Budget cuts could mean loss of up to nine sports

A $1.79 million cut to the UC Davis Intercollegiate Athletics Department could result in the removal of between five and nine teams from the 2010-2011 budget. In a Feb. 5 budget-planning letter to the Council of Deans and Vice Chancellors, Chancellor Linda Katehi wrote that the campus would assign higher reduction targets for intercollegiate athletics (ICA). Rather than tell athletics what cuts to make, Katehi said the department would have the opportunity to find its own solutions. The unfortunate conclusion, said aAthletics dDirector Greg Warzecka, was the department won’t be able to continue funding all 27 of its ICA teams.

A $1.79 million cut to the UC Davis Intercollegiate Athletics Department could result in the removal of between five and nine teams from the 2010-2011 budget.

In a Feb. 5 budget-planning letter to the Council of Deans and Vice Chancellors, Chancellor Linda Katehi wrote that the campus would assign higher reduction targets for intercollegiate athletics (ICA). Rather than tell athletics what cuts to make, Katehi said the department would have the opportunity to find its own solutions.

The unfortunate conclusion, said aAthletics Director Greg Warzecka, was the department won’t be able to continue funding all 27 of its ICA teams.

“It’s obviously not a fun topic to discuss,” Warzecka said. “It’s very difficult on a lot of people, especially those of us who’ve worked closely together for 15 or more years. We tried to build a program that was providing lots of opportunities for students to compete at the Division I level. Unfortunately, there will be fewer opportunities in the future.”

Why ICA was targeted

When preparing the 2010-2011 budget, Katehi said administrators made the decision to cut differentially among UC Davis’ various units, instead of applying a standardized cut across the board.

That rationale, Katehi explained, comes from the ability of certain units to bring in their own revenue. She referenced the School of Law and Graduate School of Management – which can raise funds with tuition dollars – and the Mondavi Center – through ticket sales – as examples of this. Other units, such as the humanities program, would have a far more difficult time producing income.

Katehi believes athletics has the potential to be a major revenue-producer through fundraising. She said there was a concern among faculty members that too much money was being put into ICA, something that isn’t considered to be a mainstream academic program. This is why she chose to cite it specifically in her letter as opposed to other units.

“There was a perception that [athletics] had been funded by state funds without having the support of the faculty,” Katehi said. “We wanted the faculty to understand we had made these cuts accordingly.”

Warzecka, however, said the $1.79 million was academic money for lecturers and supervisors who teach in the physical education department, not for ICA. These physical education costs will now fall to athletics.

“They teach physical education and give grades to students in classes,” Warzecka said. “Their reporting lines are to the deans of social sciences, not to me. When the core general funds were cut, what they cut was the funding – the salaries and benefits – for lecturers and supervisors who also have a coaching assignment. … That, unfortunately, really is the misconception about where the money was going.”

Because of this, $400,000 in benefits that used to be covered under physical education will also shift to ICA. With an additional $200,000 reduction in registration fees, Warzecka said total cut to athletics is higher than the itemized $1.79 million number.

“We’ve really lost $2.4 million in funding starting July 1,” he said.

Nothing is set in stone yet, though. Katehi considers the process to be an ongoing one that she’s addressing with Warzecka and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Fred Wood. The proposed ICA budget of approximately $18 million falls under student affairs, which has a total budget in the range of $130 million.

“We’re going through this with Fred and Greg,” Katehi said. “You give the initial cuts, and then you ask them to come back and say if they can or cannot do them. …We’re in the process of doing this with every other unit.”

The criteria for cuts

Choosing which sports to do away with will be no small task. Warzecka said many factors would have to be considered before removing teams, such as Title IX guidelines, potential to produce revenue, Big West Conference rules and NCAA regulations, to name a few.

He added that the department will receive legal council on all decisions.

“We’ll look at a whole host of criteria that’s longer than I’d even like to get into right now,” Warzecka said.

The way Warzecka sees it, this downsizing from 27 ICA teams could also be called “right-sizing” – a chance to decide how many sports can truly be funded given the present state of the economy.

Schools that sponsor football and compete in the Football Championship Subdivision like UC Davis average about 18 ICA teams, Warzecka said. He added the national average is approximately 19 sports for universities competing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

The Big West, meanwhile, sponsors 18 sports for conference play. Members of the nine-school conference offer an average of 18.4 ICA sports. UC Davis fields more teams than anyone else in the league. Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara have the second-most offerings with 20 sports; UC Riverside provides the least at 15.

Those dashboard indicators, as Warzecka calls them, can only go so far. He said the key is to find what’s right for UC Davis, calling the decision a matter of choosing where to invest resources.

“For us, it’s investing in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball,” Warzecka said. “We think we can be very successful with those teams. We’ve proven that on the women’s side, winning the league championship in only our third year of being D-ivision I. There are some teams in our league who have never won a championship that have been around for over 20 years.”

Warzecka also cited women’s volleyball, men’s soccer and baseball as teams that could be considered for additional investment.

On the other side of the equation sits Steve Doten, the head men’s water polo coach. The chair of the Coaches Advisory Committee at UC Davis, Doten feels his team would be one of the first to be cut.

“If they say, ‘You need to win 20 games or we’re going in a different direction,’ I think all coaches understand the nature of the business,” Doten said. “If they go, ‘Hey, to save your program, we need a $1 million endowment. If you don’t get it, we have to cut your sport’ – we just want the opportunity to try.

“There’s a lot of coaches just wondering what they need to do. We really don’t know. No one has said get ‘X’ and you’ll be okay. That’s not what’s happening.”

Warzecka said the department would take the next three-to-four weeks to work through all possible scenarios.

“It’s not in our control right now,” he said, “but we’ll come up with a solution.”

A future for fundraising

In college athletics, a lot of programs manage their budgets rather differently. While some might expect UC Davis to be similar to UCLA or UC Berkeley due to it’s UC ties, Warzecka said his department is unlike any other in the UC system.

At UC Davis, Warzecka explained, the focus is having a blended department where ICA works hand-in-hand with physical education, with coaches teaching in academic programs.

“This is an easily misunderstood program by our faculty, who have sometimes come from different institutions and have a different perspective on the funding for intercollegiate athletics,” Warzecka said.

“It has caused a challenging time for all of us who have worked hard to create a teacher-coach model at UC Davis that’s unique and separate from a lot of other schools. We’ve tried to become a part of the overall education mission at UC Davis, not apart from it.”

To continue with that mission, ICA must look toward additional fundraising opportunities to offset the cut to its budget.

“We would like to see athletics fundraise enough that it can cover [the $1.79 million cut],” Katehi said. “It will take a long time. I’m not talking about now. It might take a lot longer than five years even. It’s a goal, though. It’s our long-term goal.”

In the short-term, ICA will be given a one-time, $1.3 million transition fund for use over the next three years.

That sum, however, won’t be enough to ease the transition.

Warzecka believes ICA will eventually be able raise enough funds to offset the $1.79 million annual cut. Given the current state of the department, though, it could be difficult to come up with much more.

“When you’re playing D-ivision I athletics with smaller arenas, especially in basketball and with a football stadium that seats just 10,800 fans,” Warzecka said, “you’re not going to generate those levels of gifts from donors and sponsors.

“Athletic administrators in the so-called, mid-level conferences where the conference doesn’t generate a whole lot of revenue – we’re really in a predicament.”