Campus scores with Big West committee

Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell and members of committee studying expansion of the Division I conference visited UC Davis last week, and the group liked what they saw.

  • basketball facility - Recreation Hall - that's bigger than any other in the conference.

Superb soccer and baseball fields that should be among the best in the Big West.

And plans for an Olympic-caliber new aquatic center.

UC Davis still must officially decide whether the university's athletic teams should move to Division I, but during the conference visit one component of that decision became clear: UC Davis is a good match for the Big West.

"We at least know that we have one issue resolved," said Athletic Director Greg Warzecka. "The Big West looks like a good fit for us because of the similarities of the institutions."

Indeed, Farrell noted that a coach at one Big West school, the University of the Pacific, said that the university shared more applicants with UC Davis than with any other school in the country.

The committee members and Farrell said they were also impressed by the consensus of support it found for the Division I reclassification.

"There's usually one or more detractors for making the move to Division I," Farrell said. "I did not find that."

The committee interviewed coaches, UC Davis administrators, faculty and staff members and longtime community supporters of the Aggies.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Judy Sakaki, who previously worked closely with Fresno State's Division I athletic program, is one of the advocates on campus with whom the Big West group met.

"(The conference's interest) is a major statement of the level and quality of our athletic program," she said. "It's a wonderful opportunity for our student athletes and our students as a whole."

By the end of the month the conference board of directors, based on the recommendations of the expansion committee, will decide whether to admit UC Davis to the Big West. Other schools in the conference include UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, UC Riverside, Cal State Northridge, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, Utah State and University of Idaho.

Then the university must decide by Dec. 15 whether it will seriously pursue the offer. It has until June 1, 2003, to accept.

Students, however, will make the ultimate decision on whether UC Davis will go Division I. Top campus administrators and student leaders held a one-day retreat last Friday to discuss plans for a student referendum on the issue, likely to be held in November.

Students have already shown great interest in the potential move, Warzecka said.

"They've often wondered why aren't we Division I, why aren't we playing the other UCs," he said.

With the quality of its athletic programs already high, he believes the campus has the potential to soon be a top conference contender, Farrell said. If UC joins the Big West, it would not be eligible to participate in conference championships until the fall of 2007. But UC Davis should be able to begin competing among conference members by fall 2005.

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