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Cal to cut five varsity teams


In a press conference on Tuesday, UC-Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Athletic Director Sandy Barbour announced that California will eliminate five of its varsity athletic teams in an effort to maintain a financially sustainable athletic program committed to excellence.

The affected teams–baseball, men’s and women’s gymnastics, women’s lacrosse and men’s rugby–will cease to represent Cal in intercollegiate competition at the end of this academic year. The Cal athletic program will be reduced from 29 teams to 24; by comparison, Stanford currently has 35 varsity teams, and Pac-10 opponents UCLA and Washington have 24 and 21 teams, respectively.

This reduction will impact 163 student-athletes and 13 full-time coaches. The Cal athletics department will honor current scholarships for the affected student-athletes who choose to stay at UC-Berkeley and continue pursuing their degrees.

The rugby team, currently the only varsity rugby program in the country, has been a perennial national powerhouse, winning 25 national championships since 1980. Unlike the other four teams, rugby will be transitioned to a varsity club sport, meaning it will still have access to training facilities, sports medicine and admissions benefits–however, Cal will cease funding the team.

In a letter to the UC-Berkeley community, Birgeneau and Barbour outlined the rationale for the decision, with financial concerns at the top of the list.

“The status quo is simply unsustainable,” they wrote. “Given the economic environment, the campus cannot continue to provide Cal Athletics with recent levels of annual financial support that exceeded $12 million during the last fiscal year. After an exhaustive consideration of every reasonable option, it became clear to us that the only credible way to balance our twin objectives of financial sustainability and continued excellence is through a reduction in the program’s scope, along with new steps to contain costs and increase revenues.”

The proposed plan will save Cal an estimated $4 million.

While Cal is struggling to fully fund its athletics program, the expansive Stanford athletics program remains on solid financial footing. Stanford Athletics is an auxiliary unit of the University, running independently on the revenues that it generates. The program did operate at losses in both 2009 and 2010, but is projected to return to the black this year as payouts from its independent endowment return to normal levels.

Over the last two years, Stanford Athletics also made numerous cuts to ensure that it would be able to retain all of its varsity sports. It eliminated staff positions, froze salaries and implemented budgetary cuts in order to remain solvent. The only potential casualty was the fencing team, which was forced to raise $250,000 on its own to remain a varsity sport.

In the medium-term, Stanford is also expected to receive significant revenue boosts from the renegotiation of the Pac-10 Conference’s media contracts at the end of this year. With the addition of Colorado and Utah, the new Pac-12 is expected to pay out much more to member schools after the contracts are signed, which should help Stanford to plug any remaining budgetary gaps.

From a competition perspective, Stanford figures to be affected the most by the elimination of Cal’s gymnastics programs. The Golden Bears are the only significant rivals to the Cardinal on the West Coast, especially on the men’s side–the men’s gymnastics team is scheduled to square off against Cal four times this season. Women’s gymnastics competition in the Pac-10 is somewhat more robust, and the Stanford women are scheduled to travel to Berkeley just once this season.

The baseball team will also lose its natural rival in the Pac-10. Last season, the Cardinal swept the Golden Bears in a weekend series.

Stanford’s athletic programs may also be able to pick up transfers from Cal, which has pledged to assist athletes wishing to transfer to play for other schools. While the rugby program may not receive too many athletes, all four other teams could be in excellent position to recruit affected Cal players.