Cal’s dilemma won’t hurt college baseball

What coach Dave Esquer and the California baseball program is experiencing right now is something we never want a college baseball program to go through again.

There have been programs in past years get the axe, but no elimination has received as much media coverage and attention for obvious reasons. No offense to Providence and other schools that have gone through this, but this is California, a major institution, a Pac-10 school, and a national name that we’re talking about.

Sympathy for Esquer and the Golden Bears recently reached another level when sources divulged that star freshman Eric Jaffe likely would be transferring to UCLA during the Christmas break, and that star pitcher Justin Jones also would be transferring from the program. Jones has indicated he won’t transfer until after the spring, and only if the Golden Bears don’t reinstate the program. The Bears likely won’t be as lucky with Jaffe.

With the spotlight on Cal's athletic department, university leaders are acting anything but progressive.
(Getty Images)

No names of other potential transfers have surfaced, so chances are good the Bears won’t have to deal with more departures before the 2011 season. However, the stress surrounding the potential transfers and the overall situation must be overbearing for Esquer and his coaching staff.

Hope in keeping the baseball program remains. Though California officials have yet to set a specific price tag for bringing back the baseball program, the group “Save Cal Baseball” estimates approximately $12.5 million is needed to keep it. That figure would protect Cal baseball and four other eliminated sports financially for the next four years. All eliminated programs must be financially funded to bring back baseball for reasons included in Title IX.

The organization has had more than $5 million in pledges thus far, and hopes to reach the $10-million mark by January.

Still, time will tell if the Cal administration is serious about bringing all the programs back if the finances are there. We’re more than skeptical about their intentions.

On a larger scale is the fact Cal is entertaining this a bad sign for college baseball?

Some coaches, primarily on the West Coast, and even part of prestigious programs, have argued that if a big-name institution such as Cal could consider cutting baseball, it could set the precedent for administrators at other colleges to do the same.

Some schools in the state of California might have reason to worry because of the out-of-whack government spending that has led to major budgetary constraints inside the state’s university systems. But other than Cal, sources indicate no other schools, at least for now, are considering eliminating their baseball programs.

And contrary to the overboard reactions of coaches and others following Cal’s news, college baseball as a whole isn’t in trouble because of Cal. If anything, the administrators at Cal chose to overreact while others around the country are helping the sport take more steps forward.

Most signs point to college baseball remaining healthy and prospering more in the future.

The NCAA and Omaha, because of the amount of money made and popularity of the College World Series, is nearing completion of a new downtown facility that rival will some of the nation’s best professional baseball stadiums.

The NCAA continues to make more money each season from the NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals, while more television opportunities are arising. Just two weeks ago the SEC announced a deal with ESPNU, where the conference will have seven “SEC Games of the Week” on Thursday nights beginning April 7. Considering ESPNU now is filtered into 73 million homes, that news is important for the sport in addition to other televised games.

More from a television standpoint must and will be done.

On the facilities front, college baseball has become a quieter extension of the arms races that already engulf college football and basketball.

Texas A&M recently announced it was redoing its stadium for a price tag of $24 million, which includes a $7 million donation from Blue Bell Creameries that includes partial naming rights.

UCLA continues to discuss plans for major renovations to Jackie Robinson Stadium, while even programs such as Campbell and South Florida have joined the arms race. Campbell, a member of the Atlantic Sun, is making major improvements to a stadium that will hold 2,000 spectators, while South Florida’s new ballpark will hold approximately 2,500 fans. Connecticut, which became a household name last season, is one of many programs in the discussion stages for major and pricey facility improvements.

Other programs, primarily on the smaller level, have sent out releases since last season announcing the additions of new playing surfaces. Though small in scale, improvements of any kind show administrators are serious about making stronger commitments.

In the meantime, California, a program that will enter next season in the top 25, has no clue what to make of its future. For now, it must assume, no matter how much money is raised, that all coaches will be without jobs after the spring, and that all players must find new destinations.

There’s also the possibility the program is saved by a group of generous donors.

But no matter what happens at Cal, college baseball isn’t in any danger of losing steam. If anything, the sport’s future is brighter than ever.

It’s just unfortunate the Cal administration lacks a true visionary … for now.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com. Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Dec 6, 2010