In 2010, UC San Diego paid consultants $28,000 to study the feasibility of establishing a football program at UCSD, as well as NCAA Division I sports as a whole. The official campus timeline marks the 1995 rejection of a student referendum calling for the establishment of a football team. Every few years—certainly at least every decade—there’s an attempt to resurrect the cause. More recently, a football team has been suggested as a rallying point for a ‘socially dead’ campus. But logistical and financial barriers debilitate the well-intentioned exploration of football. A football team would be a waste of time, money, and resources for a community that may not have an appetite for a Division I football team.
Whether UCSD should have a football team has been a question since UCSD had a football team. The UCSD football team’s first and only season came in 1968. The NCAA squad posted an astounding 0–7 record, which included capitulating to the team that—at the time—held the longest winless streak in all of American college football. The UCSD team disbanded immediately following that season. UCSD would thenceforth seek to realize Roger Revelle’s 1950 declaration that a “university is not great […] because of a winning football team.” Given this tumultuous history, attempts to bring back an NCAA football team are impetuous and would encounter numerous insurmountable obstacles.
First, UCSD would have to find a place to play. On UCSD’s immediate campus, the two possible locations—Triton Soccer Stadium and the Track and Field—have woeful capacity constraints. They lack the fencing and security to charge admission. Their seating consists of large concrete blocks which would make sitting through several hours of a football game unbearable. The one other possible location in San Diego—the San Diego County Credit Union Stadium’s $73.9 million property—is being sold by the city to San Diego State University. The San Diego community’s bias toward SDSU and the potential financial investment UCSD would have to make to use the stadium should all but rule out an attempt by UCSD to use the stadium. The school cannot wrestle control of a stadium 15 miles away to which students have no consistent transportation. If the University of California wanted to build its own stadium, it would face the impossible task of finding local land on which to build the stadium.
Second, NCAA Division I college football is multimillion dollar boondoggle the university has a responsibility to avoid. In the NCAA’s most recent publication of national athletic department finances, UCLA ranked 29th, breaking exactly even in revenue and expenses. Berkeley ranked 42nd, reporting a net loss of almost $16 million. The highest ranked public university was the University of Oregon, but approximately $95 million of their reported revenues came from in-kind gifts, like the Hatfield-Dowlin football complex. This does not appear to take into account millions siphoned from the University of Oregon’s general fund into the supposedly self-sufficient athletic department.
Even if the university and student body could get behind dumping money into a stadium as well as dumping more money into scholarships and the general expenses of running a football team, there would be a severe lack of community interest. In 2017, UCSD’s crown jewel basketball team had an average attendance of 664 people per game. For perspective, UC Davis’s basketball team—a member of UCSD’s future Division I conference—had an average attendance of 2,178. The UCSD number is distorted drastically by Spirit Night, when students are dragooned into attending through Residential Life staff attendance requirements and giveaways. If one of the school’s most popular and successful sports attracts an average crowd that can fit into Galbraith Hall, then why should more money be wasted away on a new sport that the school doesn’t even have a place for?
There are so many things that need work at this university. Our mental health services aren’t good enough. Our outreach to communities historically underrepresented in higher education isn’t good enough, which is why our Black undergraduate population has lingered around two percent. Our humanities programs aren’t good enough. Even if one ignores the thoroughly documented long-term health risks posed by football, there is a moral imperative to better allocate university resources to solve existing problems.
Dedicating thousands of dollars to asking whether UCSD should have a football team is utterly feckless. Along with a shallow understanding of logistical problems, the arguments in favor of a football team possess an inability to understand that athletic events are expressions of existing pride, not cultivators of pride where none exists. The problem of campus spirit runs deeper than the school’s lack of a football team—just ask the basketball team.
Patrick Alexander is an Assistant Opinion Editor for The Triton.
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