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Earl Edwards

There is a saying at UC San Diego that we have the all-time best record in college football. Were undefeated. Never mind that we dont have a football team. Is there any discussion of starting a football team at UC San Diego? That is just one of the many questions Athletic Director Earl Edwards recently answered for this Q&A interview. He also discusses how UC San Diegos division change affected our athletics program, how sports unite our student body and contribute to academic excellence, and why our athletes are truly unique.

A little background on Earl Edwards.  He has a master’s degree in sport administration. He joined the UC San Diego team in 2000, just as our 23-sport program transitioned from the NCAA Division III to Division II.  His goal is to provide a wide variety of athletic competition on campus so all students can participate in a sport they enjoy at their skill level.  (More than 80% of UC San Diego students participate in some type of recreational activity and more than 10,000 students play intramural sports.)

Under Earl’s watch, UC San Diego has won the California Collegiate Athletic Association Commissioner’s Cup two years in a row.  Not bad considering the cup was just introduced last year.  This means we have the best overall athletic program in our conference in terms of our on-field performance.  Earl was also recently named the AstroTurf Athletic Director of the Year for the Division II West Region by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. 


How do athletics contribute to the overall college experience?

Edwards: I think athletics contribute to four main areas.  The first is the holistic approach to education – meaning the physical, intellectual and emotional realms.  The second issue is personal development or growth.  Athletes learn lessons by dealing with victory, defeat, how to be part of team, how to set goals, and the education they gain from traveling to different parts of the country.  The fact that they have mentors, surrogate parents, essentially for at least the four years they’re here, really helps with the personal growth. 

The third piece is the issue of unity on campus and school spirit.  It’s critical, particularly at a school like UCSD, which is a research institution.  We also have a six-college system, which I think is a great in terms of providing a small town flavor within a big environment for the students.  But the downside is that it creates more separatism than you’d find on most campuses.  So to have a department like athletics, that brings everyone together for a common cause, is even more valuable. 

Then the fourth thing is that we attract positive attention to the campus.  We are in the newspaper at least once a week, often several times a week.  When you look at athletics and its role on campus, we are unlike any other department. 


What makes UCSD Athletics so unique?

Edwards: We have six unique components.  The first thing is the academic standards and success we have here.  The second is our winning tradition.  We have 29 national championships and success at the Division II level.  The third element is our amazing facilities.  We’re clearly in the upper echelon in the quality of our facilities.  The fourth thing is our location.  We’re in La Jolla.  I don’t need to say anything else.  The fifth element is we’re fortunate to have excellent coaches and staff.  They’re a main ingredient.  And the last thing is we’re fortunate to be in a state like California.  We are able to recruit from a large pool of athletes that meet our high standards.  It’s unique to have those six things in one place.


Is it true that UCSD athletes maintain a higher GPA than the general student population?

Edwards: Yes, and we always emphasize the student first in the athlete.  I think athletes in general are pretty good students for a host of reasons.  They’re forced to manage their time and be organized.  They have a lot of surrogate parents and mentors, between the coaches, the athletic director and the NCAA rules.  I consider UCSD to be a public Ivy League university, and for us to say that our athletes have a higher GPA than the general student population, that’s a very powerful statement.  Our student athletes here are very special. 


What do you look for when recruiting athletes?

Edwards: We look for students who can handle the academics here at UCSD.  We look for the best athlete that can fit into our environment and compete at this level.  And character is a big part of our recruiting.  We want good citizens who will contribute to society as a whole. 

Also, when we recruit individuals, it’s not just for the four years they’re here.  We have contact with our alumni on a regular basis.  We probably have one of the largest groups on campus.  Every October we have an alumni reunion.  We’ll bring back 400-500 former athletes to campus.  Our coaches have relationships with our former students that go back 15-20 years.  That connectedness to the university through athletics is unlike any other connection to the campus.  The passion for the sport and the experience stays with you forever. 


As a leading research university in the nation, to what extent should athletics be a priority?

Edwards: I think it should be a high priority because the university focuses so much on the intellectual piece, and there is so much stress associated with that, so there is a need for balance.  Athletics provide balance in terms of an improved social environment and people benefit from a physical standpoint.   


You became director just as UCSD was transitioning to Division II Intercollegiate Athletics.  What impact has the division change had on the campus?

Edwards: Before, when we were Division III, we weren’t in the conference and we played a lot of small schools.  As a result, the competition wasn’t the best and that impacted our attendance.  Since we moved to Division II, our attendance has improved because there are now consistent rivalries that have been built with several schools.  This has moved athletics more to the forefront of the campus.

Also, when we were Division III, there was no way students would have passed an  athletics referendum.  In fact we tried several times and it didn’t pass.  Since we’ve moved to Division II, we’ve had two athletic referendums pass, which is quite significant.  We’ve moved from survival planning in the early 80s, to the ability, for the first time, to do some strategic-planning.  This tells me our students see the role of athletics changing on this campus and that it does have some value.


UC San Diego recently hired two coaches from Division I universities.  Does this mean the university is trying to move to Division I athletics?

Edwards: That’s not in our plans right now.  But it does show that people understand the quality of our program, both regionally and nationally, since we have Division I coaches who want to be here. We have 23 sports.  Last year 19 of the 23 went on to post-season play.  We finished as national runner-ups in the Director’s Cup and that represents the best overall program in terms of success.  For us to finish as national runner-ups, out of 300 Division II schools, without offering huge athletic scholarships, tells us we have a very special place.  I want to emphasize our success is due to the students, coaches and staff.   They’re the ones who deserve the credit for getting us where we are today.  It’s been a team effort.


Do you think we’ll eventually be able to increase student scholarships?

Edwards: The scholarships are where they need to be right now in terms of getting into compliance with the NCAA rules.  However, if we want to get the best athletes that meet our criteria, in terms of the academic component, then we should look at increasing our scholarships.


Is there any discussion of UC San Diego starting a football team?

Edwards: I really like football and I think football can do things for a university that other sports can’t, in terms of bringing large numbers of people together and donations.  But there three major issues to consider with football. 

One is the financial piece.  It’s extremely expensive to run a program.  We’re talking millions of dollars regardless of the level of play.  Another issue is Title IX which deals with gender equity in athletic programs. This means if you have football, you need to offer similar opportunities for females to compete within an athletic program, and financially things need to be similar.  With football, you have 80-100 athletes and there isn’t a single female sport that is comparable.

The third issue, which I don’t think people consider, is the major impact on facilities.  A great example here at UCSD is our weight room, which already gets quite a bit of use.  If you threw another 80 or 100 football players in there, that would just add to the impact on the facilities and the weight room.  We’d also need a practice field, as well as a game field.  And you’d have to add staff members, coaches and administrators, and then you have to find a place for their offices.  Of course, parking is another issue.  So even if you had the finances, there are a lot of other factors to consider.


You were recently named the AstroTurf Athletic Director of the Year Award by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.  How did it feel to receive that honor?

Edwards: Amazing would be an understatement.  To be recognized nationally is about as good as it gets.  You work so hard to be successful.  And to be recognized by your peers is a clear testament to the outstanding coaches, staff and student athletes that we have.  We’re not just the athletic department at UCSD.  We’re an integral part of the university and we’re a reflection of the university.  The UCSD tradition of being innovative, creative and pursuing excellence carries over to the athletic department as well.


Have you always been interested in sports?

Edwards: I’ve played sports since I was a little kid.  It was a big part of my family when I was growing up.  I played pop warner football.  I ran track in high school, and I played baseball and football.  I played basketball in college.  Both my parents were very athletic.  I actually thought I was going to be a physical education teacher, and that was my major.  But I was fortunate to get my masters in sport administration and be hired at the University of Massachusetts in the Recreation Intramural Program. That’s how I got started on the college level. 


What’s your favorite sport to watch at UCSD?

Edwards: I love all 23 sports.  I go to as many home matches as I can.  I think it’s important for the student athletes to see me there as the Athletic Director.  Realistically there is no way I can get to know all 600 athletes, but for them to see me showing my support, that’s why I’m here.

I really like the idea, that as an administrator, I can play a major role in the development of the individuals.  Our student athletes come to UCSD wet behind the ears.  And by the time they leave, they’ve turned into outstanding young men and women who will go on to be major contributors to our society.  To play a major role in that is what I enjoy most about being an Athletic Director.


What’s your favorite sport to play?

Edwards: I used to play basketball.  Now my favorite sport to play is golf.  I like golf because it’s challenging, outdoors and social.