Sunday, May 31

Un-Connon Opinions: As UCLA falls behind in the NCAA titles race, adding more teams is imperative

UCLA men’s gymnastics won two national championships before it was dissolved following budget cuts in 1993. Pac-12 rival Stanford won a men’s gymnastics title in April. (Daily Bruin archive)

For UCLA fans, championship No. 117 must have been a relief.

The Bruins won three NCAA championships last school year – men’s water polo, women’s gymnastics and beach volleyball. But up until this weekend, there hadn’t been a single one this year.

Beach volleyball pulled through again to get UCLA back on the board, but that wasn’t before Stanford built a comfortable lead.

After winning championships in women’s volleyball, women’s swimming and men’s gymnastics this year, the Cardinal were able to bump their total to 120.

I’ll go ahead and state the obvious: UCLA does not have men’s gymnastics.

After budget cuts in 1993, the program was dissolved despite winning national championships in 1984 and 1987. But men’s gymnastics isn’t the only Cardinal team that doesn’t have a Bruin counterpart.

Stanford boasts 36 varsity athletic programs, essentially dwarfing the 23 that UCLA Athletics funds. Men’s swimming has accounted for eight of the Cardinals’ championships, another sport that fell victim to budget cuts at UCLA despite winning a championship in 1982.

There are two reasons for Stanford’s advantage on this front. First, obviously, is funding. For context, UCLA’s endowment is $5 billion.

Stanford’s endowment is $26.5 billion.

Now, not all of that goes into athletics, but the fact that Stanford basically has five times the resources and no oversight from the greater University of California system makes athletic funding much easier

The next reason is Title IX.

Title IX is a federal civil rights law that extends far beyond the world of sports, but in relation to athletics, it requires equal opportunities for male and female athletes on campus. That means that the school has to offer an identical amount of athletic scholarships to its men’s and women’s teams.

Naturally, since there is no women’s football, there are either going to be some women’s-only sports or some intensely complex scholarship distribution patterns. So if UCLA was to add or take away a men’s sport, it would have to do the same with a women’s team.

I know that not all 31,000 undergraduate students care about UCLA having the most national championships in the country as much as I do – it was one of the school’s major selling points when I visited campus and did tours during orientation. UCLA claims to be the best of the best, but it’s losing one of its major claims to fame.

So with the two hurdles of funding and Title IX, how can the Bruins find a way to pull back ahead of the Cardinal?

Funding is tricky, considering the student backlash following UCLA Athletics’ announcement of a $35 million academic facility for athletes in February. But new programs can be funded the same way that project is – donations.

And while it may be incredibly difficult to add a new men’s sport that already has a corresponding women’s sport – such as swimming and gymnastics – adding a men’s and women’s sport at the same time would be in accordance with Title IX.

UCLA women’s club lacrosse is at nationals in Virginia Beach, Virginia, this week, so I think a good place to start would be by adding men’s and women’s lacrosse. There’s also men’s and women’s sailing, which Stanford already has as well.

One women’s-only sport to add would be field hockey, which could open the door for men’s gymnastics or men’s swimming to make a comeback.

Is all of this feasible? Not really.

But is it possible? Barely.

I know it’s not likely, and I’m sure getting back to the top of the national championship race isn’t a top priority for the university as a whole. But as long as Stanford has significantly more teams than UCLA, the only thing Bruin fans can do is cross their fingers and hope their current squads pick up the pace.

Sports editor

Connon is the Sports editor and a reporter on the football and men's basketball beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the baseball, men's soccer, women's golf, men's golf and cross country beats and a reporter on the baseball and women's basketball beats. Connon also contributes movie reviews for Arts & Entertainment and co-hosts Daily Bruin Sports' weekly podcast, "Out of Bounds." Connon is a third-year Communication student from Winchester, Massachusetts.

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