Budget again stirs intercollegiate athletics funding controversy

Despite the fact that lawmakers have approved a budget that explicitly outlines that state funds cannot be used to fund intercollegiate athletics, university and UC Berkeley officials say concern surrounding funding for intercollegiate athletics is a moot point.

The budget has once again brought financing for UC athletics teams under scrutiny and has capped off a year marred by tumultuous changes for UC Berkeley’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics.

In September, the department cut five teams from its intercollegiate roster — rugby, baseball, men’s and women’s gymnastics and lacrosse — to try to combat the department’s growing reliance on campus funding support. By April, all five teams were reinstated after major funding campaigns assured campus administrators each team could monetarily support itself for a set number of years.

But in June, lawmakers inserted a line in the state Democrats’ proposed 2011-12 state budget — which was passed by state lawmakers June 28 — that explicitly detailed state funds could not be used to fund intercollegiate athletics.

However, campus and university officials maintain that state funds were never used and that campuses will continue to use only campus-generated funds to support athletics.

“The only funds intercollegiate athletics departments use are campus-generated,” said Patrick Lenz, vice president of budget and capital resources for the UC Office of the President. “We have not and will not use state funds.”

At UC Berkeley, issues surrounding the legitimacy of whether to use campus funds to support the department have been an ongoing topic of contention among campus administrators, faculty and staff.

Within the past year, two final reports released from two separate campus groups — the Chancellor’s Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics and the Academic Senate Task Force on Intercollegiate Athletics — both revealed the department was falling deeper into financial strife and that measures needed to be taken to remedy the department’s reliance on campus support, which totaled about $13.7 million during the 2008-09 fiscal year.

“During the seven-year period 2003-2010, Intercollegiate Athletics at Berkeley has cost the campus $78 million, which is an average exceeding $11 million per year,” said Brian Barsky, a UC Berkeley professor of computer science who was one of eight faculty members to author a 2009 resolution recommending the campus end all funding to intercollegiate athletics.

Though the campus has not completely halted funding to the department, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, the department is on its way to meeting a goal set by the task force in late August — by 2014, the department would have a budget deficit of no more than $5 million, with an ultimate reduction to a deficit of zero, though the time frame for that second goal has yet to be determined.

Efforts being made to reduce campus financial support include the hiring of a new chief development officer to oversee all fundraising efforts for the department, which also meets one of the recommendations of the chancellor’s council, according to Herb Benenson, director of media relations for the athletic department.

Benenson added that the department is adding resources in its revenue-generating units, such as development, the Athletic Ticket Office and marketing to help the department become more capable of increasing revenues from donations, marketing opportunities and ticket sales.

Benenson said in an email the campus had reached its promised goal of reducing campus support to $10.5 million in the 2011 fiscal year. The schedule for the next three fiscal years, he said in the email, is $9.5 million in the 2012 fiscal year, $7.5 million in the 2013 fiscal year and $5 million in the 2014 fiscal year.

Another factor the department is examining to assist in the reduction of campus financial reliance is the new Pac-12 Media Rights Package that will take effect in the 2013 fiscal year and, according to Benenson, will provide additional revenue for the department.

In the first year, the department is expected to receive $1 million to $2 million over projections from the summer of 2010, which would result in a net gain of $5 million to $6 million, as opposed to $4 million, Benenson said in the email.

“This revenue will allow IA to meet unanticipated costs increases (such as additional required pension contributions and rising scholarship expenses noted above) without deviating from the step down to $5 million in campus support,” he said in the email.

But some still question how much money intercollegiate athletics could save once the media rights package takes effect.

According to Barsky, one repercussion of the new television package that “may not be apparent is that since money will be distributed to all teams in the Pac-12, there will be pressure on intercollegiate athletics at UC Berkeley to continue the spiral of increased spending so that it can keep up with the other Pac-12 teams in what is a fiscal ‘arms race.’”

“How much of this new Pac-12 TV money will Intercollegiate Athletics use to repay the Berkeley campus for the debt it has incurred by its repeated overspending above and beyond its annual subsidies from the Chancellor’s Discretionary fund as well as from student fees?” he said in an email.

But according to Mogulof, concerns surrounding whether the department will be able to repay the campus should not be an issue.

“Here’s the bottom line: Cal Athletics remains on course to meet the goals determined by the department’s new financial model, in terms of both revenue and costs,” he said.