From the vault: UCSD’s possible Division I move isn’t enough to bolster school spirit

Scaffolding is in place around the Sun God sculpture at UC San Diego at some point during my time there before 2001.

Scaffolding is in place around the Sun God sculpture at UC San Diego at some point during my time there before 2001.

Author’s note: I started writing this in the spring of 2012, the last time UC San Diego students voted on whether to move to NCAA Division I (it failed with 56.7 percent of students voting no). It’s unfinished, but I’m finally publishing it because students will again vote on D-I this spring. Aside from modifying the original headline (from “UCSD’s possible Division I move won’t bolster school spirit alone”), everything else is presented as-is from four years ago. I’ll definitely have more thoughts in the weeks to come.

UC San Diego’s possible move to NCAA Division I has been on my mind since the student vote started last week. The proposal has stirred deep concerns, but I sort of didn’t want to speak out about it. While I have strong spirit for UCSD, it’s not really my opinion that matters — it really boils down to the current students and what they want.

After doing some research and witnessing a relatively small crowd watch the women’s basketball team in the playoffs (at a tournament UCSD was hosting), I’ve concluded that D-I likely won’t accomplish what proponents say they want — an increase in the campus’ prominence, a bolstered campus life and a more involved alumni community. At least not alone.

Ultimately, having students each pay nearly $500 more per year for Division I seems pound foolish without a concerted effort to pursue complementary, pennywise solutions.

Campus prominence — This is a tempting lure. After all, at D-I, there’s always the possibility of the men’s or women’s basketball teams making it to March Madness. And for 21 other sports that struggle for the spotlight, there’s the ability to play slightly bigger rivals. And think of all the other Division I programs that you can name.

Unfortunately, campus prominence seems like a tease. There are 346 D-I schools. Name recognition gets sketchy after the 47th team in a basketball tournament or the two teams facing off in a 35th-tier football bowl game sponsored by a bail bondsman.

Other schools have made the argument that D-I would bolster their regional and national appearance. When I was going to school, UC Riverside students made that argument when voting to go to Division I in 1998.

Does the fact that UCR is now D-I really improve that campus’ reputation in your mind? The same argument could be made for UC Irvine and even UC Santa Barbara (outside of their basketball team, at times). These are schools known largely for things other than their athletic legacy.

Proponents also assert that UCSD has outgrown D-II after 12 short years, arguing that the school is too big for its conference, the California Collegiate Athletic Association, in both student population, academic prowess and athletic performance. I’m not too concerned about campus size or scholastic performance, but there’s still room to grow athletically.

Yes, UCSD excels in the conference, but it has earned three national team championships in Division II in 12 years, according to NCAA stats. Compare that with the 20 team titles UCSD won in Division III (where UCSD clearly exceeded average school size and dominated the division).

If UCSD goes to D-I, I predict its prominence will still languish on regional and national stages. Locally, UCSD would still be in third position — behind San Diego State University and University of San Diego. (USD is another example where a school’s D-I status is relatively unimportant — except for Jim Harbaugh for football and a rare March Madness basketball win.)

If UCSD were an athletic Goldilocks, Division III was obviously too small, Division I is likely too big, while Division II is still just right.

Improved campus life

Who had the most airtime during the GOP debate? Advertisers.

Here's a breakdown of how much airtime each candidate, and advertisers, received during Thursday's GOP presidential candidate debate aired on Fox News Channel.

Here’s a breakdown of how much airtime each candidate, and advertisers, received during Thursday’s GOP presidential candidate debate aired on Fox News Channel.

Thursday’s debate of Republican candidates running for president in 2016 on Fox News Channel turned out to be pretty exciting. While most of the post-debate analysis has been focused on what the 10 candidates said, some are looking at how much airtime each candidate received. I took it a step further and considered how many commercials aired during the program.

My findings? Advertisers handily won the airtime battle.

I didn’t have a stopwatch, but based on my review of the broadcast, I estimated Fox News aired a total of about 16 minutes of commercials during six breaks. If it’s correct, that means that commercials took up a larger portion of the 2+ hour-long debate than any of the individual candidates. That’s more than current frontrunner Donald Trump’s 11 minutes and 14 seconds, as calculated by The New York Times. Ads had nearly triple the airtime of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was one of the leading candidates.

Since Fox News was running the show, it could and did take commercial breaks during the event’s scheduled two-hour running time (it ran over by about four minutes). During the first break after about 30 minutes, The New York Times’ graphics department tweeted a breakdown of how long each candidate spoke during the initial segment.

I was interested to see how little time some of the candidates received, especially compared to Trump, who has become a major attraction in this election’s early going. By that point, each candidate had relatively little time to speak — Walker got only 34 seconds, but even Trump got less than two minutes. I was amused by Fox News airing commercials during a civically-oriented event, especially because I’m used to commercial-free debates before the main general election (less than 15 months away!). I was curious if Fox News would have more commercial time than airtime for some of the candidates.

Ultimately, I was surprised to see that it’s likely that advertising outpaced _all_ of the candidates instead of just a few.

I didn’t have a good way of keeping time of the commercials during the debate, so I tried to collect the data after it ended. Thankfully, I was able to find a Washington Post transcript of the event and a YouTube user’s upload of the entire debate sans ads (that YouTube link may be yanked down due to possible copyright infringement).

The video was 1 hour, 49 minutes. Thanks to Fox News showing the time on its rotating channel logo, I could see the recording started at about 5:58 p.m. Pacific daylight time and ended after 8:04 p.m. PDT — about 2 hours, 6 minutes. My math determined there was a 17-minute difference between the two durations. I subtracted about a minute to account for short teaser promos that the YouTube user also edited out, but I don’t have a firm idea of how long those teasers really were.

The transcript indicates there were six commercial breaks during the broadcast. If the breaks were of equal length, each one would be 2 minutes, 40 seconds. It’s plausible that there were 15 total minutes of ads — that would make each break about 2 minutes, 30 seconds.

So, by my estimate, Fox News aired 15 or 16 minutes of ads. By comparison, here’s the final airtime tally as calculated by the Times:

Although advertising time dominated over the candidates, 15 to 16 minutes of ads over a two-hour period (or 8 minutes per hour) is extremely light by today’s broadcasting standards. It’s common for networks to air 18 to 20 minutes of commercials an hour. We could have seen nearly 40 minutes of ads during this two-hour event.

I initially lamented the intrusion of advertising into a civic event, but many people noted the breaks were relatively short and some enjoyed what was being advertised. On the other hand, some were frustrated by the total number of breaks in the broadcast.

While we may argue which presidential candidate won the debate, Fox News and advertisers seemed to win the night as there were predictions of record-breaking cable news audiences.