CT: You flew out to UConn last spring in support of our women’s basketball team. How special was that for you, and what do you think it means for our university?
Chancellor Henry T. Yang: It was an unforgettable experience. My wife, Dilling, and I were thrilled to stand alongside our fellow Gaucho fans and cheer for our outstanding student-athletes. This was the first time in campus history that our women’s basketball team went all the way to the NCAA Sweet 16. We look forward to another great year ahead for Gaucho athletics.
CT: Many students at UCSB, freshmen through super-seniors, don’t know why we don’t have a football team. Perhaps you can shed light on what happened and if
there’s any chance football could come back to UCSB.
Yang: UCSB has had football twice in its history. Most recently football was dropped in 1991 after the NCAA notified UCSB Intercollegiate Athletics that in order for the football program to continue, it would have to compete at the Division I level. Up until then, UCSB was Division I in all sports except football, which was Division III. Division I football is quite expensive, costing many millions of dollars per year. The campus community came to the conclusion that the football program should be discontinued, and recommended that we use our available resources to ensure the excellence and gender equity of our existing programs. Since UCSB dropped football, the stadium and attendance requirements have also changed; either of these new NCAA requirements would be very hard to meet.
CT: Speaking of football, UCSB has one of the nation’s best men’s soccer teams. Do you think they might be UCSB’s strongest team right now?
Yang: I am excited by the success of our men’s soccer program. I also respect and appreciate all of our teams. For example, our women’s basketball team made the Sweet 16 last year; our women’s volleyball team has won two league championships in a row and is one of only a handful of teams to compete in every NCAA Championship; our men’s soccer team has captured the Big West Championship two years in a row and is ranked 12th in the nation; and our women’s cross country team finished 29th in the nation last year. UCSB has won the Big West Commissioner’s Cup four years in a row. This is a recognition given to the Big West campus whose teams achieve the greatest success overall – so this award recognizes that all of our athletic teams are successful. I appreciate the leadership and mentorship provided by our coaches, and I am very proud of all of our talented and dedicated student-athletes.
CT: Your athletic director, Gary Cunningham, seems to have done a stand-up job for UCSB since he came here from Fresno State in 1995. How lucky is UCSB to have him, and how difficult will it be to keep him?
Yang: Gary is tremendously dedicated to intercollegiate athletics at UCSB, and I am grateful for all that he has contributed to our campus community. Last year, Dr. Cunningham received the very prestigious James J. Corbett Memorial Award from the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. This is the greatest honor an administrator can receive in college athletics and is a testament to the very high regard in which Gary is held by his colleagues and peers throughout the country.
CT: When will construction be complete on the new athletic facilities?
Yang: The new athletics building is scheduled to open in December. It will be the centerpiece of the department, providing a central and permanent home for our athletics program.
CT: In your view, what are the biggest problems facing UCSB athletics right now? How are they similar or different from colleges across the nation?
Yang: The financial costs of athletics throughout the nation have risen at startling rates. This is the greatest challenge for all universities right now.
CT: In the past two years, have you noticed a dip in attendance at home games from the student body (mainly basketball, volleyball and soccer)?
Yang: Dilling and I attend games as often as we can, and thanks to our supporters I have not noticed any decrease in attendance or enthusiasm.
CT: As far as funding goes, where is athletics on your priority list? Also, how are most teams funded? And do you anticipate having to cut any sports in the near future?
Yang: These are challenging budgetary times for UCSB and the entire UC system, but Cunningham and our colleagues have done an outstanding job of skillfully managing our resources. We also greatly appreciate the private support provided by our alumni, donors and friends. I think that the Intercollegiate Athletics mission statement says it best: “The primary mission of UCSB is teaching, research and public service. An essential component of this mission is the development of the full potential of UCSB students in both academic and non-academic settings. UCSB places the highest priority on the academic progress of student-athletes. UCSB expects its ICA teams to strive for an excellence commensurate with the excellence achieved by its strongest academic departments.” We are very proud that UCSB has one of the highest graduation rates in the country for our scholar-athletes – #3, according to a study by U.S. News and World Report.