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Sunday, August 1, 2021

Eleven years of broken promises, questionable decisions mark jump to Division I

(Pictured: UC Davis student-athletes are in tears outside a press conference on April 16, 2010, as they learn that their teams are among the four cut by UC Davis Intercollegiate Athletics. — Photo courtesy of The Davis Enterprise)

In the last decade, the athletics program at UC Davis has gone through drastic changes. Alumni, community members and students alike are now examining the repercussions of a tumultuous time in the program’s history.

UC Davis is unique in that much of the funding for its athletics program is provided through student fees: 75 percent of UC Davis’ Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA) budget is funded through student fees, amounting to a student contribution of approximately $18 million annually.

That money comes from student fees paid alongside quarterly tuition — the two largest sources of which are the 1995 Student Activities and Services Initiative (SASI) and the 2002 Campus Expansion Initiative (CEI). ICA collects 89 percent of the $334.83 SASI fee ($298) and 36 percent of the $539.64 CEI fee ($196.65) annually. Included in both initiatives were provisions under which ICA would collect student funding, including the seven principles laid out in the CEI.

However, there has been speculation from those involved in and around UC Davis about whether the University has upheld its end of the bargain.

In a push to achieve the image and prestige of a school whose athletic reputation matches its continually rising academic standing, UC Davis made the move to NCAA Division 1 (D-1) athletics in 2003, under former Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef’s leadership. This decision faced speculation from the Davis community amid a growing concern that D-I culture generally fosters an emphasis on generating revenue instead of on the student-athlete.

At the time, Vanderhoef maintained that the transition would adhere to the “seven inviolate principles” included in the CEI referendum. The principles would guide UC Davis in maintaining its academic and athletic integrity during the transition and eventually evolved into the eight Core Principles of Intercollegiate Athletics at UC Davis.

ICA graphic
Graphic by James Kim and Scott Dresser

Cuts to athletics program

“UC Davis cannot reduce its broad-based program but rather must seek to add sports.” – Core Principles of Intercollegiate Athletics (2003).

On April 16, 2010, Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi made the decision to cut four ICA programs: men’s swimming and diving, men’s wrestling, men’s indoor track and field and women’s rowing.

The administration cited the state budget crisis as the reason for the discontinuation of the sports, which directly affected over 150 student-athletes. Yet, according to reports by the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA) and National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) reports, there was and remains no state funding in the ICA budget.

“In evaluating alternatives for ICA budget cuts, the campus administration has carefully considered these student initiatives to ensure that its action will not violate any student initiative requirements,” said Fred Wood, former vice chancellor of Student Affairs, in a letter to Katehi dated April 15, 2010.

A month prior to the cuts, the Work Group for Review of Intercollegiate Athletics Budget Recommendations was formed to decide how ICA would handle its purported budget reduction. Kimberly Elsbach, the faculty athletics representative (FAR) at the time, was a member of the Work Group and found fault with the way the group handled its decision-making process.

“There were claims from athletic administration that they had cut everything that they could but we never really saw the budget,” Elsbach said. “They never really showed us what it would have looked like if they had kept all of the sports. Were there any other options? None were ever explored. The decision was sort of made before the group even started.”

While the committee was supposed to serve as an external review group, Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director Nona Richardson served as a member. The committee did not include any coaches or student-athletes.

“Students in particular were purposely excluded in the decision to cut sports by athletic director Greg Warzecka,” Elsbach said.

In an email obtained from UC Davis through a public records request filed according to the California Public Records Act, Warzecka told members of the Athletics Administrative Advisory Committee (AAAC) to withhold from students information regarding the decision to cut the teams.

“For the time being, I have decide [sic] to forward this information only to the faculty and staff of AAAC, not the student or student-athlete members,” Warzecka said in the email. “Please treat this information in a confidential manner.”

Unhappy with the University’s decision-making process, Elsbach, along with Leslie Loyns, chair of the Athletics Administrative Advisory Committee at the time, resigned from the work group.

“I disagree with the decision to cut four sports. If we had followed a careful process and involved everyone — if after all of that there was no other option, then I would have agreed with that,” Elsbach said in October 2013. “We didn’t follow the process; we didn’t follow the data, so we’ll never know.”

Faculty, students question cuts

Some have also questioned whether the ICA’s financial situation during the time of the cuts was really as dire as the University claimed. EADA reports from fiscal year 2010-11 reveal a $200,000 increase in ICA administration expenditures, rather than the $400,000 decrease Katehi had spoken of at the time of the cuts.

Community members found the increase in budgets for the remaining sports after the four programs were cut to strike a discordant note. The University maintains the cuts were a necessary last resort due to the financial crisis. However, since the 2009-10 fiscal year, expenses for the men’s basketball team increased from $798,130 to $1,506,641 in 2012-13, an 88.8 percent jump.

After learning about the cuts to the four teams, student-athletes on those teams suddenly found their futures at UC Davis drastically changed, and they scrambled to find some way to reverse the decision.

“It was shock in the sense that the administration didn’t even tell the athletes directly,” said Darcy Ward, a former member of the UC Davis women’s rowing team. “They had a press conference to announce the cuts, and we only found out a couple hours before. We weren’t allowed in the press conference.”

Ward, along with a group of athletes whose teams were eliminated, led the charge in a fight against the cuts. They were supported by other athletes, students, community members and faculty who felt there was an inherent injustice in the cuts and the way they came about.

“We really tried to bring awareness first to the campus,” Ward said. “The students had passed certain ASUCD measures to protect sports.”

Beyond trying to educate the student body about those measures — and the subsequent conditions tied to the money they were supplying to the athletics program — the group held town hall meetings and protests. The students made numerous public records requests to get the information they felt the University was not making available to them. A coffin was brought onto campus to symbolize the death of their teams and careers as student-athletes at UC Davis.

“We’re at Davis for a limited number of years, and we’re dealing with administrators that have been there for twice as long,” said Zachary Hansen, a former member of the UC Davis men’s swimming team.

When they felt that their pleas to the administration were falling on deaf ears, the members of the four teams that were eliminated filed a grievance with Student Judicial Affairs citing arbitrary treatment by the administration and ICA.

On July 12, 2010, then-California State Senator Dean Florez facilitated a hearing in which Katehi and Warzecka answered questions about the reasoning behind and circumstances regarding the cuts.

“Overall, the process, from my view, was flawed because we have, clearly, … a lack of transparency, given that the decision was made so late in the academic year, and it really allowed very little suggestions for alternatives, very little time to point out inaccuracies, and very little time to point out inconsistencies in many cases,”  Florez said in the opening statement of the hearing. “When I look at the cuts that are offered in this particular case, the cuts, from my view, don’t appear to be designed to produce any substantial budget savings at all.”

During the hearing, Katehi acknowledged the controversial nature of the decision.

“I understood very early that this decision would spark controversy and cause a lot of pain,” Katehi said. “But I made the decision with the gravity that made it final, and it was in the context of understanding of my responsibilities as the chancellor to address the budgetary cuts on our campus … Discontinuing the four sports had the least impact on student-athlete participation and provides the most realistic and sustainable approach to supporting continued academic and athletic excellence in the programs.”

Warzecka conceded that, in cutting the sports, the administration did bend the Core Principles of ICA.

“They’re a philosophical driver to how you run your program, and in 2002, they were well set for us making the transition,” Warzecka said at the hearing. “And eight years later, they have to become flexible. During a financial crisis, a lot of things have to be flexible, whether it’s UC or the state of California.”

Oversight questions ICA practices

Despite outrage from students, athletes, alumni and others, UC Davis moved forward after the cuts with its remaining 23 teams.

Those involved in oversight positions raised questions as to whether ICA was successfully operating within the bounds of the Core Principles. In July 2011, Elsbach and her successor as FAR, Catherine VandeVoort, expressed concern in letters to Katehi regarding academic integrity, student athlete welfare, Title IX compliance and financial priorities within ICA.

Elsbach and VandeVoort cited instances of admission by exception (the UC’s policy of admitting students who do not meet academic requirements) without approval by the FAR. Additionally, they expressed concern with summer school scholarships being offered disproportionately to male athletes. Elsbach and VandeVoort reported a lack of confidentiality in student health records and ICA staff use of laptops intended for student-athletes, among other issues.

In a July 26, 2011, response, Katehi said that the concerns were being investigated.

VandeVoort was dismissed as FAR shortly after.

On April 17, 2012, the Academic Senate Special Committee on Athletics released an in-depth report identifying numerous issues of concern within ICA, including a lack of adherence to the Core Principles of ICA, the budget, a need for more oversight and the discontinuation of sports.

“From 2003 to the present, [the principles] have functioned as a compact between our administrative leadership and the larger campus community,” stated the report. “In 2010, the Chancellor decided to save money in the ICA budget by reducing the number of teams — in direct conflict with one of the Eight Principles. Both the decision and the absence of broad consultation created a great deal of controversy … Controversy associated with the transition to Division I and with the sports cuts continue to color attitudes about the program.”

Moving forward

In July 2012, Terrance J. “Terry” Tumey was appointed as the new director of athletics at UC Davis. Tumey has since led the ICA in its efforts to shake the lingering fallout from the discontinuation of sports and possible breach of terms laid out in the student-voted initiatives.

“I think the only way you can try to resolve some of those issues is through time, and proving time and time again that we are here in service of our students,” Tumey said. “Like anything else, it takes time to grow and right now we’re in a growth mode.”

The reviews of ICA’s transparency and growth have been mixed as of late.

“The budget folks in the athletics department annually give a presentation,” said current FAR Scott Carell, who was appointed in May 2013. “From my perspective, the associate director, Mike Bazemore, has always been very open to come talk about the budget.”

Others hold a different view.

“My personal opinion is that it has been a struggle to get the information of the budget that we would like to do our jobs,” said Joe Kiskis, member of the Academic Senate and Athletics Advisory Committee. “I’m hoping that this year we will get more complete budget information.”

On Jan. 28, 2013, ASUCD passed Senate Resolution 6, calling for greater transparency and student influence in ICA at UC Davis. The resolution invited Tumey to meet with ASUCD quarterly, to which he agreed, and also called for ICA to re-examine its 2010 cuts.

“ASUCD hereby insists that ICA commit itself to the thorough, open, consultative and timely re-evaluation of the decision to cut four sports,” the resolution stated.

While Tumey acknowledged the request, he said that he is currently more focused on the present state of the ICA.

“We can always revisit things as it relates to the discontinuation of sports,” Tumey said. “However, we also have to look at where ICA is today. I think, right now, our biggest concern is making sure the athletic endeavors we currently have are supported properly.”

athletic cut059 W (1)
On April 16, 2010, student-athletes learn that their teams are among those that have been cut. (Photo courtesy of The Davis Enterprise)

Future of ICA

The ICA has had three years now to distance itself from its controversial decision. However, questions still remain as to whether the decisions made at the time were appropriate.

The administration and ICA remain steadfast in their stance that the terms of the SASI and CEI were not violated and that the actions taken were best for the University as a whole.

In a recent statement released to The Aggie, Katehi stood by her decision.

“As challenging as these decisions were, I am confident that we took the steps necessary to protect our core educational, research and public service missions and acted in accordance with our institutional values,” Katehi said.

The room for interpretation in the student initiatives and Core Principles of ICA has left some people unconvinced that the administration was in fact in the right.

Tumey acknowledges that it has been, and will continue to be, difficult for the ICA to uphold principles that were given life over a decade ago and are arguably outdated in the world of intercollegiate athletics.

For example, he cited the seventh Core Principle of ICA — which restricts sources of external funding — a condition he may violate in his endeavor to fundraise and pull ICA out of its current deficit. Last year, ICA projected its deficit for 2012-13 at $3,612,220. However, the athletics department insists that while specifics may not always be upheld, the character of the principles is being sustained.

“I don’t think there’s an outright path to go and break anything,” Tumey said. “We are trying to live up to the spirit of what these principles mean towards the University and for our students.”

According to Tumey, it is time for the Davis community to move on from the 2010 program cuts.

“Are we trying to slay ghosts? I can’t go back and un-cancel sports. At some point all of us — not just in ICA — are going to have to say let’s move forward and make the best program we can,” Tumey said.

However, not everyone is as willing to move forward without further resolution.

“The net result — and the overall objective — should be a 27-sport program that meets every one of those student funding initiative conditions and does not involve any deficit spending or subsidies by the University,” said Paul Medved, a UC Davis alumnus and parent of a graduated member of the women’s swimming and diving team. “That’s what everyone should be striving for.”

Many have noted that ASUCD — representing the students who foot the bill for 75 percent of ICA’s funds — bears the responsibility and the power to hold the administration accountable for its use of student money and compliance with the terms of student initiatives.

Those with differing viewpoints will be left to hash it out as UC Davis continues to carve out its place in the ever-changing world of intercollegiate athletics. 

Written by: Lauren Mascarenhas –– campus@theaggie.org

Kenneth Ling and Scott Dresser contributed to this story.

8 COMMENTS

  1. The article doesn’t mention, but it could…that UC Davis ICA admin costs are more than those of Cal Poly and Sac State combined ($2.2M ea vs nearly $5M for UCD). There’s enough excess right there to bring back those sports (or, more properly, to have kept them from being cut in the first place). And that doesn’t count a similar number that the university improperly walked away from in support of the PE program (which is related by the teacher-coach model) and improperly again backfilled with the students’ SASI funds. In other words, those sports could be brought back twice over if the right people would just make the right decisions. But they won’t – not under this Chancellor. So how much longer do we all let this go on?

  2. I was a sophomore on UCD’s Men’s Swim and Dive team the year that the cuts were made. This article was not easy for me to read as it made me relive the events that happened in the spring of 2010. It was even more difficult to read about the lack of change in the Athletic Department in the past four years. I appreciated that the article touched on the deep emotional toll felt by the student-athletes whose teams were cut. I find that it is hard for those not directly involved to understand how horribly devastating this event was. To reach the level at which we were competing swimmers must make many sacrifices and dedicate themselves to the sport long before they reach college. Every member of our team had a network of support from his family, high school/club coaches, and teammates. When the news hit that the teams were cut it devastated not only the athletes, but everyone who had whole-heartedly supported a UC Davis athlete. In the eyes of those countless former athletes and supporters, the UC Davis Athletic Department has completely tarnished its reputation as a competitive athletic establishment.

    One thing that the article did not mention was that cut teams all embodied the direction that the UC Davis Athletic Department (supposedly) aimed for in the transition to Division 1. Every affected sport was competing on the national level. The men’s wrestling team produced Derek Moore, who in 2007 became the school’s first and only D1 NCAA national champion, and the men’s swim team produced D1 NCAA All-American, Scott Weltz. Weltz would later place 1st at the 2012 Swimming Olympic Trials earning him a trip to the London Olympic Games. No other UC Davis teams can claim athletes competing at such a high level of competition. In 2010, the year of the cuts, the men’s swim team went a perfect 9-0 in dual meets and won the Big West Conference Championship. In addition to leading the way in D1 athletic competition our men’s swim team achieved the highest team GPA on campus. Despite these stellar achievements in academics and athletics, as stated in the article, “The decision was sort of made before the [work] group even started.”

    What concerned me most when I read this article is that it highlighted how little has been done to prevent this from happening again. The ASUCD senate has taken steps towards representing students in the student-funded Athletic Department. The intention is to create a level of oversight with regards to how the students’ money is being prioritized and spent. The Athletic Department is playing along right now, but if more unilateral, heavy-handed proposals occur in the department there is nothing preventing the Athletic Administrators from once again keeping students locked out of meetings and in the dark while their money is misappropriated. I believe ASUCD must present a stronger presence and be much more involved with the decisions of the athletic department to prevent another potential mishandling of budget cuts. The ASUCD senate needs to use the leverage that providing 75% of the Athletics budget entitles them to. The Athletic Department needs to acknowledge that the recognition of UC Davis as a competitive Division 1 school has only declined in the past 4 years. They also need to acknowledge that they are in a repair mode, not a “growth mode” in order to prevent more opportunities being taken from some of the country’s best student-athletes.
    It is time for the UCD Athletic Department to help future Aggie athletes by reaffirming and adhering to the Core Principles of Intercollegiate Athletics. ASUCD needs to do their part to enforce this.

  3. […] (Pictured: UC Davis student-athletes are in tears outside a press conference on April 16, 2010, as they learn that their teams are among the four cut by UC Davis Intercollegiate Athletics. — Photo courtesy of The Davis Enterprise)In the last decade, the athletics program at UC Davis has gone through drastic changes. Alumni, community members and students alike are now examining the repercussions of a tumultuous time in the program’s history.UC Davis is unique in that much of the funding for its athletics program is provided through student fees: 75 percent of UC Davis’ Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA) budget is funded through student fees, amounting to a student contribution of approximately $ 18 million annually. Read full article […]

  4. This really strikes me as frustrating and sad.

    The cuts were not about saving money. This is clear from the increase in spending over the last 3-4 years.

    Rather, the administration seems to have decided behind closed doors that the bigger/remaining sports needed more money to improve their performance at the NCAA D1 level.

    Unfortunately this has not been the case. Many sports, not all, have been performing worse or about the same with the increase in funding. Throwing money at the problem seems to have been the suggestion and/or request of incompetent coaches and administration.

    Money isn’t the problem. Bad coaches, bad recruiting, bad leadership; those are the problems with the poor performing UC Davis athletic teams. I hope the new AD is moving things in the right direction. I am definitely rooting for him.

  5. Since when it did it become okay for the administration of a public university to lie about its true objectives? What happened in 2010 was never about state budget cutbacks. The numbers are out and the lights are coming on to reveal this was always about spending more on fewer sports – even if it meant misappropriating student funds in the process. Go Ags, indeed.

  6. Good article on a big topic. So how much money in total was saved by cutting 4 sports, and where did it all go? That was a huge increase in the basketball budget, but now we struggle to win 30 percent of our games. I also don’t understand what Tumey meant by “we are in a growth phase”. I think a follow-up article with Tumey and his specific plans would be warranted. Who comes up with monies when ICA is short, where is Tumey going to get that money, and he also said on a radio interview that he wants to somehow improve Aggie Stadium… does he mean adding seats, or adding the ICA rehab / workout facility that has been long planned?

  7. What is the point in running this article? I wonder how many of the members of ASUCD and of The Aggie actually attend UC Davis Athletics events. Let’s move on and GO AGS!

  8. How ironic that The Aggie runs an article on a campus department that operates primarily on student fees claiming that people don’t get their money’s worth out of it. Kinda like a student newspaper that almost went belly up but had to be saved by student fees to keep the lights on…

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