While tuition has continued to increase and cuts have been made to academic programs across the UC system, the athletic department spending at Cal has grown as well. Berkeley’s athletic program garnered a $13 million dollar subsidy from the university. The strain of large athletic department has criticism from faculty who believe that the shrinking budget shouldn’t be used to bail out an athletic program running in the red. A commission reviewed the athletic department and recommended that the Golden Bears cut 5 to 7 varsity sports in an effort to curtail athletic spending. At a 2:30 PM (PDT) new conference, Cal announced that baseball would be among the sports eliminated. After the current school year, the Pac-10 will only have 9 teams in the conference. Athletic Director Sandy Barbour and Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau sent out the following letter:
Dear Cal Supporters,
Of the many communications which we are sending out today regarding our plan for Cal Athletics’ future, this letter, to our loyal fans and alumni, is among the most difficult. Your passion for and belief in the Cal Athletics program are not and never will be taken for granted: we have to earn it every day. Although we know that our decisions will be cause for concern and difficult for a number of you, we are confident that we have worked out a plan that will guarantee the preeminence of Intercollegiate Athletics at Berkeley while simultaneously helping address the serious financial challenges that our campus is facing.
We have made a set of decisions that will meet our goal to have a sustainable, financially responsible program that will remain broad based and fully capable of continuing to support our commitment to excellence in the university’s every endeavor. We are committed to maintaining the indispensable role that Athletics plays as a vehicle for community building and an engine of philanthropy for the whole campus.
The status quo is simply unsustainable. Given the economic environment, the campus cannot continue to provide Cal Athletics with recent levels of annual financial support that exceeded $12 million during the last fiscal year. After an exhaustive consideration of every reasonable option, it became clear to us that the only credible way to balance our twin objectives of financial sustainability and continued excellence is through a reduction in the program’s scope, along with new steps to contain costs and increase revenues. At the end of this academic year, baseball, men’s and women’s gymnastics, and women’s lacrosse will no longer represent the university in varsity intercollegiate competition. In addition one team, rugby, will be transitioned to a newly created varsity club status. The team’s history indicates that this change should not affect its competitive opportunities or abilities, and the varsity club status will allow us to maintain rugby’s unsurpassed excellence with continued campus support in terms of admissions, sports medicine and access to training facilities. Rugby was a club sport at Cal from the 1950’s to the early 1990’s, and is today the only remaining varsity team in Division 1 of the NCAA.
We will do everything in our power to help student-athletes, coaches and staff successfully manage the challenges of this transition. We will honor scholarship commitments for all student-athletes who choose to remain at Berkeley, and assist those who may wish to explore the possibility of continuing to compete at another institution.
Together, these steps will save an estimated $4 million in direct and indirect costs beginning in the next fiscal year and bring down institutional support to a level that we can sustain. Factoring in reasonable estimates of increased revenues, including funds we expect to receive from a new Pac-12 media contract, annual institutional support for Athletics will be reduced to approximately $5 million a year by FY 2014. We anticipate that this support will represent about one-half of the cost of athletics scholarships at that time and recognizes that our intercollegiate athletes are students first and athletes second.
We will retain, at 24 teams, one of the larger programs in the country at an annual cost that is consistent with the level of support provided to athletics by our peer institutions. This country’s best universities have long understood the value of high-quality athletics programs and the extent to which they are an integral part of what defines institutional character and identity. To ensure this tradition continues at Cal, we will protect and preserve the essential attributes that distinguish our program: a rare combination of competitive excellence, academic achievement and broad-based engagement with the campus and neighboring communities.
We examined three possible options for Cal Athletics’ future that would allow us to maintain the campus support to Intercollegiate Athletics at approximately $5 million annually, after taking into account our obligations to gender equity, plans to increase revenue and aggressive steps that we will take to contain costs.
The first option entailed extensive cuts across the board that would have damaged the competitive abilities of every single team and provided sub-standard support for our student-athletes. The second option would have called for a larger reduction in the number of teams – a completely unsatisfactory alternative given our conviction that the campus greatly benefits from a broad based program. The third and best option, the middle ground, is the one that we selected: a hybrid strategy that combines a moderate reduction in scope; limiting operational costs; and targeted investment and operational changes that will enhance philanthropy and other new and existing sources of revenue.
We came to these conclusions very reluctantly, and the decisions were as painful as they were unavoidable. We realize that this plan will not please everyone; some will say that we have gone too far, other will insist that it is not far enough. Many on the Chancellor’s Advisory Council were opposed to any reduction in teams, and some on the Academic Senate Task Force advocated for even lower or non-existent institutional support, in contrast to the situation at virtually all of our peer institutions.
Decisions of this nature are complex, multifaceted and always difficult. As an institution we looked at a myriad of criteria once it became clear that we could no longer support 29 teams. Factors such as net cost, donor impact, maximizing student opportunity, existence of national/regional varsity competition, contribution to diversity, impact on our ability to comply with Title IX, opportunity for NCAA and Pac 10 success, utilization of support services and history of competitive excellence were among the factors considered. The broad excellence of our program made the decisions all the more difficult. Virtually every intercollegiate program at Cal has a rich tradition of competitive success and a community of fervent backers who surround and support the team. Our decisions mark the end of this process and, hopefully, will reduce the uncertainty and anxiety in our community.
We hope that you will take the time to read through the details of the plan in the online FAQ. You will find that while financial issues were at the heart of our analysis, they could not be addressed in isolation or solely on a team-by-team basis. Addressing the funding needs of any particular team through additional philanthropy would have only pushed the problem onto another squad due to our obligation to comply with Title IX and to ensure that, going forward, Athletics has the capacity to support and service excellence among our student athletes.
We hope that this outcome will have your broad support. With a new, strong financial foundation, the Athletics program will be better positioned to provide support for the members of its community. In some key areas, Athletics has been stretched thin in terms of human resources and services that exist to support our student-athletes. For example, on a per student-athlete basis, we are currently at or near the bottom of the Pac-10 in terms of sports medicine and strength training resources. Once this plan is implemented, we will be in the upper half of the conference in terms of our ability to provide all that our student athletes need to succeed and excel on and off the field.
We deeply regret the human toll that these decisions will take and the impact that they will have on valued members of our community who were in no way responsible for the challenges that we face. We also hope and believe that the entire Cal Athletics family will pull together in support of our student-athletes, coaches and staff. Their long-standing and well-known passion, commitment and determination to overcome adversity demand our respect and reciprocity.
Robert J. Birgeneau Sandy Barbour
Chancellor Director of Athletics