When 80 Is a Failing Grade

-Bumped. BN Eds.

Recent discussions on BN have concerned Spaulding Field, and whether its undersized practice fields constitute an important issue. Several people have opined that increasing Spaulding’s size to standard levels is far from UCLA’s foremost concern. They say that, unlike many other Universities, UCLA has a postage-stamp-sized campus on which to meet all of UCLA’s real estate needs.

They say that, unlike soccer, American football does not require vastly different types of practices for the offensive and defensive ends of the field, and practices for midfield soccer are different still. They say that, for the types of practices conducted 99% of the time in football, eighty yards is perfectly adequate. Soccer is more of a whole-field game, whereas football is a series of relatively compact, coordinated plays.

To these people, I say, it’s all true. I concede all of that.

However, I dispute whole-heartedly that these realities justify not upgrading Spaulding’s fields to full size.

They say that the issue is way overblown. I say the opposite. I say that UCLA, from Chancellor down to Morgan Center staff, should be embarrassed about being substandard. They should be losing sleep about the very possibility that they might actually be hurting the team, even if only a tiny bit. They should be working overtime to find a way to elevate UCLA’s facilities to be on par, at least, with every other Division I institution.

I say that upgrading Spaulding to full size is something that UCLA, not just can, but has to find a way to accomplish. I do not doubt that some clever minds can come up with a way to balance Spaulding expansion with the many other needs of UCLA.

They say or imply that having more pressing and more important problems makes the Spaulding issue less important to solve, or even irrelevant. To that, I say you’ve got no imagination.

They say that, given all the other demands for resources and real estate, we cannot solve this problem, I say malarkey. Saying “we cannot” is not only lame, it’s complete horseshit. What’s lacking here is not the how. What’s lacking is the will. Without the will, the how doesn’t stand a chance.

You see, an undersized Spaulding is not just about whether the team can practice 99% of what it needs to practice. It’s about attitude.

Every time a player steps on or looks at Spaulding field, he is reminded that his university thinks that four-fifths of a field is good enough for him and the team. Every time a player considers putting in the extra, torturous work that greatness requires, he is faced with the fact that his university does not share his aspirations for greatness.

Every time a student wonders whether a trek all the way from Dykstra to Pasadena for a game is worth his or her time, the plain message received from the sponsoring institution is “We don’t care. Why should you?”

Every time an alumnus or fan receives season-ticket and donation requests, he or she considers what kind of contribution the UCLA athletic administration has made to making UCLA football better. Have they done all they can to help our team compete at the highest level?

If the university cannot trouble itself to get four-square behind its team, why should anyone else?

Any time a talented recruit is approached by UCLA, the less-than-full commitment to UCLA football by the athletic administration is plain for all to see. The success that we’ve had in recruiting over the years, and recently under the Neuheisel and budding Mora eras, has everything to do with the energy of the coaching staffs, the natural attractiveness of UCLA, and the historical, athletic prestige of UCLA. As for factors in why a skilled recruit might choose UCLA over other institutions, I doubt that the enthusiasm demonstrated by the Morgan Center would be anywhere near the top of the recruit’s scorecard.

Do you think that recruiters for other universities don’t use our substandard-length practice facilities against us? They do. What’s more, recruiters who use that against us are entirely justified in doing so. This is not unfair tactics or sleazy innuendo. This is fact. UCLA thinks a practice facility that is unlike any field on which games are played is good enough. Why would you want to go there?

Leaving Spaulding as is, size-wise, is anti-Coach. Coach Wooden made his practices as much like games as possible. He sought to duplicate things like tempo and intensity in practices. Drills were crisp, no nonsense. Transitions to new drills were quick. Drills were designed to teach skills that would be called for in games. Details mattered. Weight on both feet. Knees bent. Hands up. Eyes up. Don’t wait for games to do these things. Do them now. On every play, in every drill.

Coach knew that drilling his players in this way during practices would prepare them in the best way possible for games. He knew that his players could best find the poise that great teams find in games by doing the same things in games that they had done in practices. By conducting practices like this, he knew that he had done his best to prepare his players to do their best. A very wise man, Coach Wooden.

Little things matter. Ask Coach. Ask Larry Farmer or Sidney Wicks or Jamal Wilkes whether shoelaces and socks matter. Ask them if blisters could possibly lessen their quickness or hamper their ability to perform at their best. They’ll tell you that doing one’s best is not a product of luck or getting “up” for a game. It’s a product of having done everything within their powers to be the best that they can possibly be in the days before the game. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Nothing less was acceptable for Coach. Sadly, very sadly, plenty less suffices for this athletic administration.

Much of sports is mental. Often, the difference between success and failure is not vertical leaping abilities or bench presses or forty-yard times. Sometimes, the difference between competitors, both team and individual, is small, intangible and subtle. “I can do this,” versus “I hope I can do this.” Thinking clearly versus succumbing to jitters. Confident execution versus nervous parries.

Permitting Spaulding to remain a subset of the field for which teams practice is an unmistakable message sent by this athletic administration to the team, to coaches, to fans. And, the message is not pretty. It’s as though the administration is delivering a daily “pep” talk to the team, saying to players “All right, fellas. We’ve got Nebraska and Houston coming in. We’ve got some tough road games ahead, and Cal has had our number lately. Stanford is playing like a no-academics-required-here football factory. SC is always tough. It’s probably good that we don’t play Oregon this year. But, never mind, men. We’re Bruins. Now, go out there and get ‘em. We’re behind you eighty percent!”

The “it’s not UCLA’s most pressing problem” meme proffered by UCLA is especially offensive. While saying that out of one corner of their mouth, they are pushing for a new hotel and convention center out of the other. The hypocrisy is beyond galling. They diminish the importance of a full-scale upgrade of Spaulding, while inflating the importance of a hotel complex. Such self-serving, disingenuous bullshit, this is. What was that part about the postage-stamp campus again, and where on the postage stamp will the hotel complex go?

Bringing Spaulding up to Division I levels would be positive in so many ways. Of course, being on par with other Division I institutions would be a positive, in and of itself. But, it could also, very possibly, help the team to be more successful, even if in small and subtle ways. Crucially, though, it would send the right message. It would show that UCLA aspires to greatness in all endeavors, including football. It would be a small change in facilities, but a huge change in attitude. Find a way, dear Morgan Center, to solve this shortcoming. Get behind your football team in the same way that so many of us alumni and students and fans have. Do everything that you can to help your team succeed. Little things matter. If you can’t, then get the hell out of the way, because this is not an insurmountable problem. If you say it is, then it is you that is the problem.

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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