I am finding it harder and harder to justify the presence of our athletic programs on campus.
What should be programs that enrich the student experience, both for those who participate and those who cheer them on, are becoming "professional" ventures -- aimed at competing with the private sector for income. I do not see that as a proper university enterprise.
If we cannot make the students the center of attention and beneficiaries of these programs, we should not waste our time and money on them.
Don't get me wrong -- I love UCLA athletics. I am just deeply concerned with the state of all of our programs AND with the latest news that the students seats have been sold out from under them.
I, for one, an alum who sat in season tickets in Pauley for many, many years, had hoped that the renovation would bring back student seating along the sidelines -- the way it was when Pauley opened -- as a way of enhancing the student experience AND creating the type of crowd atmosphere our student/athletes deserve. They should be playing for their peers -- enjoyed by their peers, bonding with their peers, sharing a student experience with their fellow students.
Pauley opened when I was a student. The student section went from the court straight up on the Sunset side of the floor. The section was cohesive and spirited.
At the same time, we played football in the Coliseum. The students held a sizable portion of the yard line seats -- they were not crunched between the end zone and the 10 yard line. Once more, we rocked the joint.
Why is that important? Because, student athletics serve an important role in the STUDENT EXPERIENCE. They help kids diffuse the pressure of attending a rigorous university. They give them something to do, a place to scream and yell, bond, and have fun. And, in our day, they were inexpensive activities (actually, almost free -- for $75 we bought an activity fee card that gave us entry to all events. There were no "limits" on who could attend or when.) In fact, that was all we paid for in attending a UC campus -- just that activity card.
What' most disturbing in the student seating fiasco is the blatant manner in which the athletic department makes clear that the decision on seating was all about money. Students out. Rich folk in. That's not the way it should be.
The students should have special status. Yes, take the rich folks' money -- but some seats are simply not for sale.
I don't think that too hard a concept for us alums to understand. Who amongst us would argue with a plan that gives the students pretty much the same seats we had as students? I, for one, do not believe that we could not sell out our seats AND give priority seating to our students.
One reason I think we would hold on to our alums is because for us, the graduated -- no matter what our class year -- coming home is important. And, being with a group of rabid young Bruins brings back those incredible memories that have made us life long Bruins.
And, that's another important point. I love UCLA. I BLEED Blue and Gold. What has given me that deep instilled loyalty? It wasn't the pleasure of attending a large campus, sitting in large classes or being a number to the admin people. It was the athletic programs. There is where I found a clear place. And, there is where the ember of Bruinhood within me was fanned to flames. I loved my education at UCLA; the quality speaks for itself. But, my deep loyalty was built in Pauley and the Coliseum.
The university should appreciate that. I am on the downside of my curve. The university should be building loyalty in new generations of alum's. Want our money? Treat us right as students.
Sell us out short term and lose us long term. Not a good decision to make.
This decision on student seating could not have come at a worse time for me, personally.
Because, as those of you who read my posts here know, I am really troubled with the state of all of our athletic programs. I fear that the "student" part of "student/athlete" has taken on a subservient role. I feel an onslaught of public acceptance of using our university as a farm team for the pro's -- our students as unpaid professionals here to showcase their talents and then sell out. I am saddened because so few talk about their classes and the exciting academic challenges they are conquering. (ATV is the counter example and I cannot tell you how much I respect him for having been a true "student/athlete").
Some will blame the "atmosphere" -- times have changed and we are simply being moved by them.
My university was a leader -- not an inert blob being moved along with the tide.
I think it the Athletic Department's role to keep everything in proper perspective. And, that perspective STARTS with the student experience. If the AD cannot find a way to make these programs by the students for the students, I seriously question whether we should continue to participate in the current system; there are alternatives, not any I like, but if we continue to flounder and lose sight of the role of sports in the students' experience, I think we should examine the alternatives. Dan Guerrero, this is on you. If you cannot run a program to the benefit of the students, both participants and observers -- go work for a pro team.