Even if you know nothing about Cal sports, you probably know that Cal sports suck. Wait, but do you actually know that though?
Yes, Cal football finished an abysmal 1-11 season and harbors the longest losing streak to FBS opponents of any team in a BCS conference at 16. (There are more wonderful statistics to present how bad the Bears are, but I’ll stop here.) Yes, Cal basketball limped its way into the NIT last year but couldn’t get past the Elite Eight. Yeah, the Cal women’s basketball team, a year removed from a Final Four appearance, couldn’t break through the round of 32 this year. And finally, yes, Cal baseball is still searching to replicate that magical run to the College World Series in 2011 even after three years as a middle-of-the-pack team. Alright, that sounds pretty bad. But trust me — Cal sports don’t suck.
Don’t let the struggles of the high-profile programs overshadow the accomplishments of Cal athletes on other fields and courts — and in the pool. Freshmen, you get into all of Cal football’s home games for free this year — you are the first class to get that privilege in more than a decade — but know this: You get into every other sporting event, except men’s basketball, for free too. And unlike our football team, these other sports won’t send you into a downward-spiraling depression.
Being a Bears fan is about embracing Cal’s smaller sports. By all means, cheer for the big teams, but do so with an attitude that’s a bit like my mom’s must have been when I played soccer as a kid. (It’s the effort that counts!) Join the Bench and scream your heart out — I did when I was new on campus and had a blast, even if you’ll only really find me in the press box now. It’s fun, but when you get sick of the losing, there are other sports you can turn to.
The men’s soccer team spent more than a month as the No. 1 team in the country last year after upsetting the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in back-to-back weeks to begin the season. I don’t think it’ll be quite that good this year, but the women’s team is also competitive, and its first match is Friday, here in Berkeley. If you miss the World Cup, Cal soccer is a good alternative. And the games are more well-attended than you might think — especially when we play Stanford.
But if you hate standing outdoors, I recommend the volleyball team. (Brief tangent here: As a former volleyball beat writer, I can attest that volleyball is the most criminally underrated sport in the country. In terms of entertainment value, I rank it fifth, behind football, basketball, soccer and hockey.) Note that I have volleyball above baseball. If you are one of the people who are about to argue that baseball is more entertaining than volleyball, ask yourself, when was the last time you actually attended a volleyball game? … Exactly. Give it a try.
If you want star power, go to the rare men’s or women’s swim meets. Yes, you’ll see Missy Franklin there. You might catch Nathan Adrian or Caitlin Leverenz, too, if they’re visiting.
Want to attend something more relaxed? Try field hockey. Want to see Cal dominate? Try either tennis team. Wait, you meant you want to see Cal absolutely eviscerate its opponents? In that case, I meant rugby. No, really, rugby in the spring is dominant enough to wipe your memory of football in the fall.
Gamedays at Memorial Stadium are fun, but they can also be disheartening. And while there’s no shame in rooting for a loser — as a lifelong Sacramento Kings and Detroit Lions fan, I don’t even know how to cheer for a winning team — don’t let the struggles of some of Cal’s more popular teams put you in a funk. When it comes to smaller sports, Cal is pretty great, and you don’t want to go four years and miss that.
Contact Riley McAtee at [email protected].