Original article posted at http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2011/mar/11/ucsd-wants-move-division-i-athletics/ by
UC San Diego already has built a reputation as one of the nation’s top schools for research, science and engineering.
After careful consideration — and a $28,000 report — UCSD officials now hope to reach the elite level in another big area of higher education: college athletics.
The UCSD student government passed a resolution this week supporting the school’s possible move to NCAA Division I, up from Division II, where the Tritons have competed since 2000.
UCSD will not add a football program, as had been considered. Instead, school officials said Friday they are advancing plans to place all of their 23 sports programs into NCAA Division I by 2013-14 at the earliest.
The student government said it would improve “the quality of campus life.”
“UCSD kind of has this tepid reputation of not having the best student life,” said Utsav Gupta, last year’s student government president. “We’re known primarily as an academic school, which is a great thing. Athletics can serve as a very strong rallying point. The students want it.”
The move is contingent on two big requirements:
–A student vote approving student fee increases. The money from such an increase would help fund nearly $5 million in upgrades for Division I scholarship requirements and additional staff.
–The Big West Conference must agree to add UCSD as a member. No other Division I conferences are plausible homes for UCSD because they wouldn’t fit the school’s academic and public profile, UCSD Athletic Director Earl Edwards said.
“The Big West Conference has a major interest in UCSD but timing is critical,” said a report compiled by a consultant hired by UCSD to examine the issue.
Big West officials didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.
If UCSD got the green light from the Big West by this fall, the school would hope to place the student referendum on the ballot during the 2011-12 school year. If it passes, the Tritons then could compete in Division I by 2013-14 and be eligible to play in the NCAA Division I postseason basketball tournament four years later.
Last year, UCSD hired a consultant for $28,000 to examine adding football and moving to Division I. The consultant’s report was released by the school Friday. It cited serious costs, facility and gender-equity issues that would stand in the way of UCSD adding a football team. For those reasons, the school is no longer considering football.
Instead, it hopes to land its sports in the Big West, whose members include several state schools and potential rivals, including UC Irvine, Long Beach State and UC Riverside.
“We play a lot of schools (in Division II) that most of the students at UCSD have never heard about,” Gupta said.
A possible stumbling block in UCSD’s hopes of joining the Big West is the recent addition of Hawaii’s non-football teams to that conference as a 10th member. It’s not yet clear if the Big West would want to expand again to 11 members with UCSD. If the Big West rejects UCSD, Edwards said the Tritons would stay in Division II and wait until the conference landscape changes.
“Unless we get into the Big West, we won’t be able to make the move to Division I,” Edwards said.
UCSD officials said the Western Athletic Conference wasn’t an option because that league didn’t fit its academic profile. They also said the West Coast Conference (home of USD) wouldn’t work because its membership consists of private, religious-based schools.
Edwards noted that the move to Division I was student-driven and would not involve additional state money at a time when UC schools are facing grave budget cuts. He said the school also would have to come up with a Division I application fee of $900,000 to $1.3 million.
“It’s the next step,” said Sarah McTigue, a junior soccer player. “We’ve been in Division II for a while now and have done really well. Obviously there’s more that we can achieve. There’s something more we can accomplish, and that’s where we’re trying to go.”
UCSD moved up to Division II from Division III in 2000. The Tritons did not offer athletic scholarships until 2007, when a student vote authorized the tripling of an annual student fee up to $329. The money helped fund $500 scholarships for 600 athletes.
UCSD’s current athletics budget is about $7 million, up from $3.5 million before that 2007 student fee increase. A move to Division I would require a budget of about $12 million, according to the report. That additional money would fund the Division I minimum scholarship requirements, which can include funding at least 50 percent of the maximum allowable grants in 14 sports.