASUCD’s objections.

Per the CEI they were not to value one sport above another, but the guaranteed salaries, incentive bonuses and perks of the new athletic director (AD), football and men’s basketball coaches are a dead giveaway.

Per the SASI they were not to reduce support of the teacher/coach model (the PE program), but in 2010 they slipped away and left you to pick up the tab.

Per the CEI they were not to put undue pressure on coaches and student-athletes to win and fundraise, but they do so anyway. Coaches of so called “non-revenue” sports can be readily dismissed for any such reason under the “at will” clauses in their annual contracts.

Per the CEI they were not to lower academic standards, but they have. In 2007-08 the number of athletes admitted by exception (ABE) was exactly one. By 2011-12 the number had risen to 23.

Despite all this, students continue to pay and Aggie student-athletes continue to do their utterly amazing best balancing top-flight academics and terrific athletic performance. But the stage is set to get even worse. The obvious intent of the administration’s actions is to raise the profile of certain sports so that donations will pour in. This ignores the clear warnings of the Knight Commission on College Sports and the vast body of data which show that most D-1 institutions lose money.

Sure enough, since 2010 program expenses are up and donations are down. To add to the irony, the very teams that were cut, including women’s rowing, men’s swimming and wrestling, were among the most successful on campus. They featured conference champions, national champions, even a U.S. Olympian. We’re told no more sports will be cut, but they’ve already broken that promise. Fool me once, right?  Before anyone can afford to believe them again the teams already cut must be reinstated and paid for by reducing excessive ICA admin spending, which at nearly $5 million/year is more than that of rivals Cal Poly and Sac State combined.

Call it what you will, the students of UC Davis voted to pay for one type of program and this administration now delivers another. It’s like buying a ticket for one destination and being taken somewhere else — with no apology, no refund and no way back.

Fellow Aggies, this is about much more than just sports. It’s about playing by the rules.

Paul Medved

1978 Alumnus


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