BCS system claims unlikely victim
California baseball coach Dave Esquer and his staff will be unemployed and looking for jobs after the 2011 season, and somewhere Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan and other bowl executives will be living the high life.
Hoolahan, who makes more than $600,000 a year from the Sugar Bowl, may have no clue that Cal will send a coaching staff and players packing after next season. But bowl executives will continue to get richer while the system claims more victims in college athletics.
It’s not that many universities and athletic departments are getting richer. Just ask Esquer, who has had to deal with subpar facilities for the last 11 seasons he has coached the Golden Bears, and whose life has been turned upside down by simple dollars and cents.
California announced this week it was cutting baseball, men’s and women’s gymnastics and women’s lacrosse as a result of budget cuts. The defending champion men’s rugby program will remain but no longer will be fully funded by the athletic department.
The decision to cut costs makes sense from the university’s standpoint. Tuition and student fee hikes in the struggling California state university system have led to protests. It only is natural that many students at Cal are fed up with the extra fees from school administrators.
They’re also fed up with the fees associated with the athletic department, which ultimately has led to the dismissal of a program that has been around since 1892, played in the first College World Series against Yale and has won a pair of national titles.
While institutions such as Michigan, Texas A&M and LSU do not use student fees to support athletics, that isn’t the norm at most places, including at California or even ultra-rich Texas. USA Today reports that $828 million in student fees were used to support athletic programs during the 2008-09 academic year.
The increase in student fees for Golden Bear athletics is particularly startling. Cal students paid a total of $2.2 million in fees that went to athletics during the 2007-2008 academic year. In 2008-2009, the school increased those fees to $3.2 million.
Cal had no more room to increase student fees, yet they had to find a way to cut costs $4 million annually. With a $320 million football stadium renovation underway, getting rid of a major sport such as baseball and other sports was the only way to do it. Baseball costs approximately $1 million a year to operate.
The financial constraints are where the BCS enters the equation.
The BCS is a polarizing entity. Some believe the BCS and presence of bowl games makes the football regular season more important than any other setup could. Others believe a true playoff would be better for football.
A true playoff would be better for all sports. It would eliminate the increasingly tight budget issues that are causing this controversy with the Cal baseball program.
According to the book Death to the BCS, Football Bowl Subdivision schools had a profit margin of $140 million from bowls last season. Payouts from bowls was $220 million but schools had expenses of $80 million. Experts estimate FBS schools would have a a gross revenue of $750 million in a true playoff system.
It’s also worth noting that many schools that participate in bowl games don’t make money because of extreme travel costs and other bowl-related expenses.
College baseball continues to grow nationally with fellow Pac-10 school Oregon bringing back baseball and building a new $18 million ballpark, and Omaha spilling $128 million into a sparkling downtown stadium to continue hosting the College World Series. However, California, which will enter the spring with a top-25 team, will shut the door on a program that has a list of former players that includes Jeff Kent, Xavier Nady, Brandon Morrow and Jackie Jensen.
Budgets at some institutions will continue to spiral out of control (Cal was going $10 million to $13 million over budget in recent years), leading some institutions like Cal to make increasingly difficult situations. Baseball may not be the program that gets cut at another school, but somewhere coaches will lose jobs and student-athletes will be forced to transfer.
Meanwhile, athletic directors will continue to be pampered by bowl representatives, bowl executives will get richer, and athletic departments will be forced to cut more costs.
This all will continue despite the knowledge that there is an easier financial solution.
It starts with football and ends with a playoff system.