Cal Athletics paid for football student-athletes to stay at the Claremont Club & Spa, a Fairmont Hotel, and established benefits that provide a Claremont Country Club membership and courtesy vehicle for head football coach Justin Wilcox, while remaining in debt for the retrofitting of California Memorial Stadium.
As of January 2018, Cal Athletics was responsible for about 46 percent of the $440 million in debt incurred from retrofitting the stadium, with the campus taking over the rest of the debt.
According to Cal Athletics spokesperson Herb Benenson, it is “standard practice” for football teams to stay in a hotel the night before home games. Due to the hotel’s close proximity to campus, student-athletes could eat some meals at the dining halls and coaches could work from their offices before night games, according to a statement from Benenson.
Though the team has stayed at other hotels in the past, Benenson said in his statement that when all the benefits of the hotel’s location were taken into account, the Claremont hotel was an “overall more cost-efficient operation.”
“Chancellor Christ has challenged the athletic department, as she has all departments on campus, to balance its budget by 2020, and we are working closely with her and members of her administration to develop a long-term sustainable financial plan,” Benenson said in a statement.
In addition to negotiating a reduced rate for team stays, Benenson said in a statement that due to other increases in costs at the Claremont hotel, only the head coach and medical staff stayed overnight in the hotel with the players.
But Michael O’Hare, a campus professor emeritus at the Goldman School of Public Policy, said he believes it isn’t necessary for the football team to stay at hotels the nights before home games. He added that he thought the money used to pay for the hotel rooms could be better spent on other campus programs.
“(Staying at hotels) makes little sense, because the athletes live on or near campus … and a college campus is not short of rooms to meet (in) the evening,” O’Hare said in an email. “How else might that money be used on a financially pressed campus?”
When told about the football team’s stays at the Claremont hotel, some campus students expressed frustration that Cal Athletics was using money for this expense. Citing the fact that there are more affordable options in the area, multiple students deemed staying at the Claremont hotel unnecessary.
“If they’re in debt, it’s not the wisest,” said campus senior Ingrid Ma.
According to USA Today, for the 2016-17 fiscal year, more than 40 university athletics programs had larger budgets than Cal. Cal Athletics supports approximately 900 student-athletes across 30 sports on a $100 million budget, according to a statement from Benenson.
“To not stay at a local hotel the night before home games would put Cal at an incredible competitive disadvantage,” Benenson said in his statement. “It would be used heavily against Cal in the recruiting process.”
In addition to paying for student-athletes to stay at the Claremont hotel, Cal Athletics provides an option for Wilcox to have a membership at the Claremont Country Club, paid for by the campus, according to Wilcox’s employment contract. Wilcox, however, has not activated his membership at this time, according to Benenson. Wilcox is also entitled to the use of a courtesy vehicle and $450 a month if Cal Athletics does not have a vehicle available.
Wilcox could not be reached for comment as of press time.
According to Benenson, including country club memberships in coaching contracts is a “common element” of coaches’ contracts and is seen as an “investment.”
“We consider the membership an investment, given it provides opportunities for the head football coach to interact with donors and potential donors to the program,” Benenson said in an email. “The Claremont Country Club is proximate to campus and many of its members are Cal alumni.”