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A Necessary Evil

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MARCH 16, 2017

Nobody likes getting asked what their post-graduation plans are. Coming up with an answer to this panic-inducing question is not appealing, yet it is ultimately an inevitable part of being a senior in college.

Similarly, Cal Athletics Director Mike Williams doesn’t want to answer a question about which sports are on the horizon of being cut from the Division I program slate.

Unfortunately for Cal, that horizon is no longer in the distance. It’s a very real part of an Intercollegiate Athletics program that ended 2016 with an almost $22 million deficit. Clearly, it’s time to make some improvements. Get ready, Bears, because Oski is putting on his graduation cap and heading out into the unknown.

But first, let’s back up and examine the facts. In 2016, the campus faced a $150 million deficit. A new chancellor, Carol Christ, will most likely assume power after a UC regents meeting Thursday to vote for her approval. Christ’s takeover may spell a future of cutting sports for the sake of saving money.

This shouldn’t be a news flash, but Cal Athletics is in the midst of paying off its debt from $460 million worth of renovations, half of which were necessary, to Memorial Stadium to the planned tune of at least $18 million per year until 2032, when the number is expected to increase. Cal currently owes the most money of any college sports program, and in light of declining football season ticket purchases, a step in right direction has already taken place with the introduction of new football leadership designed to stimulate alumni.

With a new chancellor coming in, the future of maintaining 30 Division I teams seems to be in doubt while we await a report on the future of these teams from the Task Force on Intercollegiate Athletics. Dirks gave the group an extension after it was expected to have a resolution at the start of the spring 2017 semester. It seems almost inevitable that something will have to give, as the campus as a whole is dealing with too massive of a problem to ignore.

“I would never want to eliminate opportunities for students to participate in athletics,” Williams said in an email to the Daily Cal. “That being said, we know that our entire campus – of which intercollegiate athletics is a part – had a $150 million structural deficit in FY16 and recognize the need to review all options in order to solve this problem.”

Right away, Title IX — which requires schools to give men and women equal opportunities and the same amount of money dedicated to their sports — will most likely limit what cost-saving measures can be used in women’s sports because of the more than $3.4 million operating cost of football. A rule designed with the best intentions is ending up creating another hurdle in establishing a stable budget.

Cal’s problem is that its sports are such a priority that it has the most outside of Stanford, a private institution, in the Pac-12. Unfortunately, there has been trouble supporting these groups in recent memory, with the first significant cuts being made in 2010 with the removal of rugby, baseball, lacrosse and men’s and women’s gymnastics from Division I status. The reason these teams were able to fight their way back was that the school chose to cut programs with deep alumni connections, and successful ones at that, especially with rugby. Alumni funding convinced the school to add the programs back over time, and rugby and baseball alone are most likely a significant reason as to why men’s sports, outside of basketball and football, brought in more than $3 million in contributions in the 2016 fiscal year, compared to about $1 million for men’s basketball and just over $950,000 for women’s sports outside of basketball. In a dream world all sports have that kind of backing, but that’s just not the case, so the time has come for the hard choices to be made.

When deciding which to cut, sports that have significant history within the school should not be considered. Cutting rugby and baseball never really made sense, and it certainly doesn’t anymore. They bring in too much money from groups that are passionate to see them keep their place.

Instead, groups that have been added in recent memory would face less backlash if cut and most likely continue to lack support if they remain over the more established programs.

Cal has already revealed that the Task Force is referencing schools such as UCLA, Washington and Oregon, which have 23, 20 and 18 teams, respectively, when recommending a new plan. Following a model like the Bruins’ seems the most likely path, as the programs have similarities including the signing of new deals with Under Armour, although the fact that UCLA’s is five years longer and $200 million more serves as just another reminder that Cal’s reputation will limit the economic profitability it can get from such deals.

Cal is respected athletically, but 30 sports for a public school that just isn’t getting the same kind of funding it used to from the state is not feasible. Making changes to the number of teams and implementing innovative tactics — such as serving alcohol at football games — could help efforts significantly in cutting down the deficit. The pride of having the second-most teams in the conference isn’t worth the cost it creates.

Ultimately, the realization that there is a need for change is in the past; the focus should move to enforcing the resolutions made and limiting these cost-cutting measures from becoming a trend.

Print out that résumé, Cal, you’ve got a job interview ahead.


Contact Alaina Getzenberg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @agetzenberg.

MARCH 16, 2017