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Cal Athletics task force says changes are needed, but cutting sports will damage UC Berkeley donations


Stanford Cardinals v California Golden Bears Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Change is in the air for the California Golden Bears. The athletic department has been mired in debt since the renovation of Memorial Stadium, and that situation doesn’t appear to have any long-term resolution.

The task force designed to provide clarity to the situation produced its findings earlier this week. They were conclusive, and inconclusive.

The task force recommends that Cal Athletics needs to make changes.

The task force also does not outline what changes Cal Athletics needs to make.

For one, the athletic program is bevvied by a deficit problem few major college football programs face. Due to the unrelenting debt service Cal must face in paying off Memorial Stadium, the Bears faced a $22 million deficit in FY2016.

Although they are expecting to see a reduction by $4.65 million in that deficit in two year’s time, Cal has $18 million in interest-only payments required for debt service from the Memorial Stadium renovation and the Student Athlete High Performance Center project nestled underneath the stadium.

So cut teams? Not so fast my friends.

We’ve already seen the danger of cutting athletic programs at the University of California once before. In 2010, five sports were on the chopping block, including baseball, the gymnastics programs, lacrosse and rugby. Cal baseball has struggled to recover, but the PR damage the university suffered especially from cutting rugby caused massive donor upheaval. All five programs were fully reinstated by 2011.

Any serious overhaul of the athletic programs at Cal could lead to as much as a $25 million drop in donations to the entire university. This would affect not just athletics. Academics in all areas could be greatly hampered. Many of Cal’s biggest donors give not only to academics and athletics. Lose major Cal athletic programs, and Cal donors could turn their back on the university entirely.

This leads to one of the most exasperating aspects of being a Cal alumni. How is a university that produces some of the best talent in the world and the richest alumni on the planet struggle to attract donations on the level of its major university peers? Does it really just come down to having a bad athletic program? Or does the university itself bear the weight of the responsibility in not building relationships with its Golden Bears past and present?

Athletics-wise, Cal is expected to see a boost in their funding thanks to naming rights from Kabam Field, their new deal with Under Armour, the new radio deal, and the Pac-12 Networks. It’s not likely that any of these new additional streams of revenue will be enough to offset lagging ticket sales for Cal football, particularly for the ESP plan that was expected to pay off the bulk of the stadium debt.

There is work to do. And difficult decisions lie ahead for the number one public university in the world.