July marks the one-year mark until U.C. San Diego makes the transition to a full time Division-1 sports program. The move started in 2016 when the student body voted to approve a referendum to go D-I. But the desire to do it has been around a good while longer.
“When I took the position in 2000 my personal goal was to move us to Division-1,” said Earl Edwards, U.C San Diego Director of Athletics. “
That was also the year the Tritons moved from D-III to D-II and had immediate success.
But still many people ask: Why make the move? What benefits are there? Turns out there are several.
“The university, with the number of students we have, 30,000-plus, we’re one of the top universities in the world. So, we’re more of a Division-1 program,” said Edwards.
When collegiate athletics are at their best they work hand-in-hand with academics. U.C. San Diego already has a stellar academic reputation, landing 30th in the 2019 World University Rankings. Edwards believes the athletics department taking a step up can drive that number even higher.
“We are the number two school in the country in terms of applications behind UCLA,” said Edwards, referring to the total number of applications received each year. “That tells you right there that a lot of people are interested in us and that’s without the Division-1. Once we add the Division-1 piece to it I’m going to predict that in the next three to five years we’re going to be the number one applied-for institution in the country.”
Also; the Tritons seem to have simply out-grown Division-2. In 2019 U.C. San Diego finished 2nd in the Director’s Cup, which goes to the best overall athletics department in the nation, for the 3rd time in 15 years. Their sustained success across 23 sports shows they’re ready to compete on a higher level.
When the Tritons join the Big West Conference most of the focus will be on basketball, for a couple of reasons. One is the Tritons already have two wildly successful hoops programs with Division 1-caliber coaches. Two is hoops is an avenue that can have an express lane to success.
“The beauty of that conversation, looking at basketball in-particular, is we’ve looked at the Big West Conference over the last 10 to 12 years,” said Edwards.
What they saw was opportunity. Over the last 11 years, nine different schools have won the conference’s automatic bid to the Men’s National Championship tournament.
“That tells you it’s not a lock like you find in a lot of conferences,” said Edwards. “We have as much of an opportunity as the other schools when we enter the Big West and qualify for post-season play.”
A run in the NCAA Tournament can put a whole school on the national radar. It did that for Gonzaga, San Diego State and even a flash in the pan like Florida Gulf Coast. When they went to the Sweet 16, beating Georgetown and SDSU along the way, applications spiked 27.5%. When Wichita State went to the Final Four the Shockers success produced a 30% bump in prospective students.
After nearly two decades, Edwards’ dream is on the brink of coming to life.
“We’re basically ready.”
One thing Edwards says they will not be ready for is football. The Big West is a non-football conference and the Tritons currently have no plans to add that program. After the Tritons move to the Big West in Fall of 2020 they will have to undergo an NCAA-mandated four year “reclassification period” during which time they are not eligible for post-season competition.
But when 2024 rolls around the Tritons fully expect to be in the mix for multiple national titles.