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Cal announces $30M plans to update facilities for softball and beach volleyball

Does this mean that these sports won’t be on the chopping block if Cal tries to downgrade from 30 to the minimum 14 sports?

Levine-Fricke Field will be getting a major upgrade soon.
Cal Softball Twitter

Cal Athletics announced on Monday of a new plan to spend about $30 Million dollars (money amount only found in the Daily Cal article) to upgrade the facilities of Cal Softball and Cal Beach Volleyball.

For softball, the field will be flipped in orientation and enlarged, with the new home plate area near the current left field foul pole. In addition, it will include expanded permanent seating, covered batting cages, locker rooms, a video board, restrooms, field lighting and an elevated press box, among other amenities. Once completed, the softball facility will meet field dimension standards, and Cal will be able to host NCAA Tournament games, something the team is unable to do presently.

The beach volleyball facility will remain on the Clark Kerr Campus, moving to a new location near the intersection of Sports Lane and Dwight Way, and will feature four sand courts, as well as permanent spectator seating, restrooms and a scoreboard. Beach volleyball currently has two courts available with no additional permanent amenities.

Beach Volleyball is of course the youngest of the 30 sponsored sports at Cal, starting play in the 2014 season. Beach Volleyball officially became a NCAA sports for the 2016 season. The first 3 national titles have gone to Pac-12 schools in USC (2016 and 2017) and UCLA (2018). The Cal program made a huge stride in 2018 to become a top 12 program in the country. Head coach Meagan (Schmitt) Owusu, a former Cal (Indoor) Volleyball defensive specialist standout, has done a great job in building this program with very little resources (the program was added during the still ongoing financial hard time of Cal Athletics and was told that they won’t have any scholarships for the first few seasons).

It is not too surprising that Beach Volleyball will be getting a new facility as the old one is merely a temporary solution. While the Beach Volleyball scoring is done similarly to Tennis in that a meet is decided by which schools have won more matches, competitions are often done with two simultaneous matches to decide a Best of 5 in Beach Volleyball at a time instead of six simultaneous matches for Tennis to decide a Best of 7 (6 singles and 1 doubles point). The new facility will remain on the Clark Kerr Campus and increase the number of available courts from 2 to 4. The new facility will also include amenities such as seating for the spectator, restrooms, and a scoreboard. This construction is expected to be complete in 1 year of time.

Cal Softball has the distinction of being the first Cal women’s program to win a NCAA national championship, back in 2002 when the Cal program was perennial Women’s College World Series finalists. Under head coach Diane Ninemire’s direction, Cal Softball has only missed the postseason once (2014) although they have struggled to make it out of the Regional stage in recent years. While Softball has not been in the national spotlight due to it (and baseball) losing its status as an Olympic sports, they are gaining more prominence again with its impending return to the Olympic scene for the 2020 Tokyo games. One of the “face of USA softball” right now is 1st baseman and slugger in Cal alum Valerie Arioto.

Right next to Cal Rugby’s Witter Field, Levine-Fricke Field will reverse in direction to add more seats and improve other amenities such as scoreboard and batting cages. The new field will also allow Cal to host more Regionals if/when the team can become a perennial national championship contenders again. This upgrade is projected to take about 15 months to complete.

Spring/summer of 2019 is the projected start time of these upgrades. The plans would still need to be approved by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) which may not be through until early next year.

Upgrades driven by Title IX

The Daily Cal made a comparison of Levine-Fricke Field to Cal Baseball’s Evans Diamond. Evans Diamond only got the lights, new scoreboard, etc. in recent years due to the hard work of Cal Baseball Foundation to increase attendance and to make the program financially self-reliant. Hopefully, the much improved game day experience (including night games that allowed working alum to go to games on weeknights) as well as players like the reigning Golden Spikes winner Andrew Vaughn (who will be back for his junior season next year) will raise enough money to save that program long term. Nonetheless, Chancellor Christ has stated that these facilities for softball and beach volleyball upgrades are necessary due to Title IX, particularly the prong about equal treatment of men’s and women’s sports.

For the most part, Cal women’s sports share a field/facility with another men’s sports. Volleyball, Women’s Basketball, and Women’s Gymnastics are in Haas Pavilion with Men’s Basketball and Men’s Gymnastics. Women’s Swimming and Diving and Women’s Water Polo share Spieker Aquatic Center and the brand new Legends Aquatic Center with their male counterparts. Women’s Tennis shares Hellman Tennis Complex with the men and saw that facility updated recently. Lacrosse plays in Memorial Stadium, home of Cal Football. Women’s Soccer and Track and Field currently resides in Edwards Stadium with their male counterparts, although there are plans of Cal Athletics giving up that land to campus. Women’s Crew also shares some of the same boathouses with Men’s Crew. While Golf plays their tournaments off campus, the women also benefits from sharing some of the same training facilities on campus with the men’s program.

The other lone Cal Women’s sports team than Softball and Beach Volleyball that does not share a facility with the men is Cal Field Hockey, who infamously went through the recent ordeal of not having a home on campus and had to sue the University to get the new Underhill Field.

Funding will NOT come from state funding nor student fees

Of course, the Cal/UC Berkeley community at large may be apprehensive about the Athletics department spending more money. Chancellor Carol Christ said that the money for the upgrade will come from “undesignated bequests” for these projects. AD Jim Knowlton mentioned a pair of six-figure pledges toward these projects.

More from the Daily Cal article:

Christ attributes the $30 million cost in part to regulation requirements for public sector projects and the high labor costs for construction by the campus. As she wrote in her statement, the alternative would be to temporarily cut the softball and beach volleyball programs, a resort that she considers a non-option.

Bigger picture look at Cal Athletics future

Some people still believe that Cal Athletics will be undergoing drastic change in the near future to balance its budget. A deep cut option (and one that will surely alienate a lot of current donors) of downsizing to a bare minimum of 14 sports (similar to what our little sister school UC Los Angeles does) may still be considered.

Would Cal Athletics spend the money on the facility upgrades only to cut Cal Softball (one of the more costly program to run) in the next decade? Anything can happen with this not-so-efficient machine that is Cal Athletics. That future decision is not dependent on this decision at all. The hope here is that by spending money, these programs can also start to make some money. Some of the SEC softball programs have become rather profitable (but then again, there are fewer things to do in general in SEC country). While I doubt Beach Volleyball will start charging for admission for their matches, they can also potentially raise some money by selling merchandizes.

What does money spent here mean when Cal Soccer (both men and women) as well as Track and Field (both men and women) are displaced if/when Edwards Stadium is taken? While one would believe that some of the profit from the repurposing of Edwards Stadium will go to those programs having new homes, nothing is certain.

We are a long way from knowing what will happen with Cal Athletics long term. Nonetheless, both of these programs are deserving of having comparable facility to their Pac-12 peers. Once the new facilities have been completed, both Cal Softball and Cal Beach Volleyball may live up to its potential of being future perennial national championship contenders.