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April 1, 2010 - UC Berkeley head tackles cost of athletics

SFgate.com reported on the endeavor by University of California at Berkeley (UC) Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to begin discussions among a new panel of stakeholders to find ways to make the athletics department less dependent on institutional support. The panel includes philanthropic supporters of university athletics who will work side-by-side with faculty from the Academic Senate.

The article notes that most of the 27 UC athletics teams lose money, with the exception of football, men's basketball, and men's golf. To help sustain the broad-based athletics program, the institution provided the athletics department $6 million this year from a combination of income generated from professional degree programs and from student registration fees. Last year, the campus gave $7.7 million from the same sources. Additionally, the campus expects to lend the department $6.4 million this year from a cache of money the university has used to help departments in financial difficulty. Last year, it lent the department $5.8 million from that fund to balance its budget this year.

But, the institutional support for athletics comes at a time when it has cut academic courses and laid off instructors to make its own ends meet.

While the athletics department has stated its intent to repay the money, there is no current solution and the panel is commissioned with developing a plan to pay off the debt. Cutting the number of teams is one idea that has sent nervous rumors rippling through the department, but panelists are unwilling to commit to any solutions before they've met.

Some critics stated their preference for an "academics first" approach and questioned campus spending priorities that include such high-priced endeavors as a new, four-story Student Athlete High Performance Center. Some fear students will wind up helping to foot the bill for the $153 million center. Nearly $90 million in private support has been pledged or raised to date.