UC Berkeley, the nation’s pre-eminent public university, faces a $150 million budget deficit because of cuts in state aid.
Witter Rugby Field
Its renowned faculty has been hit with furloughs and pay cuts.
Meanwhile, the athletic department is running an operating deficit of more than $6 million per year.
Last fall, Berkeley’s faculty senate noted this apparent fiscal disconnect and urged UC Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to impose fiscal discipline on Cal sports.
At the time, Birgeneau said he couldn’t immediately end the university’s subsidies to the athletic department, but said “everything is on the table” when it comes to making the athletic department self-sufficient.
That may be. But at this time of financial crisis, the UC is forging ahead with its plan to borrow $320 million to renovate the aging Memorial Stadium for the football team.
Last month, UC regents approved a plan to borrow the money and pay it back over 30 years. Cal will charge football fans upwards of $2,700 apiece for “seat licenses” – long-term rights to the 3,000 best seats in the renovated stadium. Not everyone is sure this funding mechanism will work.
A sports finance expert from Clemson University told the Contra Costa Times he just didn’t know whether revenue from the seating program would have the “staying power” to service that large of a loan.
If it doesn’t, the athletic department – and ultimately the UC – will have to find the money someplace else.
Meanwhile, the stadium construction project will force Cal to play the 2011 football season in another venue.
And even Cal sports that pay their own way are being buffeted.
As the Daily Californian reported, Cal rugby coach Jack Clark got a call recently from an artificial turf salesman. Cal’s athletic department has decided to rip up the lovely grass surface of Witter Rugby Field and replace it with artificial turf; the salesman announced: the football team needs a practice field and didn’t want to practice on grass.
Clark said the athletic department later verified the report. You can’t play rugby on artificial turf – “it beats the hell out of you,” the coach said – so the rugby team must find a new place to play its games until 2013.
Cal’s rugby team is the most successful sports program on campus, having won an unbelievable 24 national championships. It also seems to be a model of what the faculty envisioned Cal sports being in this era of diminishing financial resources.
The rugby team’s fans raised money for an endowment to pay its expenses – including the construction and upkeep for the rugby field that is being buried beneath the football team’s artificial turf.