California decides to retain baseball

BERKELEY, Calif. -- California is keeping baseball after all.

Nearly two months after the university reinstated three other teams that were slated for elimination, the school said Friday that baseball would survive after a massive fundraising effort by alumni, former players, parents of current players and other team supporters.

Cal said financial commitments totaling $9 million were presented to chancellor Robert Birgeneau on Thursday by former Golden Bears pitcher and fundraising leader Stu Gordon. The total was short of the initial $10 million goal so additional money is still needed in this effort -- but the Cal administration was confident enough to announce the program would be saved.

"It was a very trying time and an ordeal for us but what came out of it was a resolve led by our alumni," Bears coach Dave Esquer said. "I'm just so proud of that group that would not take no for an answer. It finally came through with a resolution we've all been waiting for."

Esquer received the news early Friday from athletic director Sandy Barbour, who lauded the efforts of former Cal players and alumni for helping to save the program.

"This is a good day for the Cal Athletics family," Barbour said. "By confronting adversity through cooperation, we are now in a much better position going forward. We have all learned important lessons that will serve us well in the future."

The Bears are in Tucson, Ariz., to begin a three-game series against the Wildcats. Esquer delivered the news to his players after calling them together for what was supposed to be a scouting report meeting. A loud cheer went up in the room after the coach spoke.

"He dropped the news on us and it was just a big chip off our shoulders," junior catcher Chadd Krist said. "We no longer have to really worry about our future. Our future is with Cal baseball and with the University of California."

In February, Birgeneau partially reversed a decision announced last September when he said that enough money had been raised to keep the men's rugby, women's lacrosse and women's gymnastics teams. The two women's teams had been slated for elimination, while men's rugby was going to be reclassified as a "varsity club sport."

Campus officials said they received between $12 million and $13 million in pledges to retain the programs -- with $8 million available to cover the costs of the three sports for seven to 10 years.

Vice chancellor Frank Yeary said at the time that the pledges specifically for baseball and men's gymnastics were insufficient. In February, Cal said the baseball program had raised between $1.5 million and $2.5 million, which would have covered its costs for about two years but was still well short of that $10 million goal for long-term sustainability.

"I have been so impressed with the combined efforts of the alumni, parents, volunteers, friends and coaches who have not only expanded the Cal baseball family, but who have also strengthened it," Gordon said. "We are thankful that the chancellor has been supportive of our efforts to save Cal baseball through our fundraising efforts, and that the Cal athletic department has been working with us to support those efforts. I am confident that we will meet our fundraising goal of $10 million very shortly and am ecstatic that we can continue the storied Cal baseball tradition in the future."

The university also said that baseball supporters will work closely with the school to develop a strategic plan to raise significant additional annual resources beginning with the 2011-12 season through improved game-day revenue and annual gift and special event revenue.

The plan to cut the sports was part of a broader campaign to reduce UC Berkeley's annual support for intercollegiate athletics from more than $12 million to about $5 million in 2014 as a result of the state of California's reduced support of higher education.

Men's gymnastics is still short of its fundraising goal to be reinstated, having gathered just under half of the $4 million required to operate the team for the next seven to 10 years, but Barbour said she hopes the momentum from baseball will help the cause and lead to a successful outcome.