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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Column: Closing Thoughts

kenIt’s been one long year. From learning how to do my job as the sports editor to trying to pass the Save The Aggie referendum, it has been one long journey that is finally coming to an end.

In many ways, the ups and downs of this year at The Aggie have mimicked the rollercoaster year for UC Davis athletics. There have been plenty of high points, such as the women’s track and field team capturing their third straight Big West Championship title, and there have been some low points, such as the season-ending injury of men’s basketball player J.T. Adenrele and the subsequent subpar season for the team.

Rather than focusing on the negative, I’m going to be positive. Shocking, I know.

My goal is not to discuss the failures of UC Davis athletics but rather some observations I have gathered through my experience covering UC Davis sports.

I entered UC Davis representing the majority of UC Davis students who like sports, I thought the 2005 wins against Stanford in basketball and football were impressive, but I sure did not choose UC Davis for its athletics program. I honestly thought that UC Davis was like many other athletic programs, occasionally lucky, but doomed to mediocrity.

This seems to be a lasting attitude among a group of students at UC Davis. So, my first observation is directed at students and UC Davis supporters as a whole.

Look harder. Don’t focus on the “cash sports” such as football and men’s basketball. Looking beyond these sports, you see teams such as women’s and men’s golf, women’s tennis, men’s soccer and women’s track and field.

These teams have shown the ability to win. Look at the women’s golf team’s complete dominance of the Big West conference. They won their fifth straight Big West title this year. Yet, these teams often don’t get the coverage they deserve. For my part in this, I apologize.

But all of this is to say, for those of you who believe we don’t have successful athletics: Look harder! Gain a deeper appreciation for sports as a whole, not just basketball and football. Appreciate the dedication and hard work that these athletes have put in on and off the field to thrive.

I understand that this view of UC Davis athletics is not for everyone. Some would give almost anything for a 11-1 football team that defeats Stanford yearly or a 22-7 men’s basketball team which makes the Big Dance yearly. However, why have this obtuse and unrealistic vision of UC Davis athletics, which inevitably ruins your enjoyment of the program? Why not just take UC Davis for what it is and enjoy success of “smaller” sports and take success of “bigger” sports in stride? Enjoy the success now, because one thing I learned this year is: you never know when it’s gone.

Now, on to the administration and athletic department. I came into Davis not fully understanding the UC Davis model of athletics. However, the more I learn about the core principles and the concepts which UC Davis athletics was founded upon, the more it impresses me.

The purpose of the UC Davis athletics department is not only to produce great athletes, but also great students. They are student-athletes after all. These athletes aren’t just here to perform on the field but they should also be able to thrive in the classroom.

On this front, UC Davis has done a fairly good job. I commend the athletes and administration for this. UC Davis recently announced their Academic Progress Rates (APR) for various sports including the perfect 1,000 rating which the women’s tennis team scored. They were also honored with an NCAA Public Recognition Award due to the overall quality of its APR scores.

Now, we can argue about the meaning of these scores and whether or not it is significant. However, I believe this defeats the point. The administration has, for the most part, selected student-athletes who could succeed on and off the field. The student-athletes have worked hard and are making use of the opportunities given to them. Good for them.

Another concept which UC Davis’ athletic program is founded on is the concept avoiding tiering. Tiering, for those of you who don’t know, is supporting one sport, generally a money-generating sport, more than others.

As someone who has grown more and more weary of the NCAA and its cash crop system of exploitation, the idea of avoiding tiering and giving all teams equal support seemed to be the countering force against the NCAA.

I wish this had stayed true, but the cut of several teams in 2010 showed otherwise. The cutting of teams to “save money” while at the same time increasing the expenses of men’s basketball reeks of tiering.

I understand the desire of a good men’s basketball team or football team. After all, who wouldn’t want a Kevin Durant or a Johnny Manziel at UC Davis? But, this is a slippery slope towards the NCAA model.

UC Davis’ athletic model was set out to distinguish itself from the NCAA model of exploitation and inequality. I urge the administration and directors who make decisions regarding the athletic program to fight against this change.

If you want UC Davis to stand out, let it stand out for the right reasons. UC Davis has the capability of being a athletics program which promotes student-athletes, not just athletes.

If this piece was too long and you didn’t read it here is the summary: UC Davis athletics has been founded on a unique set of core principles. UC Davis may not ever compete for the national championship in football or basketball but it should always strive to uphold its unique principles for its athletics program. Besides, doing things the “right way” does not always doom a program to mediocrity. If you think it does, then you should look a bit harder. Success is definitely there.

You can tell KENNETH LING that his columns sucked this year at sports@theaggie.org.

 

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