Photos by Devika Agarwal.
Photos by Devika Agarwal.

UC Santa Cruz is known for many things. Among them are the beloved banana slug, an eclectic and unique mix of academic programs and majors and the coding of the human genome. However, unlike at many other UC campuses, athletics doesn’t top our list.

The UCSC athletic department is easily one of the most under-funded programs on campus. Budget cuts and an overall lack of financial stability have caused the school to reevaluate the future of the department.

Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Felicia McGinty recently assembled the Athletic Task Force to assess the current state of athletics on campus and to see what can be done to make it a fully functioning and autonomous program.

Athletic Director Linda Spradley hopes that this newfound interest in athletic programs will help bring about an athletic renaissance.

“The school wants to see the value of athletics at UCSC,” Spradley explained. “It’s a move to improve the athletic department and we’re doing this to give a better picture of athletics during this economic downturn.”

Ryan Andrews, the executive director of OPERS and head of the Athletic Task Force, explains that there are currently many issues that need to be considered when looking at the athletic department’s situation. These aspects include full-time coaches and faculty, financial needs, campus commitment level, as well as UCSC’s potential future as a Division II school.

“The Athletic Task Force is immensely diverse in its members,” Andrews said. “We have student athletes, people from enrollment management, faculty representatives, alumni and even the assistant chancellor. So we have many points of views on how the campus is and how athletics factors into it.”

Creating Fanatics

Vice Chancellor McGinty believes one of the biggest problems with UCSC athletics is unrelated to finances, but rather has to do with an overall lack of awareness.

“There are improvements that can be made to the department that don’t require money, such as giving our student athletes a greater profile and publicity on campus,” said McGinty.

With the lack of publicity for sporting events on campus, even students that want to be interested in sports have a hard time keeping track of what’s happening with their favorite teams.

“I never know what’s going on with our sports on campus, I never see fliers, and I never see any kind of promotions, so I stay pretty unaware of what’s happening because of that,” said third-year Raquel Parks.

Brenna Sullivan, one of the captains of the swim and dive team, feels that the creation of a fan base as well as promotion of school spirit are essential to the success of teams on campus.

“You get more exposure to the school, enhance school spirit, develop a fan base and ultimately cultivate very loyal alumni who contribute money and endowments to the university,” said Sullivan. “As long as UCSC is set on expanding the campus, more funding and effort should be put into athletics. For now, I think most athletes on campus are just content on being able to participate in their sports in light of funding cuts.”

Men’s Soccer Coach Michael Runeare said that the small amount of publicity that is generated on campus does not come from the administration or athletic department, but rather from students themselves.

“The student media around here does a great job of giving athletics serious coverage; however I do feel that the school could generate more publicity around athletics,” Runeare said. “I know I just gave my team fliers to hand out promoting the Regional Tournament being held at East Field this weekend so I know we are doing what we can.”

Runeare also added there is the need for coaches to become full-time employees to the school, which he believes would better allow them to perform their coaching duties, promote success and constantly be there for the players whenever they are needed.

“I think a priority should be to pay coaches as full-time employees,” said Runeare “It makes a big difference to be able to meet and see someone whenever, plus there are so many ways to employ coaches with the department, if only the funding was there.”

Andrews concurs with Runeare and says that the school and the Athletic Task Force are taking that into serious consideration.

“We have talked to and researched a lot of other universities and their athletic programs and there are some constants that appear — such as the hiring of coaches as full-time staff — which is a factor that we within the committee have to seriously look at and consider on many fronts.”

The UCSC athletic department operates with a yearly budget of $750,000 to cover everything including travel, facilities, equipment and coaches’ salaries. The average budget for most D-III sports programs at other universities is about $1 million higher than at UCSC.

“Seventy percent of my budget goes to travel costs alone. This year my players bought their own gear because we didn’t have the funds to supply them some,” said Runeare. “It’s turning into a situation where it’s costing more to come and play here, which is tough on certain athletes who have financial constraints”

With the rising profile of UCSC as one of the state’s best public universities, McGinty sees this lack of athletic funding as a real problem

“I was really taken aback when I realized just how poorly funded athletics [are] here on this campus,” said McGinty. “This is frustrating considering how beautiful our campus is, and the rising population of students attending.”

Division II Rumors

One of the most radical changes being considered by the Athletics Task Force is the idea to make UCSC a Division II school. Currently, NCAA D-III schools cannot give out athletic scholarships. A switch to D-II would mean attracting more student athletes that are seeking athletic scholarships, which could potentially mean a larger talent base.

“The attractive part of becoming a Division II team is the fact that we can give out scholarships to those who need them, however it also requires the department to have an increased budget and have the athletic facilities improved,” McGinty said.

While Coach Runeare does concede that a D-II athletics program would take away the financial stress and create a more intense competition atmosphere, he favors the D-III mentality.

“I like being a D-III school; I like the student athlete philosophy. I like D-III and our positioning within it. Being the only D-III UC helps us bring kids who want to play but also want the UC experience.”

Swim coach Kim Musch isn’t so sure that UC Santa Cruz will become a D-II school.

“I’ve heard that the school is looking at becoming a D-II school, but to do so would require minimum funding levels for the team. The school would have to make a real commitment to the programs. Personally I don’t see it happening.”

Women’s swim and dive captain Sullivan thinks that with some programs, such as swimming, becoming D-II could be beneficial to the program, but doubts that the finances needed are available.

“I think some sports might benefit from being in Division II.  In swimming, for example, the national cuts are slower because there are fewer schools in Division II,” Sullivan said. “However, I don’t think this would be a good move for the athletic department as a whole — our programs barely get funded as it is.”

Andrews looks at the potential change realistically and wants to address the problem at hand before looking to the future.

“Becoming a Division II team would take upwards of 15 years. Right now we need to work on properly funding a Division III team.”

Changing Perceptions

Beyond the financial hurdles, one of the biggest obstacles the athletic department may have in trying to expand athletics is UCSC’s reputation of a student body that rejects school spirit and athletics.

“People just don’t know what we could be; some people have a fear that the campus will suddenly become fully focused upon athletics instead of academics,” McGinty said. “But the two can exist together.”

Third-year Kyan Mahzouf also feels as though the campus should recognize all the good that can come from athletics.

“I don’t think we should become UCLA or Berkeley, where athletics are a huge priority to the campus and the culture,” Mahzouf said, “however I do think that there is a lot of good that can come from supporting our teams and the athletic department.”

Men’s basketball coach Gordon Johnson feels as though many on campus have an outdated perception that athletics are rejected on campus.

“I personally feel that the school has a misconception of sports on this campus,” Johnson said. “Our athletes are smart and responsible kids who work hard at their sports and for their school, [and] I don’t see why investing money into them should change any of that.”

Ryan Matsuoka, a guard for the men’s basketball team, feels that student athletes are not adequately recognized by fellow students.

“I think that athletics are sometimes underappreciated on campus by students and faculty,” Matsuoka said. “Those who know what our athletes do and sacrifice understand a little more and are respected.”

Coach Runeare feels that the perception of sports and their place on campus has changed for the better over the past several years.

“I’ve been here eight years and I have seen a change in the school spirit and games,” Runeare said. “The demographic here has changed [in] that now there are more people who are interested in athletics”

Andrews underscored why he thinks it’s so important to keep sports fully funded.

“It’s hard to put a specific value on athletics,” Andrews said. “How do you put a value on camaraderie, leadership, hard work and commitment?”

Matsuoka is happy to be playing at UCSC and feels as though being on the team has allowed him to grow substantially as a person.

“I have loved every moment of playing basketball for UCSC,” he said. “I have learned so much about hard work and what it takes to be a successful athlete, student and human being.”