Responses to student myths about Aggie football.
Myth 1: We’re not a football school
UC Davis actually has a pretty rich history of football. Back in the day Coach Sochor (after whom the football field is named) was probably one of the most successful college coaches of his generation, but didn’t get much credit for it because the Ags played in Division II. The Ags had an incredible streak of winning seasons that lasted from the 70s until well into the 2000s.
UCD produced several NFL players during that time, but also churned out a string of of highly successful college coaches. These include Chris Petersen, formerly of rags-to-riches Boise State and now of Washington, Hall-of-Famer Mike Bellotti of Oregon, and Dan Hawkins of Boise State and Colorado. So UCD does have a pretty good track record with the sport, and has even subtly influenced the game on the national level by producing coaches for top-tier teams.
Myth 2: Our football team is bad
This one is more a question of phrasing. “Our football team currently does not play at the level we want” would be a better way to put it. Remember, up until 2006 or so UCD was winning the vast majority of its games, even as we transitioned to DI. So we’re in an 8-year slump, which doesn’t seem like too much considering we had 35-plus good years in a row before that.
Myth 3: But right now we’re terrible
Actually, the numbers show that we’re trending out of our slump. It was an unfortunate coincidence that our two most hyped home games last year (Move-in Weekend and Homecoming) were also our two biggest losses. Consequently, many wavering Aggie fans gave up and did not attend the later home games or away games, which saw us turn the season around after starting 0-4.
UCD finished 5-7, up from two prior 4-win seasons, and finished 5-3 in the last eight games, which comprised conference play. We ended up tied for fourth in the Big Sky (our highest placement so far in that conference) and enter 2014 with the longest active winning streak in the conference. So not only did we improve from recent seasons, but we improved dramatically from the start of last season to the end.
Myth 4: We’re not Division I
Depends on what you mean by Division I. Certainly we don’t play in one of the conferences that get automatic bowl births, but then, most teams don’t. We’re also not eligible for at-large bids, because we’re in the Football Championship Subdivision, or DI-AA. Several other well-known schools play at this level; the list includes academic powerhouses like Georgetown, Cal Poly, and every Ivy League school. Another member of our ranks is North Dakota State, which has the longest active winning streak in DI football and as far as analysts can tell is usually in the top 40 or so of all programs.
The exact difference between where we play and where Alabama plays is that we have slightly more stringent scholarship caps and have our own 24-team playoff tournament. The final two teams play in the FCS Championship game, which in terms of profits, popularity, and competition level is comparable to a minor bowl game. The full intricacies of why we’re in the FCS is a subject for another time, but suffice to say: we are in a Division I conference, and we play Division I football with some minor adjustments.
Myth 5: Football is just a profit source for the university
This is something that people often say about college football, though it probably wouldn’t surprise Davis fans to be assured that our team probably isn’t turning a profit. This isn’t a bad thing because of UCD’s funding model: student tuition funds athletics much as it does ASUCD and other campus services. This allows for certain things that don’t happen at profit-based schools, like “free” tickets for students. It’s also a key reason to attend Aggie games; you’re a donor to athletics whether you like it or not, so you might as well reap some of the perks out of it.
Myth 6: Recruiting allows bad students into the school
Aggie football actually has pretty high academic standards, and ranks at the top of the conference for academic progress rate. Following the Ags on the recruiting trail on the offseason shows that our prospective recruits tend to be fairly good students. Often we have to compete with the Ivies and military academies for recruits, a sign that we’re going after the higher-achieving students.
Myth 7: Football is a distraction from what we’re here for: studying
It can, and so can a lot of other traditional elements of American college life. Dorms, parties, campus festivals, going into town — none directly contribute to academics, yet I would argue all add much needed flavor and culture to being a college student. The whole reason to actually physically go to a university rather than take online classes or commute to school is to experience campus culture.
Myth 8: Going to sports games is less useful than networking or other extracurricular professional development activities
This is an interesting one. Many public schools of the same tier as Davis (UCLA, Wisconsin, and Michigan, to name a few) also have extremely popular sports programs, particularly football. At those schools, football support is integral to campus culture and school pride. Moreover, the two UCs that are consistently ranked above Davis both have one thing in common: they play at the highest level of college football and have boasted top-notch teams at some point in the last decade.
Where I’m going with these comparisons is this: as UC Davis graduates merge into the workforce, we will be thrown in with graduates of equally good but more famous public schools from around the country. For those co-workers, football would have been a part of life in college. Therefore as UCD grads one thing we can do to reinforce the ever-rising image of our school is to prove we had similar experiences in college. This includes undergraduate research, internships, and competitive classes, but it also includes screaming one’s voice out at home games.
-UC Davis was one of the most consistently good college football programs until relevantly recently. Our new coaching staff looks to be getting us back on track, with a 5-3 conference showing last year.
-Football is an essential part of campus culture, and is something that separates us in terms of campus life from the vast majority of UCs and CSUs.
-Every student is an investor in UCD athletics and holder of free season tickets, so going to games is a matter of returning on an investment.
Up next: Talking about the Big Sky Conference