By Colin Curits
As each quarter rolls to a close and the stress of choosing new classes grows, the nightmarish situation of class enrollment reminds students of the struggle in seeing planned classes slowly fill up. Despite this conflict, the student population must remember that UCLA student-athletes get the first pick for every large and important choice that is made throughout the year. From choosing classes to selecting the best dorm rooms, there is no doubt that athletes indeed get the first-class ticket at our school. At the same time, students who support our teams must experience many seasons disregarded as “growing pains,” with unexpected losses and difficulty finding harmony between the coaches and teams. However, the question remains as to why athletes on underperforming teams should be treated like royalty while students ultimately suffer the academic and financial consequences.
UCLA students most directly experience this inequity by the financial burden that underperforming teams create for the University. Money-making teams like football and basketball that fail to generate excitement from the student body result in empty seats and low return on advertising and marketing investments. This idea most clearly manifested itself with the news that UCLA Athletics finished the 2019 fiscal year with a nearly $19,000,000 deficit. This was primarily because UCLA prematurely terminated the previous football and basketball coaches and increased spending in both teams. Such a shortcoming will ultimately result in the athletic department seeing a bailout from the University, possibly diverting funds that would have otherwise more directly impacted the student population. Although the bailout will not fiscally endanger UCLA, it creates a sense of injustice among the student population when, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many students are unable to receive Bruin Tech Grants or CARES Act funding of more than $200. Conversely, the University spends millions on Athletics with no questions asked.
Perhaps the University can relieve non-student-athletes’ angst for underperforming teams by allowing student-athletes a fixed number of benefits per year to be applied as athletes see fit. One such approach to this issue would be to adopt a system in which athletes have a set number of “priority passes” that they can use on things like housing or enrollment. If an athlete needs to pick a certain course because of a practice conflict, they can use a priority pass on that specific class to ensure a spot. This bypasses the tension created by the current system, whereby athletes pick all of their classes before the rest of the student population, even though they may not always need the priority slot that is granted to them. For example, if each athlete is granted eight priority passes a year, they could spend those passes on priority housing, classes, or parking, which would each have a certain “cost” associated with them. Such a system allows athletes priority in cases where they need it for possible conflicts without the carte-blanche that they currently receive from the University. This strategy could also be expanded to allow coaches the ability to grant athletes more priority passes than their original allotment through excellent player performance or winning a championship. All of these actions would ensure a fair distribution of priority spots to athletes while encouraging team members to strive for success.
Some may argue that the retraction of student-athlete benefits would deter athletes from coming to UCLA. However, athletes oftentimes do not need the class priority that is granted to them. This notion is especially true for upper-division courses, which don’t often reach full enrollment and therefore eliminate the need for athlete priority. Alternatively, a popular GE course like Scandanavian 50 fills up within hours of athlete enrollment. Not only does this feed the unhealthy stereotype that student-athletes pick easier course loads, but it also unfairly blocks other students from the opportunity to take that class.
Furthermore, there is a pervasive notion that athletes need to pick classes first because they have a scheduled practice time during the day. Coaches require specified times so that the majority of the team can be dedicated to practice. In such a scenario, it makes the most sense to hold practice during non-school hours. UCLA club sports do not practice during class hours, and even though the stakes are higher for our D-1 sports, education must always be the priority for students. At a university with chaotic enrollment, this dichotomy between practice and education ultimately reduces the position of the student-athlete to an athlete-student.
It is necessary that the university take action to combat the growing tension between athlete priorities in enrollment and the sidelined general student population. Implementing policies that would allow a fixed number of priority credits per athlete in a year would greatly reduce stress on class enrollment, especially for impacted classes and popular general education requirements. When athletes take a third of the spots in a popular GE before the majority of the student population enrolls, what does this really say about the intentions of UCLA? The university must take action to allow for more lenient practice times, which will open enrollment priorities to additional students. Such changes will create a friendly, competitive environment for athletes to grow within a team while prioritizing the necessities of the student body as a whole.