Cal Athletics' Financial Priorities: Where Should They Lie?

Avinash: When the Pac-12 TV contracts were released, several teams in the conference immediately started pouring their resources into their football programs. The most noticeable names are probably Washington State (who managed to pool money together to land the Pirate), Arizona (who has one of the most dynamic spread coaches in the league in Rich Rod) and of course Washington. One of the top priorities (particularly in Washington's case) was to put a lot of money in their assistant coaches, which is how they got Lupoi and Kiesau to make the move up North.

It appears that Cal has decided to take another path to start out. Jon Wilner with more.

The bottom line: Cal has the money to ramp up its lagging salary pool for assistant coaches. How much? By my calculations, the Bears will have a net gain of $5-6 million in revenue thanks to the new Pac-12 TV deal — and that’s just for 2012-13. The windfall increases over time because of the 4% escalator in the TV deal and the elimination of one-time expenses (such as buying back media rights from IMG). But the school, for various reasons — many of them are admirable and high-minded — has chosen a different fiscal structure for its athletic department in general and football program in particular.


Although I'm not sure who Wilner's sources are, it tends to back up what we've all heard from this story. Otherwise it's hard to explain why we didn't have the money to pay Tosh and the rest of the coaching staff. There might be raises coming, but they weren't significant enough to placate Tosh (and maybe Kiesau, although he seems to be more of a vagabond).

Basically, it looks as if Cal wants to ensure the health of ALL their athletic programs while hoping football can handle its own. Cal has just received a huge renovation project that helped a lot of programs, but primarily it was for the benefit of the football team. So now everyone else believes it's their turn and wants their taste, probably to help upgrade everything else long-term.

Because of the number of sports on campus that need financial assistance, it drains the well for football. So if we were to give Tosh a raise and other coaches were to demand a raise, we probably wouldn't have been able to do it, and we might've been forced with a greater array of defections on our staff. We probably wouldn't have come out any better.

What do you guys think? Should Cal football be the #1 priority of the Athletic Department?


CBKWit: I think that, if we don't make football the #1 priority, then we will continue to be pretty mediocre at football. I think there are basically two routes to football success - recruiting better or coaching better than your opposition. Right now, Oregon is an example of the latter, and Stanford (specifically Andrew Luck) is an example of the former. Tedford has shown over the last half decade that he's not going to outcoach teams - we need to be more talented than our opponents to win consistently. Thus, Tosh's departure is going to hurt us far more than, say, Oregon would get hurt by losing their top recruiter (similarly, Oregon would be hurt much more by Chip Kelly leaving the program, which seems likely to happen in the next few years, than Cal would by Tedford leaving).

If we're not going to invest in football as much as other teams, we're probably not going to get the recruits we need to overcome our mediocre coaching. Then, the money we "saved" will be moot, because football attendance will fall. We need to be successful at football to generate enough revenue to cover our other sports, so we need to either invest more in the Tedford regime in the hopes of bringing in better players, or find a coach that produces better results with commensurate talent.

TwistNHook: The question here isn't really should football be the #1 priority. Football obviously IS the #1 priority. It is the engine of the athletics department.


It seems, though, that some schools have started pouring obscene amounts of money into their football programs. They have used the new Pac-12 money to do that. Cal is using the Pac-12 money to pay off long running debts associated with running so many sports teams.

I personally agree with Cal's plan to use the money to pay for an increased amount of sports teams. Having all the varied teams brings value to the school, in my view. I realize that most of the fans don't care about most of the sporting teams. I get that.

But I love having all the great teams, I love having all the championships. I love having the events. That is what going to a huge state school is all about. Having a insane amount of options both academically, artistically, and athletically.

Is the choice between pouring even MORE money into football and letting some other teams language OR pouring only a massive amount of money into football and keeping our current status quo going? If so, I take the latter. But perhaps I am wrong.

CBKWit: It's a faulty premise. If we don't put a ton of money into football, we're going to be mediocre, which will cause football revenues (starting with attendence) to fall significantly. We count on football bringing in a ton of money so we can pay for the other sports. So if we try to do football on the cheap and use the money for other purposes, we'll lose out on football revenue and be right back where we started from.

Avinash: I would have to agree it's a shortsighted decision to put the money right back into the non-revenue sports, simply because the ROI will be considerably lower than it woudl be for a top-class football team. Money should go to the sport that generates the most revenue to ensure greater success of the team, and by extension will ensure greater revenue for the program as well. Pay the coaches decently competitive wages, and we should be able to bring in top coaches and maintain the upward trend of the athletic tradition Cal has sustained.


If football does well, there will be more money for everything else based off results and increased fanbase/donors. It's much harder to do that with a sport with a more limited fanbase like Cal volleyball or baseball, sad to say.

LeonPowe: Not to echo everyone, but here football is really the rising tide that lifts all boats.

Atomsareenough: Exactly. If football pays for everything, then it behooves us to make sure that football is doing as well as it possibly can. Look, I'm all for having a wide variety of programs that provide athletic and academic opportunities to as broad a cross-section of students as possible. I'd hate to see ANY sport get cut, from gymnastics to cross-country to baseball. But if football is paying for most of them, then I think the answer is for them to reduce their dependence as much as they can and to make football as profitable as possible. For the most part, that means winning football games. That means going to and winning a Rose Bowl sometime. We're all diehards and we're going to follow Cal football no matter what, but we're not typical alums, and that doesn't change until we have a consistently successful program.

CBKWit: Thank you all for repeating what I said. It makes me feel "relevant"

Atomsareenough: It's called agreement! We can haz it!

Kodiak: From a pure business sense, it sounds good to call football an investment that pays for the other sports. You can't deny its place as king. For example, an article on our conference-leading basketball team beating our biggest rival got barely 600 page views. On the other hand, an open thread about a high school kid who may or may not ever produce at a Div I college level got over 6000.


Similarly, you can make the business argument that all other non-revenue sports should be self-sustaining or be cut.

But in practical terms, does that really work? To a certain extent, focusing on football is sound strategy. But simply pouring money at a problem does not necessarily guarantee on the field success or profitability. Without having the proper support from the university and the marketing as well as promotional infra-structure in place to take advantage of football's success, I would argue that you're making an incredibly risky and inefficient investment. How did ucla's dream team of coaches work out the last few years?

My concern is that pursuing a football-at-all-costs financial strategy ultimately results in abandoning many of the values that make us proud of our alma mater. Playing this forward, say we shell out big $$$ for Urban Meyer.

Then, we start getting tons of 4 and 5* recruits who are essentially rental players on their way to the league. They're not good fits at Cal, so you start hearing whispers of pressure put on professors to keep them eligible. And $$$ talks, so these professors either toe the line or find another place to teach and work.

Buying a Rose Bowl would leave me just as hollow as I feel today. Do we need to be smarter about how we manage the costs of our non-revenue sports? Yes. Do we need to make a much better effort about reaching out to our alumni and establishing a stronger donor base? Absolutely. But to simply open the checkbook and think that delving headfirst into the football arms race will cure all ills strikes me as a treatment that ensures the patient will never be the same again. And that saddens me.

TwistNHook: I will, in every way, accept a purchased Rose Bowl!
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