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Stanford Cuts 11 Sports; Could Cal Follow Suit?

July 9, 2020

Stanford announced on Wednesday that it was eliminating 11 sports at the end of the 2020-2021 academic year in a cost-cutting move related to the COVID-19 virus.

Cal would seem to be hard-pressed to sustain all 30 (14 men’s 16 women’s) of its sports, but the Bears are indicating publicly that it will try. Cal Athletics released the following statement.

“These are challenging times for everyone across the country, and schools are having to make difficult decisions that they believe are best for them in the current economic climate. We certainly empathize with our colleagues at Stanford – student-athletes, coaches, staff and alumni. As (Athletic Director)  Jim Knowlton and Chancellor Christ have said all along that cutting sports would be a last resort under any circumstances.”

Even given that, rumors are flying. Some sources close to the Cal Athletic Department tell us that potential changes are being reviewed and likely there will be significant cuts.  The fact that two of their lucrative outside agreements -- with Under Armour and Learfield -- are in jeopardy adds considerably to the money woes. Both companies are talking about eliminating their financial stake in Cal.

On the other hand, there is the real possibility that things could move forward with no sports cuts at all. What happens with the football season will be the deciding factor.  One source familiar with Cal finances estimated that if the season is eliminated entirely it would be “a $50 million hole.”  That would make some reduction in sports inevitable.

However, one of the options being discussed is a partial football season of conference games only. Suddenly $50 million could become $25 million. Given that the Pac-12 has a line of credit that could be tapped along with some other sources, all sports could likely be saved. There would be some belt-tightening, but it could be done. 

Scuttlebutt Sailing News

Stanford’s list consisted of non-revenue “fringe” sports, leaving higher profile endeavors such as football, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball intact. The Cardinal eliminated the likes of co-ed and women’s sailing, fencing, squash, and synchronized swimming. None of Cal’s sports is quite that “fringe.”

 Stanford also pulled the plug on wrestling (something Cal did years ago), lightweight and men’s rowing, and men’s volleyball. 

Should Cal go to the “nuclear option: no one inside or outside the Athletic Department can say with any certainty which sports would be the more likely to be cut.  There are so many variables. First of all each sport has its boosters and benefactors who put forth reasons why their sport has to survive. The men’s sports that are most vulnerable would seem to be cross country, gymnastics, and track and field. But even there, nothing is for sure.

On the women’s side, the most likely victims would seem to be beach volleyball, cross country, field hockey, gymnastics, and rowing. But cutting women’s sports can be tricky as Title IX comes into play. WIthout going into the details of the rule’s various “prongs” we will just say Cal right now is not in strict numerical compliance (equal opportunity for women and men, based on the enrollment proportion) but close enough to keep everybody happy. But if Cal starts cutting women’s sports, it could risk being compelled to get the respective numbers exactly right. 

That could make baseball vulnerable, given its large roster size. Cal tried to cut it a decade ago and alumni donors rushed to save it, establishing the Cal Baseball Foundation, with the goal of endowing the program in perpetuity. There seems to be enough money to keep it going, but Title iX turns it into Catch 22. A sport without financial problems would be cut for financial reasons.

A complete football season is looking less likely. Not only are COVID cases spiking in California, but elsewhere in the country conferences are dialing back. The Ivy League has eliminated all fall sports this year and the Big Ten announced Thursday its autumn teams, including football, would play conference opponents only. That is looking like a likely Pac-12 scenario, but will a ten-game season be possible. Nothing has been made official, but USC, UCLA and Arizona are acting as if they will be dumping their entire fall football season. Arizona closed the doors to athletes’ voluntary workouts with week, and SC reportedly told some big donors to prepare for the worst.  

The uncertainty of football isn’t the only issue. Cal’s $86 million deal with the Under Armour, so ballyhooed and celebrated four years ago, is becoming unraveled.

The Maryland firm has told Cal last week that it is terminating the arrangement, which has six more years to run. The Bears are not letting go easily.

University of California, Berkeley
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and then-Cal athletic director H. Michael Williams in 2016 announced a 10-year apparel deal

“While we understand that we are in challenging times, we have been and remain committed to our partnership with Under Armour,” Knowlton said in a statement at the time. “We are confident that we are fulfilling the terms of our agreement and that Under Armour does not have grounds for termination. We know that UA has put years into building its college business, and we have done and will continue to do everything in our power to help them succeed.”

Prior to cutting the Bears loose, Under Armour announced that it was canceling its deal with UCLA, that was worth a whopping $280 million for 15 years. 

"Under Armour has recently made the difficult decision to discontinue our partnership with UCLA, as we have been paying for marketing benefits that we have not received for an extended time period," Under Armour said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. "The agreement allows us to terminate in such an event and we are exercising that right. We know that this has been a challenging time for athletes, sports programs, and performance apparel brands alike. Under Armour will continue to preserve our strength in this challenging environment, while maintaining a strong network of partnerships with individuals, organizations, and leagues that make us the on-field authority for focused performers."

Under Armour was hungry for a West Coast presence so it signed up the Bears and the Bruins. If by “marketing benefits” UA meant success in high-profile sports, then they certainly have fallen short. Between them, since 2016 Cal and UCLA have three bowl games, none on New Years Day, and just two appearances in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Had this year’s Big Dance not been canceled UCLA might have made the field, but probably not gone very far. 

But the contract does not specify winning as a criterion so Cal and UCLA do have a case. But fighting with someone who is supposed to be your partner can lead to a toxic relationship that does no one any good.

Cal Athletics

As for Learfield, the details of why it wants out are even less clear, however, the private company has been reducing staff via furloughs and layoffs recently.

Should both deals end, Cal stands to lose a combined $80 million in cash over the next seven years. So if and when the Bears get through the immediate situation, potential trouble could lie ahead.


Tags: California
Discussion from...

Stanford Cuts 11 Sports; Could Cal Follow Suit?

3,590 Views | 2 Replies | Last: 6 mo ago by Cal84
How long do you want to ignore this user?
The sooner D1 dies, the better. $millions for what? Very expensive laundry?

Let the (semi-) Pro teams compete for top athletes who wish to major in entertainment at their skoolz.
How long do you want to ignore this user?
When you are running an unprofitable business and some products are losing money and some are still profitable, shutting down the entire business is rarely the best option.
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