No Cal sports cut yet, athletics task force says

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UC Berkeley’s Chancellor’s Task Force on Intercollegiate Athletics released its report Monday and could not reach a consensus regarding cutting any of Cal’s sports teams.

In the report, the task force recommended an external review of Cal Athletics’ finances and structure, focusing on potential cuts to administrative expenses which are “not directly related to sports programs.”

Cal Athletics has come under fire in recent years for its large deficit, which stood at about $22 million in fiscal year 2016. The campus holds more than $400 million of debt after seismically retrofitting California Memorial Stadium and building the Simpson Center for Student-Athlete High Performance in 2012. The athletic deficit has compounded a campuswide fiscal crisis, during which campus administrators have scrambled in recent years to address a structural deficit of more than $100 million.

The report said it is “virtually certain” that the cost of interest payments on the department’s debt will exceed its income for the foreseeable future regardless of any actions taken to change the program’s scope, such as cutting sports.

“Cal Athletics is not alone in facing these issues,” read a statement from Cal Director of Athletics Mike Williams. “Many of our colleagues at other Division I institutions are facing similar financial challenges that need to be addressed.”

As of 2017, Cal Athletics has the most debt of any athletic department in the nation.

“While the financial challenges facing the campus and Cal Athletics are urgent, the issues are complex, and we must be deliberate in making our decisions,” read a statement reacting to the report from outgoing Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Chancellor-designate Carol Christ, who will take over Dirks’ post in July.

In 2010, another athletics budget crunch forced the department to cut five sports, including the rugby and baseball programs. Private fundraising campaigns saved the programs, but not before significant public outcry. Cutting down from 30 varsity intercollegiate sports to the NCAA minimum of 14 “might produce an initial annual savings on the order of $9-12 million,” according to the report, and annual capital spending could drop by about $4 million.

The report also said, however, that the loss of sports would impact both the campus and athletic department’s philanthropic contributions, potentially to the tune of $25 million a year.

Dirks and Christ said they would prioritize the external review of the program, and that Christ would make “key decisions” after she becomes Chancellor.

The task force also recommended that Cal Athletics hire outside professionals to manage Memorial Stadium, as well a new fundraising campaign for the department.

Cal Athletics is slated to reduce its deficit by $4.65 million for the coming fiscal year through “a combination of new revenues and strategic cuts,” according to the chancellors’ statement.

There is no doubt that this process has taken a toll on our department and has impacted recruiting, philanthropy, the ability to retain and recruit coaches and staff, and staff morale,” Williams’ statement read. “It would be in all of our best interests to find a viable solution as soon as we can.”

Contact Hooman Yazdanian, Austin Weinstein and Bobby Lee at [email protected].