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Roundtable On The Recent Cuts To Cal Sports

Avinash:  Thoughts on the cuts? On Title IX? On rugby staying along with women's lacrosse and gymnastics? On what does means for the future of Cal Athletics? Do you believe these are the right decisions? Air it out. 

NorCalNick:  Sandy Barbour has taken a great deal of heat for this, but I'm not inclined to believe that she deserves the majority of the blame in this whole mess.  It's clear that she inherited a rather significant structural deficit, and that as soon as the University refused to cover that deficit she was faced with two solutions:  1) greatly increase donations and endowments or 2) cut sports.

So the initial conditions weren't her fault.  But I think you can find fault with the athletic department over a few issues:
  Firstly, I don't think they did a great job engaging with donors and alums prior to the announcement of the initial decision to cut 5 sports.  While it's true that nobody really should have been surprised, I think it really blindsided a decent number of people.  In the end though, I don't think this failure to work with donors prior to the announcement was particularly damaging, other than from a public relations standpoint.  Donors still managed to save three Cal sports, and I think that's about as much as could be reasonably expected from the Cal community in this economic climate.
Secondly, I had felt that the athletic department had been very open about their reasons for taking the actions they did, and the consequences of those actions.  But that was before the New York times published their article about how many more cuts would be necessary under Title IX if the athletic department followed through and cut two women's programs.  That was never clearly described and when I read that article I felt like I had been misled of the true ramifications of the initial cuts by the athletic department.

Avinash:  FYI, here are the numbers reported on committed pledges for money (a trusted BI source):

Rugby came to the table with major donations. No suprise there. Great tradition, great coach, great alums, etc. A program worthy of reinstatement as a varsity sport. Its all been said before, but these guys are the best.

Then comes women's lacross. Didn't see this one coming. Their coach did a great job fundraising. You can make all the snarky posts you want about elite or women's sports, but this team's supporters stepped-up to the plate guys and the team is essentially paying its way. 

Baseball and women's gymnastics raised essentially the same amount, $1.2 million. I am shocked. Rugby will fund a portion of the gymnastics program and a small portion of the LAX programs, so yes, in this case Title IX has some bearing. But gymnastics is a heck of a lot cheaper to fund than baseball, and reinstatement rids the program of Title IX issues.

Further, the baseball donations (unlike those for LAX and women's gymnastics) were not solid - they were conditioned, deferred, etc. I am disappointed this had to happen, but in the context of what is happening to UC and Cal, this is an understandable business decision. There are a lot more of these desisions coming. Faculty and academic porgams are being called upon to support themselves or face cuts. Its just not baseball. I can't fault the Chancellor on this call.

Baseball had its chance, and can come back again if it raises the money to become self-sufficient. The current AD strongly supports this effort. If you want baseball to come back, there is an effort under way you can support.


TwistNHook:  I feel like there are a lot of emotions going on here that are distorting the simple facts of the matter.  

Simple facts like this sucks.  Nobody loves this.  I've seen a few people make it seem like Sandy Barbour had a plan to do this to get access to Evans Diamond.  Or something like that.  Although I've never asked Ms. Barbour directly, I believe strongly based on everything I've heard her say in public and rumors that have come privately that this was eating her up.  Nobody loves this.

But something had to be done.  I think many athletics departments run at a deficit.  Apparently, when Sandy Barbour came in about 8 years ago, the athletic department ran at a deficit.  However, it was not a big deal, because the University would cover the difference.  

One problematic aspect that nobody has really talked about is how 30 years of football incompetence limited one of the few cash cows in an athletics department's arsenal.  Athletics departments by their very nature are going to be imprudently run.  This is not to say that they are run poorly.  Far from it.  Merely that only a small percentage of sports actually make money.  The vast majority of sports are not financially viable.  But we can't just cut down to men's basketball and football, that would defeat the very purpose of collegiate athletics!  

So, it is always going to be a situation where athletics departments have to really lean on a few sports to make enough money to cover the rest.  For decades, there was not a focus on football success.  As goes football success goes financial success.  I wish it were not that way, but it is what it is.  And the athletics department that Sandy Barbour inherited had repeatedly shot itself in the foot.  How many decades of half filled Memorial Stadiums and disastrous TV contracts (partially former Pac10 commissioner Tom Hansen's fault) did we have?  

You could point a finger at Sandy and say "Why did you not make more steps to get this under control before your hand was forced?"  It would be a fair point.  However, revenue was increasing with increased success under Tedford.  So, that was a net positive.  Further, I don't think anybody could have predicted the massive economic crash of 2008.  In 2003 or 2004, could Sandy have said "Better start cutting things just in case the economy craters in 4 years!"  

So, fast forward to present day and all of a sudden, you have a University that is fighting for its own budget life.  Despite the massive cuts to date, Governor Jerry Brown is proposing cutting 500 million out of the UC System budget.  That is 25% of the entire UC system budget.  HOLY FUCK!  That is a lot of money.  

That trickles down to a situation where now the University is unable/unwilling to continue to subsidize Athletics.  What that means is that Athletics has to be much more budget focused.  It needs to increase revenue and decrease costs.  Simple economics.

Enter a sport: baseball that is, apparently, losing around 1 million dollars a year.  Well, that ain't good!  I lack the information sufficient to understand how it is losing that sum of money a year and maybe compared to other baseball programs around the nation that is an appropriate amount to lose.  But for Cal athletics, that is a huge matzoh ball hanging out there.  Take away the history, take away the American Way, take away everything, but simple numbers.  That is the real bottom line here.

Cal gives baseball an opportunity to get the donations in shape.  If these numbers are to be trusted from this BearInsider source, then they didn't get the job done.  Very surprising, especially considering they have a variety of professional players making millions of dollars a year.  

If you only read one paragraph in this seemingly unending rant, read this here.  Athletics had to run a tighter ship.  Baseball was not financially successful and apparently was not able to make sufficient moves to survive in this modern budget conscious world.  It sucks.  I'll miss my Saturdays at Evans dearly.  But it is what it is.  

atomsareenough:  I've read a lot of people's reactions to this, and I still don't know what to think, at all. It feels like the University and the athletic department haven't been fully transparent about what the options were and what funds or sacrifices would be needed to save which sports, and that's led to an environment where people don't really trust what they're being told. I think a lot of the save baseball people have a legitimate gripe that they weren't given a specific fundraising target to hit, and just simply told at the end that it wasn't enough. 

I do think the financial crisis is real, though, and that they wouldn't be doing this if it weren't a dire situation, but it really has the feel that the University had made its decision about what it thought was the best course, and its arguments seemed aimed at justifying where they arrived rather than laying out the entire picture and showing why this was the most (or only) reasonable path. What types of across-the-board cuts could have been made instead of dismantling entire programs, and how would that have impacted all the teams? Could these cuts have been temporary until the state's budget picture improves and a Pac-12 television deal is negotiated?

People have also been pointing to poor financial management of the baseball progam specifically; well, why was it allowed to get that way in the first place? If it's been run poorly, then that implies there was fat to be trimmed to help it run better. If that means getting rid of Esquer and putting a better financial steward in his place, why was that not on the table? If it was losing $1 million/year, and they raised about $4 million specifically for baseball, then that suggests there were funds to run it for 4 years; why was that not enough to keep it around a little longer? If they could institute some better management to run a tighter ship and lose only, say, $750,000 per year, then that means $4 million could last for 5 years, which is a long enough time for more fundraising to be done or for budget picture to change considerably. What if by that time football wins a Rose Bowl, sells out a bunch of games, and is able to contribute a lot more to the athletic department? Anything can happen in 5 years, and I don't really understand why they couldn't at least get a temporary reprieve rather than just a "no". But then, I don't know all the numbers and between what the University is saying, what we're hearing from the folks at Save Cal Baseball or the Rugby supporters, or random Cal fans, it's hard to know what to believe. All I know is that I have way more questions than answers.

Also, I may be pointing out the obvious here, but... I know Cal offers a fairly wide variety of sports on campus, and we all admire and appreciate that fact. However, cutting baseball specifically feels like a huge deal because EVERY other Pac-10 school (and I believe almost all if not all Cal State and non-professional UC schools) has baseball, and it's a "core" sport, and it's the historic national pastime. If the other UCs or Cal States can keep their baseball teams, why can't the state's flagship institution do the same? It may not be logical or fair to the other, lower-profile sports and their athletes and supporters, but psychologically, I suspect many people just viscerally feel that baseball ought to be further down the chopping block.

Avinash: For the record, the dude is backing off his original statements about the financial numbers. So we'll see what happens there.

I find the whole situation to be very clumsily managed. No official numbers have been released, so I really can't say whether Cal baseball and gymnastics should or should not be cut. Both sides are saying separate things, so I don't really know who to believe. I do find it strange that the proponents for saving Cal baseball continue to insist that the athletic department didn't make clear to them how much money needed for saving them though.

While I do believe that the situation is dire enough, it's the build-up I have a problem with. Sandy has been our AD for years now and should've known a budget crunch was on its way as early as 2008. The suddeness and lack of ability to prepare our alumni and donors for this announcement is worrisome, to say the least. 

TwistNHook: That's the problem with this, which is that we have separate statements and it is hard to make a clearer determination of who is accurate.  

Regarding the suddenness, I have to disagree.  This is something that we have seen coming for a while now.  However, we are so close to the situation that it is difficult to determine if the "average fan" was also following things so closely.  I will note that Athletics FAQ indicates that Athletics believes it did the best it could to coordinate with alumni and donors beforehand:

10.  To what extent were donor communities and coaches associated with the impacted teams notified that their future was in doubt?


People who were following the situation were seemingly aware. People following the matter were keenly aware that the Academic Senate made its stand in demanding cuts to the athletics department. Athletics department personnel said both in public and private that all options were on the table. I personally heard that at an alumni event earlier this year. Potential cuts were discussed in emails with team coaches as far back as early 2009. They were discussed at Director's Advisory Board meetings, which is comprised of donors. Specific teams were not named, because decisions had yet to be made, but the impending problem was expressed to as many people as would listen.


So, take that as you will.  

NorCalNick:  I know Tom Hansen is an easy target to bash, but in light of these cuts it makes his stewardship of the conference even more pathetic.  With Larry Scott's moves and the near creation of the Pac-16 it's become even more obvious how behind his tenure was, and how much it cost member institutions from a revenue perspective.  As clumsily as the athletic department has handled alumni and donor outreach and public relations during this crisis, we can't lose sight of what could have prevented the crisis in the first place: Competitive TV contracts and a conference office willing to do what it takes to market the conference and grow revenue.  I can't help but think

that if Larry Scott had been brought on a few years earlier we wouldn't be in quite the same mess.
So for me the question becomes "How soon might we bring back baseball and men's gymnastics, and what will it take financially to do it?"  I know that the athletic department doesn't anticipate new Pac-12 TV deals to bring in enough money to do it.  Is there anything else out there beyond increased donations that might bring in enough cash?

TwistNHook:  Yes.  Political Science 1A presented by Target Corporation.  In Dwinelle Hall presented by McDonald's Corporation.

NorCalNick:  "Welcome to Walmart Stadium in Strawberry Canyon!  Lest there be any doubt, you're in Savings Territory!  Sit back and enjoy the pregame show by your University of California Marching Band, as presented by Taco Bell:  Think Outside The Bun!"


CBKWit:  At the Cal Alumni Association hoops party yesterday, Sandy Barbour said she was very confident that baseball and men's gymnastics would eventually be reinstated.  Fundraising efforts are ongoing.

TwistNHook:  Man, I hope she is right!