Berkeley faculty votes against sports subsidy

November 5, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
U.C. Berkeley's academic senate has voted to ask the chancellor to stop funding the ongoing deficit of intercollegiate athletics. Turns out those sports programs have an operating budget of $65 million.

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Members of the public jammed the academic senate meeting. Almost all came to hear the debate on the controversial resolution which would ask the chancellor to immediately stop funding the deficit incurred by intercollegiate athletics. Golf coach Steve Desimone says that would hurt the student athletes.

"When you look at our graduation rates, when you look at our overall team GPA's, these are great kids, and they deserve our support," says Desimone.

Professor Michael O'Hare, Ph.D., is one of the bill's sponsors.

"We have more important things to spend that money on now in this time of serious budget crisis," says O'Hare.

Cal is facing a $150 million deficit this year. Faculty has been laid off, their pay has been cut and there are fewer courses for students. But the university says it will make up intercollegiate athletics $6 million deficit this year. It'll come from the chancellor's discretionary fund which does not include taxpayer money.

Although it's officially a loan, in the past, similar loans have been forgiven. Another group of professors has introduced an alternate bill which asks for the creation of a task force to come up with a plan to make the athletic department self sufficient. In the meantime, this group wants funding to continue.

"Don't just take this knee jerk response, we'll just cut off funding and move forward, I don't think you can move forward if you cut off funding," says Gary Firestone Ph.D.

Both sides do agree on one thing -- intercollegiate athletics needs to pay its own bills. Only men's football and basketball make money. Predictably, students ABC7 spoke with had the same mixed feelings.

"It doesn't seem like a responsible use of money for the school in the bigger picture when we have other needs," says student Kenneth Tsang.

"Diving, lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, these sports are at risk cause they don't bring in money with ticket sales," says student Natalie La Rochelle.

After a heated debate, the faculty passed the resolution which is non-binding. Nevertheless, the chancellor heard their voice.

"I'm going to ask intercollegiate athletics and the university athletic board and budget committee to work with us to develop the plan that will project towards self-sufficiency," says U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.

But finding more money may take time. Current media contracts as well as other revenue producing arrangements won't expire for years.

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