UPDATED: Friday, 1:56 p.m. ET.
The University of California announced today it will not reinstate its baseball program despite vigorous fundraising efforts to save it from the chopping block.
Cal announced in September that it would cut five athletics programs after the 2011 season in order to save $4 million annually. Athletics supporters quickly mobilized to form Save Cal Sports, which secured between $12 million and $16 million in pledges but fell short of the university's stated goal of $25 million needed to save all five programs.
Cal chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau issued a statement Friday saying that enough funds were raised to reinstate men's rugby, women's gymnastics and women's lacrosse, but not baseball and men's gymnastics.
"Regrettably, in spite of the best efforts of a number of their key supporters, men’s baseball and men’s gymnastics fell far short of raising the necessary philanthropic support," Birgeneau said in the statement. "Accordingly, students and staff associated with these teams must now be allowed to move forward to make other plans as these teams will cease competition as intercollegiate varsity sports for the university at the end of this academic year."
Cal coach David Esquer told Baseball America that he is "disappointed and heartbroken" by the university's decision.
"I was absolutely optimistic because of the belief I had in the people behind the effort," Esquer said. "It was an all-or-nothing proposition (to save all five sports), but at the 11th hour it wasn't an all-or-nothing deal, it was save yourselves. I was not expecting that whatsoever. I don't know if it's right to start counting numbers and who raised what when, quite frankly, our message was save all five, try to raise awareness and support and save all the sports. That was never our focus—save yourself. It seems now they want to count who individually raised money, and that wasn't something we were trying to do."
Birgeneau acknowledged that Title IX was a major factor in the decision. The New York Times suggested it would be earlier this week.
"By offering all of our women’s sports, we can meet the requirements of Title IX in a way that will allow the return of men’s sports, provided that the returned sports can cover all direct and indirect costs, including those of support programs and use of facilities," the chancellor said. "Rugby has raised significant funds providing a clear pathway to covering its own full costs as well as contributing to the stabilization of the women’s programs."
The university insisted each cut program come up with sufficient funding to support the team for the next seven to 10 years, and come up with a feasible plan for sustained financial independence. That's exactly what baseball supporters like Doug Nickle were working to accomplish, but their efforts evidently fell short.
"Although the amount of money raised for these two programs is meaningful, the teams’ costs are also significant," vice chancellor Frank Yeary said in another statement. "Both programs would have needed to raise multiples of what they actually did raise to meet our criteria. In the context of both current and forecasted economic and financial conditions, we simply could not agree to short-term, stopgap measures."
Cal baseball has a long history that dates back to 1892. The Golden Bears won the first College World Series in 1947, then won another national title in 1957. Cal's impressive alumni list includes Jeff Kent, Brett Jackson, Brandon Morrow, Xavier Nady, Tyson Ross and Geoff Blum, among recent or current big leaguers. The Bears have been to regionals in two of the last three seasons and head into 2011 ranked No. 17 in Baseball America's Top 25. Esquer and his staff have forged a winning program despite playing in a substandard facility that lacks lights.
"We've spent a lot of time and effort to try to build our program to consistently be a playoff contender, develop the type of kids we have, the coaching staff we brought together," Esquer said. "All that takes a while, and to see it all come crashing down is hard to watch."
The Golden Bears figure to be a force in the Pacific-10 Conference one final time in 2011, and then their players will have to find new homes. They can transfer this summer without having to sit out a year, but that's small consolation for players like sophomore infielder Tony Renda.
"It's kind of an awkward situation," Renda told Baseball America in December. "You're talking to coaches that you're going to try to beat into the ground this year, so it's awkward. I personally would like to stay in the Pac-10, but I would like better to not have to go anywhere else but here. Nowhere's like Berkeley.
"More than anything, I don't want to have to split from these guys, from the team. The work ethic, the people we have, the personalities, you just can't really beat it. I don't want to have to change. We're all optimistic that (the program) will get saved, but you can't bank on it being saved, you can only hope it does. But personally, I'm 100 percent into the team this year, and as long as there is a program at Cal, I will be here. A lot of people on the team feel the same as me."
Esquer said finding landing spots for his players now becomes one of his staff's main responsibilities this spring, taking the place of the time the coaches would have spent recruiting. His primary concern is with his players, who he said have never lacked energy in practice or felt sorry for themselves since the September announcement. But he also expressed concern that Cal's decision to fold baseball will set a bad precedent for college baseball.
"You don't want it to be an option for any athletic department, obviously," Esquer said. "Let alone the flagship public university of the state of California. It's just not good. My whole life has been baseball, trying to develop men through baseball. You don't want to see that, you don't even want to think about (schools eliminating baseball programs). Let alone the school in arguably the best conference in America. To see a school drop the sport, that's hard to swallow."
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