Cal baseball program may survive
Cal’s 118-year-old baseball program may survive after all.
The intercollegiate athletics community was sent into a frenzy two weeks ago when Cal announced it was cutting baseball, limiting funds to its traditional power men’s rugby program and eliminating three other sports as part of sweeping athletic budget cuts.
The Golden Bears made the difficult decisions with the idea they would save $4 million in 2011-2012 to help combat their growing athletic budget and dwindling revenues.
Just a day after the announcement was made, Cal baseball coach Dave Esquer explained the decision was final and that athletic director Sandy Barbour made it clear the sport couldn’t be saved by raising money. The decision was out of the athletic department’s control, she said.
Barbour’s tone has since changed.
“We had some donors and other people meet with her and we got positive feedback about the program and what could be done to keep it,” Esquer said. “There’s no 100 percent clear direction of what it will take, but it will come down to money. It’s a money issue.”
Esquer estimates it takes between $900,000 and $1.2 million annually to run the baseball program, and that a long-term financial commitment likely must be made to keep the program intact.
“I think the main goal is to endow the program,” he said. “We’ve come to the realization that we need to raise enough money to make sure this never becomes an option again.”
The baseball program has had some major donors come forward offering financial assistance and the Bears soon will host their annual golf tournament to raise money.
“We haven’t asked for dollars at this point in time,” Esquer said. “We’re trying to go about this organized with a game plan with hopes of reaching out to the athletic department and working with them to reinstate baseball. We’re determined to work together instead of making this an adversarial relationship.”
The baseball program has received overwhelming support since the announcement. Besides the support from Cal players and other coaches in the Pac-10, the Bears got vocal support from folks with no Cal or college baseball ties. Some close to the program held a rally at Evans Diamond last weekend to protest the administration’s decision and a Facebook group tabbed “Save Cal Baseball” has been created with already over 2,000 followers.
“I know there has been a loud response to baseball getting cut, so I only can believe that has helped our cause with the administration. Without that, I’m not sure we would be revisiting this topic,” Esquer said. “I’m not really surprised by the outcry, though. Whether it’s been the Giants in the news or what not, people in this area don’t want to see baseball take a hit at any level. Many people have been touched by our situation.”
Time will tell if keeping baseball becomes a reality, but there still will be plenty of challenges to overcome even if that decision is made. The Bears were forced to release all of their commitments for the 2012 recruiting class and have been unable to get back on the recruiting trail. They also aren’t allowed to evaluate prospects for classes beyond ’12.
For now, they are focused on fall workouts and the 2011 season with hopes the program will be reinstated. They also realize next season will be their last if it isn’t.
They’re just glad survival is an option. They have 118 reasons to stay strong.