As the program with the most debt in the nation, Cal Athletics has been on thin ice for quite some time now. This widely debated situation is one of the issues that Chancellor Carol Christ has openly recognized and acknowledged will be of top priority in the coming months.
But Cal Athletics itself isn’t the only program over which Christ has expressed concern in recent weeks. The Pac-12 conference and its commissioner Larry Scott, whose power structure Christ recently became a part of, have come under fire for financial and scheduling decisions that have divided those within Scott’s circle.
Last month in an interview with the Mercury News, Christ pointed a finger at specific areas in which the conference needs to improve, noting that the line between money and community building should be moved in a different direction. Rather than seize control over the scheduled kickoff times for football games, she added that the Pac-12 has sacrificed its power for lucrative contracts with national broadcast media, specifically ESPN and Fox News.
“I know that sounds trivial, but part of the value of football to the institution is community building, and it makes it very hard to realize that value with the constant jerking around of game times,” Christ said at the time.
For Cal’s biennial trip to Stanford last November, kickoff time wasn’t announced until six days prior to the event. Christ argues that the student experience has taken a backseat to the money-making business of broadcasting to larger audiences, and the chancellor does not agree with this decision.
Furthermore, Christ’s critiques extended beyond cable TV and football and went straight to the Pac-12 organization itself, whose revenue models and production costs have undermined its role in providing service to the community.
“Is this revenue model sustainable — the domination of cable TV, particularly the model in the Pac-12 in which having its own network has created even more distortion in student schedules?” Christ asked.
As for the progress of Cal, which has been held back in recent years by a cloud of financial problems and inconsistent performance in action, a short-term solution includes shifting more than half of the $440 million still owed from stadium and facility construction from athletics to central campus. But ultimately, a more stable long-term plan is necessary to spearhead a more complete turnaround for the program.
Part of Christ’s plan is threefold: hiring a consulting agency (Collegiate Sports Associates), a philanthropy consultant (Marts and Lundy, Inc.) and creating a five-person group for peer review of athletics. Once examinations and recommendations have been made, a clearer projection for a financial model will evolve and be put in play.
After that, the search for a replacement for outgoing Athletic Director Mike Williams will continue to be the source of great scrutiny. Williams, whose current contract ends in May, announced in August that he would not seek a contract extension with Cal. Christ’s ideal replacement is one who prioritizes good communication and is confident in their decisions — even after they backfire.
“I don’t expect this person to do the day-to-day management, but I expect them to have really good management instincts and be able to choose really good managers,” Christ said.
With numerous critical decisions looming in the new year, Cal Athletics will have its hands full of tradeoffs to be made and an alumni base that continues to be patient. One thing is for sure — Christ has the ears of both commissioner Scott and the campus community in the ongoing search for relief and direction in the athletics department.
Josh Yuen is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at