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UC Davis Takes to NCAA Division I Playing Field

July 17, 2007

Photo: Deanna Menapace throwing a ball

Being at a Division I school will allow students like UC Davis catcher Deanna Menapace to compete at the toughest athletic levels in college. (Wayne Tilcok/Davis Enterprise)

Editor's Note: Also available on the Web are UC Davis Timeline: The Road to Division I and Eight Core Principles.

The University of California, Davis, is officially a Division I school after completing a rigorous four-year process that proved its readiness for the toughest athletic competition, academic requirements and regulations at the NCAA's top level of play.

The announcement was made at a news conference on campus today (Tuesday, July 17), following the National Collegiate Athletic Association's notice that it has certified UC Davis as a Division I school.

"We are ready," said Athletic Director Greg Warzecka. "We've done it the right way by recruiting the type of students who can succeed here both athletically and academically."

The campus -- with about 800 student-athletes participating in 26 varsity sports -- is now eligible for conference championships and postseason play in Division I. UC Davis will compete in the Big West Conference.

Support and sacrifice

Warzecka thanked the student body, the Aggie Pack spirit squad and others for their support. And he acknowledged the sacrifice of student-athletes and coaches who, during the four-year transition, could not compete for conference championships or participate in NCAA postseason play.

Deanna Menapace of Livermore, who this fall begins her junior year as a pre-med student, said playing on the softball team during the transition to Division I has been an opportunity to participate in the building of the athletics program.

"There is a lot of pride knowing that we're working so hard and making it better for future recruiting classes," said the Aggie catcher. And now that her team is eligible for postseason play? "It's exciting," she said. "I hope to give it everything I have."

Commitment to model program

Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef said the Big West Conference and Division I offer the perfect academic, philosophical and competitive "fit" for UC Davis.

"We continue to affirm our commitment to a model intercollegiate athletics program that is centered on the student-athlete and teacher-coach," he said. "Aggie student-athletes will continue to succeed in the arena where it counts the most -- the classroom."

The decision in 2003 to join the Big West Conference and reclassify from NCAA Division II to Division I status followed almost a year's discussion among campus administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni and the local community.

"It feels like such a natural transition," said Jessica Campbell, an international relations major and member of the women's basketball team. "It's built on this tradition of excellence," she said. "Division I is just the culmination of doing things right for so long."

Indeed, the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics has recognized the quality of the UC Davis athletics program with its Directors' Cup for NCAA Division II six times in eight years -- most recently in the school's final year of eligibility for the Division II award. Previously known as the Sears' Directors' Cup, the award signifies the most successful athletic program in the country.

With changes at the NCAA, UC Davis was one of the first three schools to undergo a four-year transition, instead of the previous two-year process. The NCAA certification process included a campus self-study with faculty, staff and student committees charged with examining such topics as governance, rules compliance, academic integrity, equity and welfare of the student-athlete. And as part of the process, an NCAA peer-review team visited campus to meet with the self-study teams, inspect facilities and evaluate the campus's readiness to be a Division I school.

Core principles, academic integrity

UC Davis officials established eight core principles to guide the campus through the transition process. Among them: admission and graduation standards must not be altered or amended for student-athletes; all sports are on an equal footing; and the institutional commitment to achieving gender equity must be maintained.

Kim Elsbach, a management professor who chairs the athletic administrative advisory committee and serves as UC Davis' faculty athletic representative to the NCAA, said UC Davis is steadfast in its commitment to the priority of education.

Elsbach pointed to a recent study that showed UC Davis student-athletes are doing better than the rest of the student population in academic performance and graduation rates -- an important measure of accountability.

"There is a constant struggle to balance the demands of being a Division I school and maintaining our commitment to academics over athletics," she said. "The results of this study illustrate our continued dedication to academic integrity."

Data collected from 2000 to 2005 also shows UC Davis student-athletes meet the same admission standards, perform the same in school, and have higher five-year and six-year graduation rates than other students.

Facilities and competition

Since beginning its progress toward Division I play, UC Davis has expanded its tennis facilities with the Marya Welch Tennis Center, constructed the new multi-use stadium and hosted an NCAA women's water polo championship in the new Schaal Aquatics Center.

The Aggies began playing a mostly Division I schedule in fall 2004 and, since then, have racked up impressive victories over Stanford in football, men's soccer, men's basketball, wrestling and baseball; made strong showings against other Division I and Big West Conference teams; and wrestler Derek Moore earlier this year became the first Aggie to win an NCAA Division I championship.

Elsbach said other schools are looking to UC Davis as a model for their athletics programs: "We can feel proud of what we're bringing to the Division I playing field."

Undergraduate students passed the Campus Expansion Initiative in November 2002, a portion of which asked students to support financially a move by UC Davis to the Big West Conference and Division I.

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