BERKELEY -- UC Berkeley's chancellor is considering major cutbacks in the school's athletics department following the latest report criticizing out-of-control spending on the sports program.
In a report released Monday, a committee of professors and alumni criticized what they called an explosion of the university's spending on intercollegiate athletics. The pressures of the intercollegiate athletics "arms race" has led to extravagant spending on coaching salaries, recruiting and travel, the group said.
Although the panel did not recommend specific cuts, it raised the possibility of trimming coaching staffs and rosters. The group also noted that Chancellor Robert Birgeneau could consider eliminating up to seven teams, but only as a last resort.
Birgeneau, who commissioned the report, is scheduled next month to announce how he plans to deal with a chronic athletics deficit that has forced the university to pump up to $14 million per year into the department's budget.
The department "has been playing by a very different set of budgetary rules from the rest of the campus," the panel wrote, adding that "unacceptable" accounting practices have made financial management nearly impossible. The campus lacks essential information about the department's spending decisions, the report said.
"I suspect there will be visible changes for the student-athletes," said law professor Christopher Kutz, a member of the panel and the campus faculty chairman. "The teams will certainly notice."
Coaches and athletes are hoping those changes are only visible, rather than terminal. Those involved with the less lucrative sports -- all but football and basketball, essentially -- constantly worry their teams will be eliminated, said Peter Wright, who is going into his 18th year as the men's tennis coach.
"That's part of the territory of the climate we live in," said Wright, who has boosted fundraising in order to decrease the chances of his sport being cut. "Obviously we all know it's a possibility. That's why so much attention has been paid to cutting costs."
UC Berkeley has 27 intercollegiate, NCAA Division I teams, giving the school one of the largest athletic programs in its conference.
The panel also suggested the athletics program improve its fundraising efforts and cut employees, including some assistant coaches.
The subsidies to the athletics program have irked those on campus who have watched state budget cuts eat away at academic programs. Many professors and other employees have been torn between criticizing the spending and emphasizing their support for a robust athletics program.
Birgeneau had pledged to make the athletics department self-sufficient, but has had trouble accomplishing the goal. In a written response to the panel, Birgeneau said the report should help the school "put intercollegiate athletics back on a financially sustainable path," which essentially means bringing the annual deficit down to $5 million or less.
The panel also proposed that Birgeneau lead a national push to reform big-time college sports by urging schools to back away from high costs that have made the endeavor particularly difficult for some universities. UC Berkeley will not be able to cut spending without help from other schools, said Bob O'Donnell, an alumnus who served on the committee.
"If there's an arms race on, you don't want to just unilaterally disarm," he said.
Berkeley chancellors have tried unsuccessfully in the past to advocate for lower-cost athletics programs, warned an expert on college sports. Murray Sperber, a visiting professor of education at UC Berkeley, recalled that a former chancellor was "laughed off the stage" when he spoke at a national college-sports convention in the 1980s.
"I don't think people at other schools want to be lectured by Berkeley," said Sperber, a retired Indiana University professor and author of the book "Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports is Crippling Undergraduate Education." Birgeneau "should speak out as much as possible, but getting results would certainly shock me."
Matt Krupnick covers higher education. Contact him at 925-943-8246. Follow him at Twitter.com/mattkrupnick.