Men’s gymnastics program to continue at UC Berkeley

As a result of fundraising efforts that have raised in excess of $2.5 million, the men’s gymnastics program at the University of California, Berkeley, will be preserved as an Intercollegiate Athletics sport, campus officials announced today (Monday, May 2).

Men's gymnastics competition

Donor support will allow men's gymnastics to continue as an intercollegiate sport. (Photo by Michael Pimentel,

The total, though short of the $4 million necessary to fund the team’s current direct and indirect costs, will support  the program for at least 7-10 years in combination with steps to reduce annual operating expenses. Specifically, until the ultimate fundraising goal is met, men’s gymnastics will be limited in its ability to provide financial aid to future student-athletes. For the time being, scholarship commitments will be offered at present levels only to returning student-athletes, while athletic scholarship aid for new recruits, an essential element to sustain a program that has consistently ranked among the top five in the country, will be restricted until funding is in place.

While Cal Athletics and the men’s gymnastics community of supporters, coaches and student-athletes understand that this new scholarship model is far from ideal, the decision to allow the team to continue removes the broader uncertainty regarding the program’s future. As additional money is raised toward the $4 million objective, scholarships will be incrementally increased as possible.

“We recognize the importance of providing stability for men’s gymnastics at this important juncture and are reinstating the program under the conditions that are supported by current financial resources,” Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said. “Once again, I want to thank our donors for their unprecedented response during these challenging economic times. Not only are we able to maintain our full complement of intercollegiate athletic programs, but we are also able to remain on our path to reduce annual support to Intercollegiate Athletics to $5 million by 2014.”

Several factors led to making the announcement today in advance of reaching the $4 million fundraising goal. Most importantly, any delay would have a significant detrimental effect on the ability of the men’s gymnastics program to compete in both the near and medium term.

With the 2011 season complete and the spring semester nearing its end, current student-athletes have already begun visiting other schools to consider transferring. In addition, Cal’s coaching staff will be able to participate in the final recruiting cycle for the 2011-12 year that starts at the end of this week.

Under the director of first-year head coach Tim McNeill, named the 2011 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Coach of the Year, the Golden Bears placed fourth at the NCAA Championships April 15. Overall, Cal has finished among the top five nationally 20 times since 1959, winning NCAA titles in 1968, ’75, ’97 and ’98.

“Words cannot even begin to express how happy I am that the Cal men’s gymnastics team has been reinstated,” McNeill said. “I’m so thankful for the outpouring of support we received, from Cal’s athletic department, the Chancellor, our incredible alumni and the team members’ parents who worked around the clock to make this happen. This result would not have been possible if not for the current team’s never-give-up attitude. They held their heads high all year and have not only inspired me, but the entire gymnastics community. This last year was our 99th season, and I’m absolutely elated that we will be here to see our 100th season and beyond.”

Since UC Berkeley announced last September that four sports – baseball, men’s gymnastics, women’s gymnastics and women’s lacrosse – would be eliminated and rugby assigned to a newly created tier at the end of the 2010-11 academic year, donors have pledged more than $20 million to allow for the preservation of all five programs at the Intercollegiate Athletics level. These substantial commitments, in combination with expected ongoing fundraising efforts, will fully support the costs, both direct and indirect, of each team and enable Cal Athletics to remain on its path to financial sustainability and honor the campus’s decision to cap institutional support for athletics at $5 million a year by 2014.

“We have much to be appreciative for and I couldn’t be happier for member of our men’s gymnastics program,” Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour said. “Our community has made its passion for our athletic programs abundantly clear for all to see. Throughout this challenging year, our teams and our student-athletes have performed at a level that rivals the best in our history. To say that Cal Athletics, together with our community, has ‘risen to the challenge’ is indeed an understatement.”

“We are absolutely thrilled that the Chancellor has given the men’s gymnastics team the opportunity to continue its 99-year tradition of excellence,” said Neil Popovic, a Cal gymnast from 1979-83 and one of the leaders of the men’s gymnastics fundraising effort. “This decision means the amazing young scholar-athletes on the team can recognize their dream of competing at the highest level of men’s gymnastics and pursuing a world-class education at Cal. Many, many people contributed to this effort, and they should all be proud, as should Chancellor Birgeneau, Athletic Director Sandy Barbour and the entire Cal sports community. What a great team effort!”