Cliff Dochterman meets students participating in the student voice sessions.
Cliff Dochterman meets students participating in the student voice sessions. Photo by Jasper Lyons.

Athletic director Cliff Dochterman said it best — “this university was founded to be a place that didn’t have sports.”

To save its programs, the newly formed Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS) referendum team kicked off the first pair of three bi-weekly student voice sessions to “shape the future of OPERS” on Oct. 21-22. The referendum team includes various OPERS, NCAA and club sport administrators.

“We created these student sessions to address student needs and wants, to envision the future of OPERS here,” said OPERS director Andrea Willer. “We want you, the students, to tell us what it’s going to take to save and maintain our programs. This is your opportunity to re-envision physical education, facilities and athletics at UC Santa Cruz.”

These student voices are essential for OPERS to pass the three referenda, two of which are expiring in 2017, while the other is in dire need of reconstruction. The referenda expected to appear on the ballot this spring are the Student Life Facilities Fee (SLF1), Physical Education Program Fee (Measure 62) and the Intercollegiate Athletics Sports Team Fee (Measure 31). These fees have to be approved by the student body through the Student Union Assembly elections. Each measure requires a two-thirds majority to pass, and voter turnout must be at least 33 percent of undergraduate students.

“To pass all three in a year will be a small miracle,” said competitive sports supervisor Kevin “Skippy” Givens.

Last year, Dochterman proposed the Athletics Operations Enhancement Fee that asked students to approve a $117 per-student-per-quarter fee to fund NCAA athletics, which failed. The OPERS referendum team is hosting sessions this year to get an idea of how much money students will be willing to pay for each of the three referenda OPERS will propose this spring.

Attendees of the first session on Oct. 21 ranged from NCAA and club sports athletes to students hoping to learn why the gym isn’t open past 6 p.m. on Sundays. One attendee and Bay Area native Teng Yang said “I didn’t even know we had [NCAA] sports. I’ve gone to games at Cal, Stanford and San Jose State, and [UCSC] never played those teams so I just thought we only had club sports.”

Yang, a marine biology major, suggests UCSC offer more PE classes for scuba diving and other impacted interests. The scuba certification is necessary for the major and the beginners class is extremely difficult to get into because demand is significantly higher than the staff and resources available. For that reason, Yang can get behind the Physical Education Program Fee.

He would also vote yes on the Student Life Facilities Fee because he is willing to support anything that has to do with “increasing access to the gym.” Currently, the OPERS Wellness Center is open Monday through Thursday from 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m, Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and weekends 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

“While I’m not on a team, I do like to get my time in the gym,” Yang said. “The limited hours on Sunday, especially for the size of this school, are just ridiculous. Sunday is a big day for students to go to the gym because they don’t have class. I know a lot of people who have memberships to gyms off-campus because of the limited hours.”

The Wellness Center is 6,185 square feet, the lowest of any UC. UC Davis’s Fitness Center, in comparison, is 13,000 square feet and is open Monday through Thursday 6:00 a.m. to 1 a.m., Friday 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to midnight.

Other students voiced similar concerns and ideas as Yang. The most popular demand of the night was expanding the hours of operations at the gym. Other common suggestions included installing lights on the field to extend hours outside for intramural and individual activities, and expanding PE classes options and times.

However, there was one dominant issue that didn’t get a lot of discussion time — the Intercollegiate Athletics Sports Team Fee. If this measure does not pass in spring, NCAA athletics on campus will be permanently wiped off the campus.

“The top 300 schools in the country have athletics,” said competitive sports supervisor “Skippy” Givens. “It would mean a loss of status for the university and will bring in element of suspicion. People will ask, ‘What? It can’t fund an athletics program, even at the Division III level?’”

Like many students, Yang disagrees with Givens and his fellow OPERS administrators. While Yang doesn’t support the efforts to preserve NCAA sports, he is willing to pay up to $50 a quarter to fund the gym and PE department. This is an amount that could potentially be equivalent to the combined amount requested by the Student Life Facilities Fee and Physical Education Program Fee.

“I don’t think athletics is going to change the perception of this university,” Yang said. “I hate to say it and I don’t want to talk bad about my fellow student athletes, but we aren’t attracting the caliber athletes who I would go out of my way to watch. A legitimate game is going to take hours out of your time … I don’t want to support a sub-caliber team.”

Athletic director Cliff Dochterman said the reason he was hired last year is because he’s “an expert on startups or screwups.”

“I either start franchises or fix them,” Dochterman said. “That has been my entire career. When they called me to get involved with this one, I knew it was a special set of circumstances.”

The next student voice sessions will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 4 from 4:45p.m. – 6:45p.m. at the University Alumni Center above the College Nine and College Ten Dining Hall and Thursday, Nov. 5 from 10:00a.m. – 11:45a.m at the East Field House.