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May 3, 2011

Barbour speaks on the process of restoring historic program

On Sept. 28 of last year, the University of California Department of Intercollegiate Athletics announced that it would eliminate four varsity sports and demote the historic rugby program to the newly-created "varsity club" status. Just over seven months later, Athletic Director Sandy Barbour and Chancellor Robert Birgeneau announced that the "final piece of the puzzle," the 99-year-old men's gymnastics program, had been saved.

"Certainly, there are a number of different emotions," Barbour said. "I think first and foremost, I'm thrilled for the young men in our men's gymnastics program. Obviously, this has been a long wait for them, and has been stressful. They've performed throughout, finishing fourth in the country. On a broader picture, this is the final piece, in terms of the five programs. Overall, each program, in the case of our entire community, just the response of our community has stepped up. Not only loudly and clearly talking about the value and the purpose of intercollegiate athletics on our campus, but backing that up with donations and generous support to keep the programs going."

When the initial decision came down at the end of September, Barbour and the rest of the brain trust that reached the conclusion to cut sports hardly envisioned anything like the upwelling of support that developed around the five programs.

"I think that the response by our community, whether you want to parse it up, sport-by-sport, or look at it overall, it is unprecedented," Barbour said. "I don't think that we could have envisioned this kind of support. Certainly, there are those in our community that will say, 'Well, of course it was always there.' We had - other than the true passion that we knew existed in our community. There was no data to suggest that this was possible or that this was likely. I certainly am, and we are indebted to our community for stepping up in this way."

Since Cal made the announcement that five varsity sports would be eliminated in one fashion or another for the 2011-12 academic year, donors pledged more than $20 million to preserve of all five programs at the Intercollegiate Athletics level. According to those behind the effort to save Cal baseball, they are just $400,000 short of the $10 million that the University has asked for before it can "formally reinstate" the 119-year-old program, though the University has announced the program will continue with a good faith agreement that the final funds will be raised.

The substantial financial commitments to all five sports, in combination with expected ongoing fundraising efforts, will fully support the costs, both direct and indirect, of each team and enable Cal Athletics to honor the campus's decision to cap institutional support for athletics at $5 million a year by 2014.

In fact, the over $20 million raised over the past seven months is greater than the amount of annual donor support taken in by the Athletic Department annually since at least the fiscal year of 2007. In the past four fiscal years, the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics has taken in $14.7 million (2007), $13.9 million (2008), $15.6 million (2009) and $10.2 million (2010).

"One just apples-to-apples comparison, is that the $20 million is pledged over a certain number of years," Barbour said. "We raise on average about $15 million a year in annual fundraising."

The men's gymnastics program individually has raised approximately $2.6 million, shy of the $4 million originally mandated for full reinstatement, but, as with baseball, this will be a good-faith agreement. The difference with gymnastics is that the program will go through scholarship reduction as a means of controlling costs until adequate funds can be raised.

Currently, the program spreads 4.7 scholarships between nine gymnasts. 1.7 of those scholarships will be reduced with the departure of graduating seniors. Next year, the team will have 3.0 scholarships available. The NCAA maximum for men's gymnastic scholarships is 6.3. The NCAA limit on travel to the championships every year is 12 gymnasts.

"The place where we're going to bring down the operating expenses will be solely through scholarships," University spokesman Dan Mogulof said. "They can restore some of that through further fundraising. The scholarships can also be restored incrementally. As more money comes in and the community continues to raise funds, as sufficient funds come in, the scholarships will be restored until we get back to the current level."

Barbour said that no more curtailment of the program's operating expenses will occur, outside of the scholarship reduction. However, should enough money be raised, there would be an option to revisit the amount of financial aid provided to the athletes. The same would hold true in reverse.

"Let's say the community throughout the next 12 months or so does not raise sufficient funds, then the number of scholarships would drop by however many seniors graduate a year from now," Mogulof said. "If funds aren't raised, it will continue to decrease by the amount of however many scholarship holders graduate or for whatever reason leave the program or the University."

In order to maintain the current level of 4.7 scholarships, more money would have to be raised.

"The $4 million was predicated on current expenses, which is the 4.7 scholarships," Barbour said. "They would need to get to the $4 million number in order to get the scholarships up to the 4.7. If they're able to create those kinds of resources, sure, it can go higher."

No gymnasts have transferred, and during Tuesday afternoon's media teleconference, head coach and former Cal gymnastics star Tim McNeill texted to say that, "Before today, there probably would have been a few, but now, no one will."

Barbour said that the reigning Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Men's Gymnastics Coach of the Year may very well be retained in the long-term. McNeill is the most decorated competitor in the history of Bears gymnastics, earning five NCAA titles as a four-time All-American from 2005-08. McNeill claimed his first individual title as a sophomore in 2006 on the pommel horse, and then claimed national titles on the pommel horse and parallel bars in 2007, repeating in those two events as a senior.

"That's something that we discuss on an annual basis," Barbour said. "Absolutely, Tim has done very, very well. He's provided tremendous leadership under obviously difficult circumstances, and we're very appreciative of his leadership ability for this program. We will discuss his status, sure."

Since all five sports have now returned, there will be no issues with Title IX compliance.

"We're right back where we started," Barbour said, "which is Prong 3: Full accommodation of interests and abilities."

The big question of course, now that all five sports are for all intents and purposes preserved for the long term, is could this all have been avoided? Was everything done that could have been done? Certainly, Barbour says, this wasn't a strategy by whereby four sports -- the already well-endowed rugby program being the exception -- were thrown into the deep end and told to swim.

"I think that's hard to say looking in the rearview mirror, and it was certainly hard to say, looking forward, through the windshield," Barbour said of the eventual response to the initial announcement. "I think it's, even looking in the rearview mirror, I think it's still hard to say. We felt that our community had been certainly given lots of information and great insight into our financial struggles, and there was not sufficient step-up, if you will, to have addressed our financial issues, and so it was under those circumstances that we took the very difficult steps that we did. Certainly, we went through several iterations of this, relative to bringing programs back, so I think it has taken time and it has taken several iterations of the message for the various communities to come forward. Certainly, we -- and I -- have been examining what could we have done differently, but I think that the best news is that we're here with all 29 programs together, and we have the opportunity to move forward and continue to address the financial challenges that will remain for us ahead."

The programs were restored with an eye to using the money raised as, Barbour said, a bridge to perpetual sustainability. Other programs are also not immune to the financial realities.

"I think each of our programs has the benefit of a particular community, and a specific community, and also the benefit of an overall community of those that appreciate intercollegiate athletics at Cal," Barbour said. "There's no doubt that we believe that we are going to have to go to communities of each of our programs, and ask them to close the gap, to be more self-stainable; maybe not completely, but to be increasingly self-sufficient. That's something that we've started to talk to all of our programs about."

Barbour also addressed the potential of endowing the entire athletic program as a whole.

"The one (program), and I'm not intimately familiar with all of the details, the one with the largest endowment there (among several programs) is Stanford," Barbour said. "They probably have the best chance. Certainly USC is probably well-known for having done position endowments, for scholarships. Having said that, certainly. On a move-forward basis, some concentration strategy on endowment is absolutely what we've been undertaking for several years, and certainly is the underpinning of the Endowment Seating Program."

Mogulof said that, from an administration perspective, everyone has come out of the financial crisis having learned some valuable lessons.

"We always knew that we had a passionate, committed community," Mogulof said. "To the extent to which they responded in an unprecedented way to unprecedented challenges was eye-opening. By the same token, the donors and the community members who engaged with us really came away with a more detailed and more significant appreciation of the financial challenges the campus faces and that Intercollegiate Athletics faces. I think, as a result, again, from an administration perspective, going forward, we're really far better positioned to meet new financial challenges as they come and we know they're lurking around the corner, whether it's the possibility of an all-cuts budget for the state or other factors. I think a lot of us, both inside the campus and outside, really feel that we're, as a result of what was a difficult process, we're in a much better place with a much stronger foundation."

On the topic of the ESP, Barbour said that thus far, it has met projections, though it was not without some hemming and hawing.

"We've made great progress with the Endowment Seating Program, we're still 16 or 17 months, maybe 16 months out from the opening of the stadium, and as we've looked at models of new stadium openings, we're in really, really good shape, in terms of how far along we are," Barbour said. "We certainly need to I think make progress this fall during the football season, in terms of sales and as the progress of the stadium renovation itself moves along, I think as people start to see, particularly as it relates to the club seats and to the University Club, as something that people maybe can't envision in their heads because it doesn't exist right now. As it starts to take shape, I think that will be very helpful."

Barbour also said that seat sales for the 2011-12 football season at AT&T Park are going well.

"We have opened up to public sales last week, and I think they're going very well," Barbour said. "I think there's a great excitement about AT&T and also being in San Francisco."

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