Campus & community, Campus news

Chancellor announces new plan for Cal Athletics’ future

Cost reductions will reduce the number of varsity sports from 29 to 24 as part of a comprehensive plan to create an economically sustainable program.

University of California, Berkeley, Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau announced today (Tuesday, Sept. 28) a comprehensive plan for the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics that will result in a broad-based yet sustainable program that continues to support the campus’s commitment to excellence.

At the end of this academic year, baseball, men’s and women’s gymnastics, and women’s lacrosse will no longer represent UC Berkeley in intercollegiate competition. In addition, men’s rugby will transition to a varsity club sport, a newly designated status at UC Berkeley.

In a letter sent today to the campus community, Birgeneau said the rugby team’s history indicates that this change should not affect its competitive opportunities or abilities. He added that Cal rugby’s unsurpassed excellence will be maintained through continued campus support in terms of admissions and through access to sports medicine and training facilities.

Together, these steps will generate an estimated $4 million in direct and indirect cost reductions for Cal Athletics beginning in the next fiscal year, while limiting future growth in expenses.

The number of varsity sports at UC Berkeley will be reduced from 29 to 24 under the new plan. A total of 163 student-athletes of the more than 800 currently participating are directly impacted by the decision – 38 in baseball, 19 in men’s gymnastics, 15 in women’s gymnastics, 30 in women’s lacrosse and 61 in men’s rugby – as well as 13 full-time coaches.

While recognizing Cal Athletics’ intrinsic value to the campus and UC Berkeley’s continued dedication to a broad-based athletics program, Birgeneau said the new plan will contain costs, reduce institutional support to reasonable levels, increase revenues and enhance the program’s ability to help student-athletes succeed on and off the field.

“This plan preserves what sets Cal Athletics apart from the crowd – a rare combination of competitive excellence, academic achievement and community engagement,” Birgeneau said.

Origins of the outcome

The announcement culminates a year-long process that included extensive consultation with members of the campus community. The new plan addresses many of the findings of the Chancellor’s Advisory Council on Intercollegiate Athletics and the Academic Senate’s Task Force on Intercollegiate Athletics.

While financial considerations played an important role in deciding which sports to cut, they were not the only measures used, campus officials said.  Other important factors considered included net cost, donor impact, student opportunity, proximity of national/regional varsity competition, contribution to diversity, impact on the campus’s ability to comply with Title IX, opportunity for NCAA and Pac 10 success, utilization of support services and history of competitive excellence.  In the end, difficult decisions about which sports to retain were necessary.

Officials said Cal Athletics and the campus are committed to gender equity and compliance with Title IX. Despite the sport-reduction decisions, they said UC Berkeley expects to remain in conformity with Title IX through the “proportionality prong,” which states that male-female participation numbers must be “substantially proportionate” to their respective full-time undergraduate enrollments. The current undergraduate gender ratio, from fall 2008, is 52.9 percent female and 47.1 percent male.

“Clearly, this is a painful outcome after months of deliberation, analysis and the examination of every viable alternative,” UC Berkeley Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour said. “I deeply regret the impact this will have on so many valued members of our community. I know it will take time, but I believe that once our community digests the information and understands the reality we were forced to confront, it will come together, as it always does, in support of our student-athletes.”

Birgeneau said developing a sustainable financial model for Cal Athletics has been a priority of his since he arrived on campus in 2004, and that Athletics and the central campus have been at work on a long-term financial model for several years.  However, the economic downturn and a dramatic reduction in funding from the state led the chancellor to realize a more drastic plan was needed. He determined that annual institutional support for Cal Athletics should be approximately $5 million by fiscal year 2014.

“We will retain, at 24 teams, one of the larger programs in the country at an annual cost fully consistent with the levels of support provided to our peer institutions for programs that are often smaller in size,” Birgeneau said. “This is not a coincidence; the leaders of this country’s best universities have long understood the value of high-quality athletics programs and the extent to which they are an integral part of what defines institutional character and identity. In my opinion, the benefits of collegiate athletics, both tangible and intangible, far outweigh the cost. Although the program has been reduced in size, our commitment to Cal Athletics has not.”

Support for the affected athletes, rugby team

In addition to continuing to support the impacted teams as they compete through this academic year, Cal Athletics will honor current scholarship levels for affected student-athletes who choose to remain at UC Berkeley. The department also will assist any student-athletes who want to transfer to another school to continue their athletic pursuits. Per NCAA rules, student-athletes who transfer because their athletic program was eliminated can compete immediately and will not sit out a season.

All of the employees affected by these changes will receive the full range of support services campus human resources has to offer, including job search assistance, employee relations specialists and access to counseling services.

As a varsity club sport, rugby will continue to use the campus as its training and competition venue, and keep its offices here. In the very near future, Cal Athletics and campus staff expect to meet with the rugby program to develop the details of a plan to provide the support services it  needs to maintain its high level of success.

On par with its peers

Beginning in the 2011-12 academic year, Cal Athletics will sponsor 24 intercollegiate teams, a number commensurate with its peer institutions. As a comparison within the Pac-10 Conference, Stanford University sponsors 35 sports, while UCLA has 24 and the University of Washington 21.  Only eight other public universities have athletics programs with more than 24 sports, including the University of Michigan (27), the University of Virginia (25) and the University of North Carolina (28).

UC Berkeley will continue to offer intercollegiate athletic programs in men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s crew, men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s soccer, softball, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s water polo.

Another result of the new plan is that Cal Athletics will be far more capable of caring for the needs of its student-athletes. Today, compared to its Pac-10 peers, the department ranks 8th in strength and conditioning, 7th in sports medicine and 10th in total staff, per student-athlete.

“Once we have implemented all of the changes, Cal Athletics will be among the leaders in the conference, in terms of our ability to provide all that our student-athletes need to succeed and excel on and off the field,” said Barbour. “This will have a very significant impact that I believe will usher in a new era of excellence for our program.”

Top-ranked program, student-athletes

Cal Athletics is one of only three schools to have finished among the top 10 in the Directors’ Cup each of the past five years, signifying its standard as one of the most accomplished athletic programs in the country. The rankings are based on national finishes in NCAA-sponsored sports.

UC Berkeley student-athletes achieved an 80 percent graduation success rate in the most recent data released by the NCAA, their highest figure since the national organization began compiling such information. The rate includes student-athletes who began their UC Berkeley careers as freshmen or as incoming transfers on athletic aid and is based on a six-year window for graduating.