Game over for Cal sports teams

In its latest move to cut costs, UC Berkeley will eliminate five of its intercollegiate sports programs, including its championship men’s rugby team.

Cal’s baseball, men’s and women’s gymnastics and women’s lacrosse teams will no longer represent the university in intercollegiate competition after this academic year, officials said Tuesday.

The cuts will reduce the school’s athletic budget by less than 6 percent, but will affect about 20 percent of its athletes.

The men’s rugby team, which has won 25 national championships since 1980, will move into a new category that officials say will allow the team to continue playing and competing on campus, but become financially self-sustaining.

Reducing the number of intercollegiate teams from 29 to 24 will save an estimated $4 million per year and affect 163 of the school’s more than 800 student-athletes, along with 13 full-time coaches.

After the teams are eliminated, the university will continue to honor promised scholarships to the affected students or help them transfer to other schools if they want to pursue their athletic careers, officials said.

UC Berkeley administrators said they decided to cut the five teams after considering a variety of factors, including cost, student diversity, impact on donations and compliance with Title IX, the federal law that requires gender equity in school sports and other activities.

“Clearly, this is a painful outcome after months of deliberations, analysis and the examination of every viable alternative,” Sandy Barbour, UC Berkeley director of athletics, said in a released statement. “I deeply regret the impact this will have on so many valued members of our community.”

San Francisco attorney Neil Popovic, an alumnus of Cal’s gymnastics team from the early 1980s, said he understands the financial constraints the university is under but said the loss of the teams will be tremendous. Just because a sport doesn’t earn the school money, like the football program does, doesn’t mean it’s not valuable to the community, he said.

“Athletic programs complement and contribute to the academic mission of the university,” Popovic said. “My understanding is there are very few of the teams that actually make money, aside from football and basketball.”

News of the cuts came as a surprise to Sharon Morrow, mother of Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow, one of several current major-league players who played for Cal’s baseball team. She said she was surprised that the school hadn’t tried to find donors to save the programs before slashing them.

“We’ve always gotten requests and solicitations for donations, but I hadn’t heard anything that was a red alert or told this is an
emergency,” she said.

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