Illustration by Thovatey Tep
Illustration by Thovatey Tep

UC Santa Cruz announced in 2014 that student athletes had four years to acquire $2 million in funding or lose NCAA sports.

The first attempt at a referendum, which proposed a $351 annual student fee in 2015, was unable to reach the 66 percent threshold necessary to pass. This left the NCAA program in danger of being cut.

The situation became more severe when athletic director Cliff Dochterman’s position was terminated under pressing budget cuts in fall 2016. With limited faculty support and resources, the future of the program is left to the students.

Student athletes turned to the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) to unite the 15 NCAA teams and over 300 athletes and convince the student body that sports are a vital part of campus life.

“Everything we’re doing right now is to continue the process of saving our program. The best way we think we can do that is jumping on from what we did last year,” said SAAC co-president and women’s soccer player Kayla McCord. “We just want people on campus to know that we’re here. We’re active. We really care.”

SAAC consists of two representatives from each NCAA team who advertise and plan events surrounding NCAA athletics. Most universities with NCAA programs have a SAAC, but advertising and public relations are taken on by staff. This is not the case at UCSC. UC San Diego, the UC with the next smallest NCAA budget after UCSC, functioned off just over $8.75 million in  the 2013-14 year.

“We don’t have help from the administration or the school to get times of games and things like that out there,” said sophomore men’s soccer player and SAAC representative Dominique Royall. “SAAC sponsors athletics more than anything else.”

With little permanent budget and donations from the colleges and local businesses, student volunteers have looked to fundraising by putting on events like dances, special halftime shows and giveaways. On Valentine’s Day, athletes passed out students free baked goods in exchange for conversation about the importance of sports.

SAAC even managed to offer a tuition giveaway, paying one student’s tuition for a year if they could make four different basketball shots in 30 seconds. SAAC secured the money by working with administration and buying an insurance policy in which OPERS pays $350 per competition. If a student makes all four shots the insurance will cover the $13, 461 in tuition costs. All of this is an effort to draw student crowds into the stands.

“We feel like there is a divide between regular students and the student athletes,” said SAAC co-president and men’s soccer player Luke Pfeiffer. “We want to integrate more with the students, and relate to them and build better relationships and friendships. That’s why we’ve been doing these events.”

SAAC’s effort to expand community relationships goes beyond athletics by engaging in campus clean ups, local fundraisers and working at soup kitchens and the Boys and Girls Club.

“We want to create a fun, dynamic, productive athletic community,” said SAAC co-president Kayla McCord. “Last year we did a clean up and that was really awesome because we partnered with the sustainability group. It was a really fun team bonding experience and we got to meet a lot of really cool students on campus.”

But with the upcoming referendum in the spring, the athletes hope their efforts won’t go unnoticed. If the upcoming spring referendum does not pass, the university will cut funds to the program and slowly dissolve NCAA sports.

Last spring’s opinion poll, which received a 63 percent favorability rate, was granted a spot on the official referendum ballot by the university. The official referendum will need 66 percent of the vote to pass this year.

“Our main priority is making these games more easily recognizable, accessible and better advertised and making sure that the students’ experience at the games is positive and fun,” McCord said. “Part of our big passions as the SAAC community and sports community in general is really trying to boost school spirit. Santa Cruz really could use that.”