Cutting teams on the table as Cal Athletics looks to cut deficit, budget reveals

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Yukun Zhang/Staff

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It’s no secret that Cal Athletics faces a daunting future: the most debt-ridden athletics program in the nation is tasked with cutting the entirety of its fiscal year 2016 budget deficit — nearly $22 million — by 2020. The way the department hopes to reach that future was cleared up a bit Tuesday, with the fiscal year 2018 budget revealing plans for Cal Athletics to decrease its budget deficit by $4.652 million. This potential future features an $8 million cut of scope, a move that implies cutting many of Cal Athletics’ 30 teams.

Cal Athletics’ divisional budget dashboard — which was crafted in spring 2017 — reveals the department turning to cutting roster spots in some men’s sports and exploring the reduction of travel and out-of-state scholarships. More eye-popping is a section in which the department speaks on potential longer-term revenue generation plans.

Those potential plans include:

  • relocating the track and soccer teams to let campus produce residential housing on Edwards Stadium
  • selling naming rights for Memorial Stadium to generate more than $4 million annually
  • selling alcohol at football and basketball games

These plans are meant to help Cal Athletics — which has more than $400 million of debt to pay for Memorial Stadium and Simpson Student-Athlete High Performance Center — cut a deficit that was projected to be down to $17.81 million in fiscal year 2017. Nearly $18 million will be devoted in each year’s budget to yearly interest payments on that debt. All of these plans are overshadowed by that potential cutting of department size.memorialstadium_joshuajordan_staff-copy

“All options are on the table, and much of the information contained in the dashboard is simply that — a list of options that may be considered,” said Athletic Director Mike Williams in an emailed statement. “At this point, no decisions have been made and to infer otherwise is merely speculation. I continue to believe it is essential we develop a viable model that allows for the most possible opportunities for student-athletes to compete at this level.”

That mission, however, seems to be at risk.

When the Task Force on Intercollegiate Athletics came out with its report in June, it made no recommendations in either direction regarding the cutting of sports teams. The task force concluded that cutting from 30 to 14 teams would save between $9 million and $12 million annually.

The task force acknowledged that this could put the campus’s and department’s philanthropic contributions in danger. Campus’s strategic themes for cutting its own $110 million deficit include an emphasis on philanthropy — campus is aiming for $7 million in additional private gifts.

Nevertheless, cutting sports — which the task force refers to as the “front porch” to donors — remains an option.

“It’s terrible,” said campus sociology lecturer Linus Huang in an email. “The same possibility emerged back in 2010 and it was terrible then, too.”

In 2010, donations came rolling in to save five Cal teams — rugby, baseball, women’s gymnastics, men’s gymnastics and lacrosse — that had been cut. If a similar cut were to happen again, campus’s options would be limited in which teams to cut.

As of now, because the department uses prong three of Title IX, Cal would only be able to cut men’s teams. That’s what makes the plan to cut roster sizes for men’s teams stand out; it makes it possible to cut down the number of men’s athletes without cutting teams and makes a shift towards prong one of Title IX compliance easier. Prong one requires the department’s gender distribution to match that of the school — that would mean a shift from women representing 42 percent of Cal athletes to them representing 52 percent.

“We have coordinated with coaches from our many of our men’s programs to consider ways to reduce roster sizes for the coming year without impacting their ability to compete as a step to maximize existing resources and lower expenses,” said Cal Athletics spokesperson Herb Benenson in an email.

Cutting roster spots for men’s athletes would help inch the department in that direction and make it easier to eventually cut women’s sports as a cost-cutting measure as well.

Whatever the path forward is, Cal Athletics will bear the brunt of the option that is chosen.

“Many conflicting considerations and trade offs need to be taken into account in deciding which if any sports to eliminate. One is the need for (Intercollegiate Athletics) to balance its budget with substantially less de facto support from the central campus. Another is the potential adverse effect on philanthropy that eliminating sports might have,” said Robert Powell, chair of the Academic Senate, in an email. “There are no easy answers here, only hard decisions that have to be made.”

Hooman Yazdanian is the managing editor. Contact him at [email protected]