In the year 2000, U.C. San Diego’s sports jumped from Division III to Division II. In the 20 years since the Tritons have sent their teams to 222 NCAA Tournaments and become one of the most accomplished athletics departments in the nation.
Simply put, it was time for the Tritons to move up.
On July 1, 2020, they did just that, officially ascending to Division I and becoming a full member of the Big West Conference. It was cause for celebration … which they did the best way they could during a pandemic.
“We can celebrate anywhere so we celebrated on a Zoom call yesterday with our athletics department. We worked hard during the day and then we celebrated. We’re excited to be in the Big West,” says Tritons women’s basketball head coach Heidi Vanderveer.
Director of Athletics Earl Edwards served as the de-facto emcee of the Zoom celebration, a task that comes with another unique set of challenges.
“One of the things I found that is extremely awkward is when you’re making what you consider are humorous comments, since everyone is muted you don’t know if it came across or not,” says Edwards.
That’s the most amazing part of this story: everyone on a large Zoom call remembered to hit the mute button.
The Tritons now enter a reclassification period that ends on July 1, 2024. After that they’re eligible to compete for NCAA National Championships but still can win conference titles and expect to be competitive in the Big West immediately, if not sooner.
“I’m anticipating that we’ll be, right from the beginning, probably somewhere in the middle of the conference as far as overall success,” says Edwards. “And then by the time we get to the end of our reclassification period in ’24 that we’ll be competing for a number of conference championships across the board.”
Going D-1 gives U.C San Diego an expanded scholarship model to award more money to student-athletes. Perhaps even more important than that is the ability to play at the highest level of collegiate sports. The Tritons have long recruited against Power-5 schools and missed out on talent because of their division.
“It would get to a point where, a prospective student-athlete would say I love U.C. San Diego. I love the idea of playing in your program. But I want to play Division I,” says Vanderveer, who’s led the Tritons to five straight conference championships. “I feel like joining the Big West really removes that hurdle.”
UCSD is the second-most applied to school in the country behind UCLA so it’s already a popular destination based on academic reputation. However, recruiting during the coronavirus outbreak has been an obvious challenge. That’s where technology and geography play heavily to San Diego’s advantage.
The Tritons took drone footage of their top-notch athletics facilities and include it in their virtual recruiting package.
“It looks cooler, obviously because it’s a different angle, but the other part is it give a much larger context of the landscape and all that’s around it and for us, a lot of our shots you’ll see the tennis court/soccer stadium, track stadium … and oh, by the way, there’s the beach not too far away,” says Edwards. “So that’s going to help us a lot.”
They’re not sure yet when they can start their 2020 fall sports schedule but UCSD will certainly be prepared when they do.