As the campus Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is set to begin a major overhaul to reverse its history of over-spending millions of dollars, concern is rising about whether U. California-Berkeley’s men’s gymnastics team will be put on the chopping block.
Though campus officials maintain that a decision about possible team eliminations will not be made until after the beginning of the fall semester, many within the world of men’s gymnastics – including officials from the U.S. Olympic Committee – are concerned. Some said there is reason to suspect that Cal’s team will likely be the first to go.
Team members started a website and letter-writing campaign last week, asking for donations and for supporters to write letters to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who will ultimately decide what changes will be made to the department.
But Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said no teams have been singled out.
“Why it would be a conversation about men’s gymnastics, I’m a little baffled,” she said. “Campus discussion has created a lot of unrest and uneasiness and concern about a variety of different programs across our 27-sport portfolio.”
Barbour said men’s gymnastics was the only team that approached her with concerns regarding the possible elimination of teams and criteria for a team’s preservation.
“We were obviously very devastated to hear (about possible cuts), but our first instinct was to take some action,” said team captain Daniel Geri. “We all just said that we need to react and do something about it instead of just waiting around and waiting for a response from the chancellor and (Barbour).”
Athletics Running in the Red
The “campus discussion” about athletics that Barbour referred to began last year. While other campus units were cutting corners to cope with budget cuts, it was revealed that the athletics department’s finances had been running in the red for years, receiving millions of dollars in subsidies from the campus. In 2008-09 alone, the department received about $13.7 million in campus support, according to the NCAA.
A Nov. 5 resolution passed by the campus division of the Academic Senate urged Birgeneau to end campus support to the department, prompting the formation of a faculty task force to examine the department’s financial model and make recommendations to Birgeneau. A second athletics advisory council was formed in April.
The final reports from the two groups – both expected to be completed sometime around the beginning of the fall semester – will be considered by Birgeneau before he makes any decisions about how to balance the department’s unstable budget.
The faculty task force’s June 12 interim report said the department should consider cutting teams to reduce expenditures “if necessary.”
Gymnasts Brace for Fall
Scaling back intercollegiate athletics is hardly new at other universities. Last year, the University of Washington eliminated both its men’s and women’s swimming programs for expected annual savings of $1.2 million. To combat a $1.4 million athletics deficit, UC Davis announced in April that it would cut women’s rowing, men’s wrestling, swimming and diving and indoor track and field.
Barbour said most sports on campus could be at risk – only football, men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball are safe because they are required to keep Cal in “good standing” with the Pac-10 – but gymnasts said they do not meet criteria the department is using to evaluate teams.
The department must also factor in Title IX when assessing teams, Barbour said, and the amount of local competition. Geri said the team would not score high with this criteria; its only competition on the West Coast is Stanford.
Fueling the rumors is the retirement of head coach Barry Weiner and the resignation of assistant coach Aaron Floyd for undisclosed reasons at the end of the season. The status of those positions, however, will not affect discussions of cuts, said Barbour, and the department has already begun searching for Weiner’s replacement.
Geri expressed fear of a “domino effect” reverberating throughout collegiate gymnastics and other competitive levels if his team is cut. Cal and Stanford are the only Division I men’s gymnastics programs on the West Coast. Additionally, there are only 17 varsity teams nationwide, and eliminating one would hurt the sport at large, others said.
“Are there other universities that are going to carry on the sport? And if programs (do drop), that’s going to affect Stanford and that’s going to affect every program,” said Stanford men’s gymnastics coach Thom Glielmi. “Why would the NCAA hold a national championship if there’s five teams left?”
If any team is eliminated at Cal, it would most likely not occur until the 2011-12 school year, Barbour said. Athletes would retain their scholarships through the end of their eligibility, unless they chose to transfer schools.
“I don’t think anyone’s really thought about (transferring),” Geri said. “Just because of Cal’s academics, I’m not sure if you can get the same type of education anywhere else with a gymnastics program.”