Days prior to the positive results of the NCAA opinion poll, the Academic Senate unanimously passed a resolution on May 18 to further investigate funding options to support the program. While the poll didn’t enact the proposed $90 quarterly student fee, it guarantees its spot on next spring’s ballot. As of now, NCAA athletics are only guaranteed until spring 2017.
“The results of this year’s opinion poll underscores that this is an important program for our campus,” said UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal in a press release. “I look forward to considering sustainable funding models for this program so that it can be on secure financial footing for years to come.”
Before the Academic Senate resolution, NCAA programs were expected to phase out next school year if the poll didn’t pass. Blumenthal said he was “willing to delay a decision about what we do with the program” at the meeting, before the poll results were released. This announcement also followed the Academic Senate’s Special Committee on Athletic’s report, which called any action ending athletics based on the opinion poll premature.
The future of NCAA’s existence at UCSC has been uncertain since the administration subsidized the program in 2014, giving an additional $1 million a year until 2017 to support basic salary and operation costs. The athletics program historically operates in a deficit, spending about $2 million annually despite its budget of $1.4 million.
Though the poll and Blumenthal’s announcement further protected athletics’ existence next year, funding for the 2017-18 season is still undetermined, said director of news and media relations Scott Hernandez-Jason. The senate will continue to explore the pros and cons of athletics at UCSC, advising on any decision to cut them from the campus budget in the future.
“I think [the committee] should have the opportunity to move forward and do its work and see if it can identify solutions to keep athletics in a positive way moving forward,” Blumenthal said at the senate meeting.
The Academic Senate Special Committee on Athletics, created in February, is comprised of eight faculty members chosen by the senate’s committee on committees. It met for the first time on April 27 and started investigating the athletics budget and the value of athletics at UCSC. The report criticized potentially cutting NCAA without a thorough investigation, and said “abruptly eliminating a successful program that serves and promotes UCSC would publicly signal a university in decline.”
“Opinion polls and referendums in general are very difficult, especially at UCSC,” said athletic director and special committee member Cliff Dochterman. “Students are asked to vote on important issues that have tremendous ramifications on the health of the university. Unfortunately, the information is often very complex, and students do not necessarily have the luxury of knowing all of the information.”
The report also pointed to the successes of UCSC athletics “in competition and in the classroom.”
“The student athletes are successful students. They are graduating on time, they are doing very well in their classes,” said special committee member and anthropology professor Melissa Caldwell. “This is a program where if we lose that program we might lose those students. They are good representatives of the campus.”
The 270 athletes average a 3.3 GPA and have had a 100 percent graduation rate over the last five years, both exceeding the university average. If UCSC drops its NCAA athletics program it will be the only university in the nation besides Spelman College in Atlanta and the New York City College of Technology to have done so in the last decade.
“[Potentially] making a decision that affects many aspects of campus, academic and student qualities of life without consulting faculty and alumni, I thought was really quite alarming,” said special committee member and former faculty athletic representative Gene Switkes. “It was really an omission not to have wider consultation on this.”
Athletics committee chair J. Xavier Prochaska shares similar apprehensions about eliminating a program with such successes, but also demonstrated concerns regarding the campus reputation.
“Our chief concerns are that terminating what is perceived as a successful program on this campus solely [based] on aspects of funding really would say onto the world that Santa Cruz really cannot maintain a world class university,” Prochaska said at the May 18 meeting.
Sustaining athletics at UCSC will come with increases to the already struggling budget. New labor laws put into effect by the Department of Labor are being analyzed by the university and committee to determine their effects on the athletic staff. Although their exact implications for the UCSC NCAA budget are unknown, the laws qualify more employees for overtime pay, creating the need for a bigger budget, athletic director Cliff Dochterman said.
“I’m certainly willing to see studies come through to an end, and to do that we will need to develop a workable plan,“ Blumenthal said at the senate meeting. “A plan that’s a little bit more than just saying to us, ‘We’ll fund it because it’s important.’ If that’s the only solution, then we do need to compare it against our academic priorities, so we’re not going to rush to judgment.”