UC Berkeley women’s field hockey coach Shellie Onstead stood in the middle of her team’s field and wept.
The team couldn’t play on it — just before the start of the 2015 season, the field still wasn’t finished after two years of construction. The team would have another season of hourlong commutes to Stanford to play home games.
Onstead, then in her 20th year as head coach, had seen her program deteriorate over the past three years as broken promises mounted and her program became the “team without a field.”
In 2013, the UC Berkeley field hockey team was kicked off its longtime home, Maxwell Family Field, by Cal Athletics, who turned the space into a practice field for the football team.
With no field on campus, Onstead’s team played home games at Stanford in both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Today, the team plays at Underhill Field, a converted recreational field lacking permanent bathrooms, storage, stands or a press platform.
As a result of this displacement, the Cal field hockey team has been significantly hampered in its ability to recruit and draw fans to games. Onstead, who was an assistant coach for the U.S. national team at the 2008 Olympic Games, has seen her formerly top-flight team fall from grace.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into the athletic department’s handling of the situation for alleged violations of Title IX, the federal statute that mandates gender equity in institutional funding for collegiate athletics. The campus Title IX office has also opened an investigation into the issue.
After interviews with administrators, coaches and players, The Daily Californian has found the following:
There is no Division I men’s field hockey team at Cal, only a women’s team. Just five years ago, Cal field hockey was a West Coast powerhouse. It finished 11th in the nation in 2011, and just a few years earlier, the team beat fourth-ranked Michigan for its first-ever victory against a top-five team during Onstead’s tenure. Onstead had built the team into a force to be reckoned with — a record below .500 was considered disappointing or even dismal.
And then they lost their field. Five years after their 2011 peak, the Bears tied for last place in their division this season for the first time in decades.
Meanwhile, as field hockey languished, men’s sports were repeatedly given preference in field choice, until field hockey had nowhere to go.
Throughout the 2000s, football, field hockey and rugby shared a complex of three fields in and around California Memorial Stadium. Field hockey played at Maxwell Family Field, north of the stadium. Football used Memorial Stadium but also held practices on Witter Rugby Field, rugby’s home field just east of the stadium.
Field hockey can’t be played on just any field: It requires a special kind of turf where the ball can roll naturally, similar to a football-field-sized putting green. That meant field hockey couldn’t practice on football or rugby fields, and vice versa.
But 2010 was a hard year for Cal Athletics. Massive budget deficits led then-athletic director Sandy Barbour to cut five sports, including the successful rugby and baseball programs. Private fundraising campaigns saved the programs, but the cuts signified imminent lean times for even the winningest sports, such as rugby, which has won 27 national championships under legendary coach Jack Clark.
Despite the attempted cut, rugby still held influence with Cal Athletics. A 2012 memo obtained by the Daily Cal found that the Cal Rugby Advisory Board, or CRAB, made a deal with the campus that stipulated multiple conditions “that will allow continuation of Rugby’s long tradition of competitive excellence.”
First, rugby would have primary use of Witter Field in the fall and spring, and Witter could not be relined for use for any other sport. In exchange, CRAB had to finance the entire rugby program. Last, CRAB had to raise $150,000 annually to support the women’s lacrosse and women’s gymnastics programs, two sports that were put on the chopping block in 2012 but were later saved.
Witter Field, which had served as rugby’s home field and football’s practice field, would now exclusively be a rugby field in exchange for rugby’s financial independence and donations to women’s teams.
A campus statement said the memo “simply confirmed the status quo” that existed before Memorial Stadium was rebuilt in 2011. While Memorial was being renovated, football and rugby shared Witter while football played its home games at AT&T Park in San Francisco. But even before 2011, the football team practiced at Witter Field in varying capacities since 1995, according to Cal Athletics spokesperson Herb Benenson. The statement also noted that both Witter and Maxwell serve as recreational sports fields.
At this time in 2012, the administration told the field hockey team that because Maxwell was slated to be renovated, they would not have a home field for the 2014 season but would resume playing on a new field on top of Maxwell for the 2015 season.
But football, with its 80-plus-member team, needed a second practice field now that Witter was held by rugby. Somewhere along the line, the decision was made to turn Maxwell into a football practice field.
Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said in a statement that “no decision was ever made to ‘turn Maxwell into a football practice field.’ ” Instead, Mogulof said a decision was made to maintain Maxwell as a multipurpose field.
But the multiple purposes of the field were changed, as the turf necessary to play field hockey was removed, a football goalpost was installed and the field was relined for football and lacrosse use.
Mogulof said the decision was led by the vice chancellors for administration and finance, and real estate, posts at the time held by John Wilton and Bob Lalanne, respectively. Both have since left.
Onstead was told in 2013 that her home field would become a practice field but wasn’t told where her team would play.
“If you do this, you’re going to destroy us,” Onstead recalls telling then-deputy athletic director Solly Fulp, who broke the news to her.
Chancellor Dirks did not appear to be aware of why field hockey was moved from Maxwell. When asked why Maxwell became a football practice field in a 2015 interview with the Daily Cal’s Senior Editorial Board, Dirks said, “I honestly don’t know.” Mogulof said during the interview that the move was “mysterious.”
Proposals to move the field hockey team do not mention that field hockey had played on Maxwell since the 1980s. A November 2014 draft proposal to the Capital Projects Committee states that the team was moved “due to construction projects on campus and high demand for athletics turf space,” but does not reference either the football or rugby teams.
A team in turmoil
In 2013, Onstead was still hopeful she would have a field. She had heard her team might be able to use Golden Bear Field near the Clark Kerr Campus, but nothing materialized.
“We’ll play the 2014 season at Stanford, and then we’ll have a brand new home field in 2015,” Onstead would tell recruits.
By October 2014, however, the campus had yet to tell the team where it would play next season, although documents show that the Underhill proposal was already under deliberation.
Five sites were considered when relocating the team, according to the November 2014 draft proposal, which does not identify those sites or state why Underhill was ultimately chosen over them.
For an entire year, all of Cal field hockey’s practices and games were on the road.
“You didn’t have a home. You didn’t have a home game,” said Emily Catan, a senior field hockey player. “Friends didn’t come to games. You didn’t have home-field advantage.”
After an 8-11 nomadic 2014 season, the team still needed somewhere to practice in Berkeley for the spring. The campus said it would convert the roof of the La Loma parking garage, adjacent to the Foothill residence hall, into a temporary practice space for the team by the beginning of spring 2015 practice. Despite major flaws — it was about one-fourth the size of a regulation field — the players accepted La Loma as the cost of doing business.
But when the first scheduled day of practice came in February 2015, the La Loma space wasn’t ready. When the team had planned to practice, players instead staged a protest outside the unfinished field.
Two weeks later, La Loma opened and the team could finally practice on campus. Because the space was so small, however, only half the team could practice at a time. Some practices still needed to be held at Stanford so the team could use a full field.
The campus had promised that the field at Underhill would be ready for the 2015 season. The team was going to play a powerhouse Duke team in front of a home crowd of family, friends and recruits. It was finally going to happen.
And then it didn’t.
Underhill Field was originally built with a “crown,” a 9-inch slope built into the field to drain water naturally. To comply with NCAA regulations, construction crews had to drop a layer of concrete on the field to make it flat. But in the summer of 2015, the concrete cured unevenly. The field had valleys and ridges in the concrete — there was no way they could play on it. The entire project had to be put on hold. That’s when Onstead walked out onto the field and cried.
The team’s entire schedule was rearranged, just as it had been the year before. Another year of bus rides.
In the meantime, a three-member construction crew spent months smoothing over the concrete by hand.
It was the final straw for many on the team. Six players filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which opened a Title IX investigation into the situation in May 2015.
“We were promised. We had it in writing. Everything seem like it was going to deliver,” said Monica Marrazzo, a senior, two-time captain of the team and complainant in the filing.
“They were obviously not taking us seriously.”
Despite one year without a practice field and two years without a home field, the team finished the 2015 season 9-10.
In the midst of four consecutive annual deficits, the campus spent $7.2 million to address the myriad problems caused by pushing field hockey off Maxwell. This year, Cal Athletics faces a deficit of about $22 million, and the campus faces a structural deficit of about $150 million.
According to an internal department email obtained by the Daily Cal, $800,000 in additional renovations were allocated for Maxwell’s conversion into a suitable football practice location.
A proposal to refit Underhill for field hockey that November had a fully watered field, complete with a team room, scoreboard, cameras and bleachers and totaled $4.5 million.
Costs rose, leading the total cost of Underhill renovations to reach $5.48 million as of November 2016.
Additionally, the planned but not constructed items from the settlement agreement total $200,000, according to Onstead.
To convert the La Loma site into a practice field, used for only a year, the campus spent $447,000 to remove the tennis courts and install turf. The space has now been turned over to Cal Rec Sports.
Travel to Stanford for games and practices incurred more costs. The campus was charged for every game and practice held there, and hotels and buses were arranged for the players. The total added cost was about $200,000 for the two years spent on the road, according to Onstead.
On top of these expenses are the undisclosed costs of covering extra claims by the student-athletes. In the settlement agreement, the campus paid about $49,000 to cover the legal fees of the players who filed the Title IX suit. While the exact cost is unknown, the campus provided 11 semesters and five summers of aid to affected athletes, as well as about $10,000 in one-time aid.
The total sum of known expenses is $7.2 million, but because the precise cost of scholarships is unknown, that number may be higher. The 2015 budget of the field hockey team was $650,201.
A broken promise
In multiple meetings over the course of 2015, the campus and the players who had filed the Title IX complaint developed a resolution to the conflict. They drafted a settlement, obtained by the Daily Cal, that dictated the following:
1. The campus would complete Underhill Field, including a regulation playing field, scoreboard, sound system, parking, storage, permanent stands and press platform.
2. The campus would develop plans to build permanent team rooms near Underhill and create a schedule for those plans.
3. The campus would agree to pay for the cost of team members’ delayed graduation, as some were unable to take core major classes because of commutes to Stanford for two years.
4. In exchange, once the agreement’s first point was completed, the players would request that the Department of Education end its ongoing Title IX investigation, and once all points were completed, the players would forfeit their right to sue the campus for damages.
All parties signed the agreement by Jan. 29, 2016, and the team thought its lengthy ordeal was finally over. When the Underhill playing surface opened the next day, they were optimistic. The team had a real field for the first time in 26 months.
But as of this November, long after much of the settlement was supposed to have been fulfilled, the campus has yet to finish the first or second points of the settlement, leaving the school subject to litigation while the Title IX investigation persists.
Currently, Underhill Field does have a scoreboard, sound system and some storage for the team, but the campus has yet to provide permanent stands, a permanent press platform or permanent bathrooms.
The team currently uses a prefabricated shed to store its equipment, but players say the shed is too small for the 20-member team. In addition, it has no onsite locker rooms. They use portable bathrooms wheeled onto the sideline, which have sheets of paper affixed to them distinguishing stalls for team use and public use.
Even the plans for the locker rooms, which the campus had promised to produce in January, failed to materialize until Aug. 9. The rooms, which were supposed to have been constructed by the time the season began in August, have yet to be completed.
Permanent stands were not constructed for the 2016 season because designs for team rooms weren’t finalized, according to Mogulof. The campus is now taking “first steps” to begin construction of the team rooms.
The complainants are now considering legal action against the campus, according to their lawyer Jennifer Reisch, legal director of Equal Rights Advocates.
The Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, investigation, which began in May 2015, started as an inquiry into the team’s deprivation of a field, at the request of the players. The OCR is currently investigating the campus on 11 criteria, including recruitment, facilities provision and compensation of staff, according to a DOE spokesperson.
The opening of an investigation does not imply that claims are merited, according to the DOE. The DOE declined to comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation.
In the September 2015 interview between Dirks and the Daily Cal’s Senior Editorial Board, Mogulof said the OCR “pretty much take(s) any investigation on, even if it’s barely plausible.” Mogulof subsequently claimed that his comment was not meant to be a criticism of OCR investigations.
When asked about the investigation as of November, Mogulof said in a statement, “We have been working and closely cooperating with the reviewers, and will continue to do so.”
While the investigation proceeds, Onstead is left with a program hurt by two years without a field.
“It was crushing us,” Onstead said. “We’re only now beginning to recover.”
In the unfulfilled settlement agreement, there is a stipulation in which, once Point 1 is completed, the campus must release a statement acknowledging the “harmful impact” the displacement had on the field hockey team and commit to rebuilding the program.
In addition to the OCR investigation, Onstead’s complaint about the dislocation to the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination — the campus Title IX office — is under investigation, according to people interviewed for the investigation.
Still without facilities promised by administrators, the team struggled to a 5-13 record in 2016, its worst in 15 years.
The team without a field
Marrazzo, a campus senior, said she wanted to major in public health but was unable to because of the commutes. She instead majored in social welfare, slogging through classes she initially did not enjoy.
“Being a student-athlete is hard,” Marrazzo said. “But it was made significantly harder by this process.”
Catan, a senior media studies major and complainant, wanted to apply to the Haas School of Business but was unable to dedicate the amount of time she felt was necessary because of commutes to Stanford, which she said also adversely affected her prospects in interviews for internships and jobs.
In the January 2016 settlement agreement, the campus agreed to cover the costs of extended graduation for all student-athletes who had their education impeded by the team’s commutes.
The dislocation also hurt the team’s athletic performance. Without a practice field on campus in 2014, field hockey players would practice on a 20-by-20-foot patch of AstroTurf inside the Simpson Student-Athlete High Performance Center, less than a tenth of the size of a regulation field.
“I blacked that out,” Marrazzo said.
Unable to use the space during business hours, the team would have to practice after the gym closed for the day. Even then, it could fit only three players on the patch at a time.
“If the university were able to provide us with the proper facilities, we would be tremendously better,” Marrazzo said.
The NCAA sets a 20-hour weekly limit on practice time for Division I sports, which most teams hit every week. For some weeks in the 2014 season, because of a lack of practice space, the team averaged six to eight hours per week, according to Onstead.
“It was killing us,” she said. “We weren’t in competition mode, we were in survival mode.”
Onstead estimates about 20 percent of players recruited to the program over the period of the dislocation either decommitted or left the program. As a consequence, the team started six freshmen this year.
Back in 2015, after the team was told it wouldn’t have a field for the second consecutive year, players came up to Onstead and asked to wear white shirts for their uniforms. They didn’t want to wear the script Cal, the symbol of the campus that had deprived them of a field for two years.
“It felt really tough to wear the jersey and be proud of it,” Catan said. The team eventually wore the jerseys after discussion with Onstead.
The new field at Underhill still looks like a Rec Sports field, players say. There is no script Cal or signage noting that a Division I field hockey team plays there. People often barge onto the field during practice, under the impression it’s still an open-access recreational field.
“This would never happen to another sport,” Marrazzo said.
Players say the unfinished field still has problems stemming from the construction. The ball bounces unevenly across different sections of the field, and water pools near the temporary bleachers in a depression in the concrete.
“I felt helpless, then I got mad. Because the only alternative is to keep fighting,” Onstead said.
“So that was the lesson. And that’s what we did.”
Senior staff writer Hooman Yazdanian contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: The Dec. 2 print version of this article was edited for length because of space constraints in the newspaper. The online version includes additional information about Witter and Maxwell fields’ use as multipurpose recreational fields.
Update 12/10/16: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, who denied that comments made in a 2015 Senior Editorial Board interview were critical of Office of Civil Rights investigations.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that senior administrators were not told why Maxwell Field was converted into a football team practice space. In fact, two senior administrators — the vice chancellor for real estate and the vice chancellor for administration and finance — led the decision to transform the space, while Chancellor Nicholas Dirks was not informed.