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Story by Kevin Acee of the U-T San Diego

It happened again, and I noticed for the first time.

Just as many of you will do now.

That school in La Jolla with the Nobel Laureates on the faculty and billions in annual research funding that helps to make our world a better place also has some pretty good athletes running around its beautiful campus.

That's student-athletes in the most unadulterated sense of the word.

For the sixth consecutive year, UC San Diego has been ranked as the top Division II athletic program in the National Collegiate Scouting Association Power Rankings.

The rankings put out by the NCSA, which provides information for prospective collegiate athletes and their parents, essentially confirm that UCSD is doing things right.

"We get excited every year it comes out," UCSD Athletic Director Earl Edwards said, "because it reinforces what we're doing. And we've been doing it for a long time."

The Tritons, in fact, are doing it as well as anyone.

In its ninth consecutive year in the NCSA list of the top 100 schools, UCSD this year cracked the top 10 for the first time. That's top 10 regardless of NCAA Division -- I, II or III.

Some other schools in the top 10: Notre Dame, Duke, Harvard, MIT.

Considering that company and that UCSD is the only non-private school in the top 25, Edwards is not boasting when he calls UCSD "a public Ivy League school."

Taking into account the approximately 1,600 NCAA institutions' rankings in three categories - student-athlete graduation rates, academic ranking provided by U.S. News $ World Report and athletic department standings as determined by their finish in the annual Learfield Sports Directors Cup - the NCSA rankings basically tell us which schools are incorporating both athletics and academics at the highest level.

"It means we are the epitome of what collegiate athletics is supposed to be about," Edwards said.

It means they do things in the UCSD athletic department the same way they do things elsewhere at the institution perennially ranked among the top 10 public universities in the nation.

And the Tritons are not satisfied. Not even close. Never have been.

I first met Edwards 12 years ago as his department was in the midst of a transition from Division III to Division II.

At that time, there was concern from outside the department that a move up a level would result in a de-emphasis on academics. Clearly, it has not.

More than half UCSD's student-athletes earn a GPA of 3.0 or higher. (Not surprising, I guess, for a school whose incoming freshmen had an average GPA of 4.07 this fall.) Equally as impressive, the student-athletes' average GPA in their UCSD coursework is slightly higher than that of the general population.

There was a concern back in 2000 that the move to Division II, wherein many schools are fully scholarshipped, would result in UCSD suffering on the playing field. Also hasn't happened.

Since then, the Tritons have 10 times placed in the top seven among Division II programs in the Learfield Sports Director Cup, which measures athletic departments based on finishes in NCAA championships. And over the past seven years, UCSD has five times been named its conference's top athletic program.Edwards states matter-of-factly that while UCSD athletes receive just a $500 "award" as scholarship, the school's coaches and athletes don't act like anything less than top-shelf.

"For the most part, we run it like a mid-major Division I program," Edwards said. "We are committed."

In fact, Edwards' department desires to make another move.

Students in March voted down a fee increase that would have allowed UCSD to make the move to Division I. The initiative had been placed on the ballot by the student council, and Edwards sees the result as more of a "not now" than a "never" referendum.

"It's still a part of our vision," Edwards said without hesitation. "It's really just a question of when. The timing was bad in terms of the economy and the ‘occupy' culture. But it's what the students wanted in the sense of they wanted to address the question. I anticipate within the next few years we'll go back again (to the students for a vote)."

Edwards is more concerned about the changing culture in college athletics, wherein conference alignments have changed drastically in the past two years. The Tritons, you see, don't play football.

"It's making it more challenging for schools like us to move up," Edwards said. "Conferences are looking at things from an economic perspective rather than what intercollegiate athletics was intended for -- and that's the education side of it."

I say any conference would be fortunate to have them.

-- UCSDtritons.com --

 


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