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Updated: UC Berkeley Chancellor Cuts Sports to Save $4 Million

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Tuesday September 28, 2010 - 03:48:00 PM

It's been said that baseball is as American as apple pie, but men's baseball will no longer be a varsity sport at the University of California at Berkeley under a cost-cutting plan announced by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau today. 

Culminating a year-long review process, Birgeneau said the university will also cut men's and women's gymnastics and women's lacrosse and reassign the men's rugby team to "varsity club" status. 

Birgeneau said the university has had to spend more than $12 million annually to subsidize its athletics program, and the cuts are aimed at saving at least $4 million per year and reducing the subsidy to $5 million by 2014. 

"These decisions were difficult and painful," he said, and "were not made lightly or in haste." 

But Birgeneau said he had to take action because the current subsidy is "not sustainable for our campus in a time of drastic state budget cuts to the university that are affecting all of our faculty, staff and students." 

The cuts reduce the number of sports teams at UC Berkeley from 29 to 24. 

Birgeneau said the figure is still higher than the number of sports teams at most universities in the nation. In the Pac-10 Conference it is second only to Stanford University, which sponsors 35 sports. The University of California, Los Angles also has 24 teams. 

The cuts affect 163 of the university's 814 intercollegiate student athletes and 13 full-time coaches. 

Impacted are 38 students in men's baseball, 19 students in men's gymnastics, 15 students in women's gymnastics, 30 in women's lacrosse and 61 in men's rugby. 

Birgeneau said the university will honor current scholarship levels for those who choose to remain at UC Berkeley but will also help those who want to transfer to another school to continue their athletic pursuits. 

The school's rugby squad has been the most successful team at the university, winning 25 national titles in 30 years, including the 2010 championship last spring. 

Birgeneau said that although the rugby team is being reassigned to varsity club status, the university hopes that it will still be able to compete for national titles because only a few schools give the sport varsity status. 

He said the criteria for choosing which sports to cut included competitive excellence, the program's current and potential ability to financially sustain itself, the team's academic performance, its value to the campus and community, and its history and tradition. 

Contributions to diversity and gender equity balance required by federal Title IX laws were also factors, Birgeneau said. 

Joining Birgeneau at a news conference on campus, Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said, "This is a difficult and painful day for athletics," and she's "deeply saddened" by the impact on the students and coaches who are affected. 

"We understand there will be some disappointment, but we hope that once our community digests the information and understands the reality we were forced to confront, it will move forward," Barbour said. 

Birgeneau thanked Barbour for "biting the bullet" and accepting the cuts, calling the decision "probably the most difficult thing in her career." 

Putting the decision into context, Birgeneau said cuts in state funding for UC Berkeley recently resulted in a two-year period in which no new faculty members were hired and a one-year period in which all faculty and staff underwent furloughs that reduced their pay. 

He said he wants to reduce the subsidies to athletics "to a level we can rationalize to the campus as a whole."