Why UBC Should Not Join the NCAA

The issue of whether or not UBC should join the NCAA has been around for years and the discussion is reaching a peak with major consultations set to occur. I’ve been to a consultation meeting already and through my discussions with people on all sides of this issue, I think I’ve heard all of the major arguments for and against. Based on what I’ve heard, it has become very clear to me that joining the NCAA has overwhelming negative consequences for UBC and indicates a further deprioritization of non-varsity students by Athletics and Rec.

Without getting too much into the details, UBC-V has 361 athletes competing on 8 men’s varsity sports teams and 9 women’s teams. The varsity teams are members of either Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) or the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). In 2008, the NCAA Division II members voted to accept a 10-year pilot project to allow Canadian institutions to apply for membership. This has opened the door for UBC to apply for Division II, a desire that has been motivated by the Athletics and Rec department since the 1990′s.

Cited Reasons to Join

  • Increased level of competition. UBC teams have had tremendous success, continuously winning championships. It is speculated that the NCAA Division II will offer a higher level of competition for these teams. But even if this speculation is granted as true, an increased level of competition only benefits certain varsity teams. For other teams, the CIS or NAIA offer the appropriate level of competition. Some varsity athletes have expressed the concern that the NCAA is not appropriate for their teams.
  • Put people in the stands. Students at UBC are not going out to watch their teams compete, even when they’re winning all the time. Stands are regularly near empty and it is hoped that the prestige of the NCAA will get UBC students interested in their athletics teams. But increasing interest in athletics, as many of the student athletes themselves argue, is not best achieved by joining the NCAA. Interest in the NCAA stems primarily from Division I competition, not Division II. And if you look at the membership of the conference that UBC would be playing in, all of them are no-name schools. Who’s going to get excited because the Notre Dame de Namur University is coming to campus?
  • Attract more athletes to UBC. The assertion is that the high school kid’s dream of playing in the NCAA will attract them to enrole at UBC. The major oversight here is that the dream is to play in NCAA Division I, not Division II.
  • Bigger scholarships. The CIS and NAIA set restrictions on the financial incentives UBC can offer athletes to the cost of tuition and ancillary fees (NAIA covers room and board too). Under NCAA regulations, UBC would be able to offer prospective students lucrative scholarships, much like those offered in the United States. Athletics has no conception of how much this will cost, but they did say that it wouldn’t be in effect until at least 2013. This point raises questions about how we want to use limited funds to attract students to UBC. Should we place the emphasis on varsity athletes or on underrepresented groups and high achieving students?
  • Increased fundraising. Athletics argues that the prestige of the NCAA will motivate a new $75 million fundraising campaign. Once again though, there is not really any prestige associated with Division II. How can we be sure that Athletics’ level of confidence in their ambitious fundraising goal is merited? If they don’t pull through with fundraising, the cost will fall on students. There is also an issue of equality of funding between men’s and women’s sports teams. Many donors will specify that they only want to contribute to a certain team, which usually turns out to be a men’s team. As a result, there is a huge disparity in funding both between the sports, but also between men’s and women’s teams.

Reasons Not to Join

  • Accreditation and SAT. If UBC were to join the NCAA, the University would have to undergo accreditation and meet standards laid out by the United States. The implications of this are not entirely clear to me, but allowing the US to have any influence over the operation of our autonomous educational institution is worrisome, at the least. In addition, potential student athletes would be required to write the SAT to attend UBC and compete in varsity athletics. Forcing our domestic students to meet American standards of testing is something that should on its own raise serious doubts with regards to application to the NCAA.
  • Problems of dual membership. If UBC decided to apply and was accepted to the NCAA, they would only have observer status and not obtain full status until at least 4 years later. CIS has not yet decided on whether or not to allow dual membership for sports teams, but if they disallowed it (which is quite possible), CIS would kick out 7-8 of our sports teams and those teams would be without an organization to compete in during the 4 year observer status lag.
  • The NCAA is UnCanadian. UBC would be the only non-US institution to compete in the NCAA if we joined. Many student athletes are concerned that competing in an American sports environment is inconsistent with the values of Canadian sport.
  • Funding. All students at UBC are currently charged $207 in Athletics fees each year. This fee has been increased by UBC (illegally) by 30 times of what the cost was in 1985. Joining the NCAA will surely cost a ton more. Think about travel – half of the teams in UBC’s would-be division are located in Hawaii. Then there is the general pressure to use student money to upgrade facilities for varsity athletes that will come as a result of being a member of the NCAA. The decision to pursue the NCAA clearly indicates that Athletics’ priorities lie with the small group of varsity athletes, not the other 44,000 students. Varsity athletics is already eating up 80% of our athletics fund and it shows. Shouldn’t the priority of Athletics be on programs that benefit all students, like perhaps a free gym or intramurals?
  • Slide into Division I. Athletics Director Bob Philips has been saying since 1997 that his ultimate goal is to join Division I of the NCAA. Given the shaky foundation of arguments to join Division II, it should be fairly clear that Division II is only meant as a stepping stone to Division I. I can’t provide an analysis of the positives and negatives of joining Division I, but I do know that the average Athletics operating budget of Division I schools is over $35 million (ours is $3.7 million). We would have to increase our athletics budget tenfold to reach that level of funding. And where would the money come from? Students, of course.

Athletics is trying its best to appear as if its consultation is meaningful, but if you look at their consultation booklet, you’ll notice that it reads more like pro-NCAA propaganda material than anything else. The consultation questions are suspect as well. Look at this one: “Please indicate your level of agreement with the following statement: ‘Increased athletic financial aid for student-athletes through NCAA Division II membership is important.’” Athletics director Bob Philips has made it clear since day one that his desired legacy is to see UBC in the NCAA. It should come as no surprise that he’s running the consultation as a top-down exercise consistent with that view.

How many times now have students been ‘consulted’ on this campus only to find out that their opinions made little difference in the decision making? This is yet another example. Since the consultation sessions are being run as pro-NCAA rally sessions, the only hope for opposition lies with our student leaders.


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