Something very special happened this past Friday night. In a match-up of two teams undefeated in conference play, our football team defeated a strong Utah State team, 48-14, in front of a crowd of 26,000 members of our community and a national TV audience. Our team had faced significant challenges at the beginning of the season, and it was wonderful to see the team overcome these adversities. While the game was a challenging one for our Utah State counterparts, they are a fine team and we know they also will rebound. For us, we look forward to the remainder of the season, including our next home game – the Homecoming game against Wyoming on Nov. 14.
In many ways, our victory illustrated the best of college football. Supported by our community, our players and coaches worked together, they persevered through adversity and their hard work and effort were rewarded. It was great to hear our community’s pride in SDSU’s athletics’ achievements – the women’s soccer team won its fourth consecutive conference title on Sunday – as I traveled throughout the city this weekend.
We are in a time of extraordinary change in college athletics, and this weekend of success and achievement provides an opportunity to reflect on three aspects of our athletics programs – the role they can play in supporting the broader university, the challenges they face in today’s environment and the incredible opportunities they can provide to our student-athletes. Our tradition of athletics’ achievement is strong at San Diego State, and we are poised to seize these opportunities and to meet our challenges.
Turning to athletics’ broader role, our programs are a highly visible aspect of our university’s culture of achievement and excellence. In athletics, our aspirations are to contend at the highest competitive level and to conduct our programs with the highest level of integrity. Our successes are a powerful and tangible symbol of our entire community’s commitment to excellence in our educational programs, our research programs and our creative efforts. This ethos of achievement is reflected in our university’s countless national recognitions and honors. Thus, the aspirations of our athletics programs are part of our overall aspirations for excellence.
The primary challenge our athletics program faces in today’s landscape is that, fueled by media revenues, the expenditures of some top-ranked programs have increased dramatically. For example, Ohio State now spends $114 million annually on its athletics programs. These spending increases have reshaped the competitive landscape and, in some cases, they reflect a shift in university priorities. To meet this challenge, we must balance the need to make financial investments to compete at the highest level with the fiscal prudence necessary to sustain the primacy of our educational, research and service missions. Attaining this balance involves generating revenues from philanthropic and other private sources to support our athletics programs, and ensuring that tuition revenues and state support are expended on our core missions. Similarly, we must ensure that our expenditures on athletics scholarships, facilities and personnel produce the greatest possible impact on our student-athletes’ development and our teams’ competitive opportunities – these cannot simply be automated efforts to attain parity in spending with other universities.
Finally, and in many ways most important, we have the opportunity with our athletics programs to reaffirm and dedicate ourselves to the ideal that the personal, professional and intellectual development of each student-athlete is the central purpose of these programs. We want to be recognized not just for competing at the highest level, but also for providing the greatest possible support of our student-athletes’ personal development and growth. Given the breadth and diversity of the academic and personal abilities of our student-athletes, this opportunity will mean different things for different student-athletes. Some will participate in a co-curricular activity like study abroad or research, while others will take advantage of further academic enrichment to prepare for graduate school or obtain an internship to support career opportunities. Whatever form they take, these opportunities for personal growth will have the common ingredient of helping our student-athletes develop their potential for a productive and meaningful life after their athletic careers end.
We are blessed at San Diego State to have an exceptional Department of Intercollegiate Athletics directed by Jim Sterk, and we are fortunate to have coaches, student-athletes and staff members whose daily focus is moving our programs and our university forward. I am grateful to them and to all of the supporters in our community who are helping our programs and our student-athletes achieve excellence.