Cal Rugby, Baseball Going, Going ... Gone?

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Gunned down at home...
The fantasy world of intercollegiate sports and the nightmare world of a state and university system drowning in red ink merged bloodily today, when U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau axed five teams.

Going the way of the single-wing formation are Cal's baseball, men's and women's gymnastics, and  women's lacrosse teams -- as well as the 25-time national champion rugby squad. This will ostensibly save the school $4 million.

Followers of Cal sports -- your humble narrator is an alum and fits the criteria -- knew this day was coming. Fundamentally, it would not make sense for the school to continue to cut back its prized academic resources -- and, believe you me, it has -- and leave athletics undisturbed. 

Today's move will undoubtedly be met with bellows of indignation from the Bear-backing faithful -- but, it warrants mentioning, the axe spared the football and basketball teams that students and alumni most treasure (and cost the most to operate).

Cal rugby.jpg
Finally, a way to beat Cal rugby -- bankrupt the state
On a personal note, it's unpleasant when fond vestiges of your youth are shuttered as economically unfeasible and young student athletes are essentially cut loose. I covered every one of these teams while at U.C. Berkeley. One of my fondest memories was when our photographer missed the shot of a massive rugby player drinking beer out of yet another championship trophy, told him, "you mind finishing that for me?" and snapped up the requisite photo on his second chance. As a radio broadcaster, I was able to travel around the country following that baseball team; I documented many a 12-10 contest replete with 16 walks, six errors, and 14 pitching changes and slept on friends of friends' floors.

The rugby squad will be reclassified as a "varsity club sport," which will allow it to keep playing, but start paying its own tab. It'd be hard to foresee a situation in which former ruggers turned hedge fund managers from coach Jack Clark's decades atop the program won't pitch in and keep this tradition rolling. But with the other sports, the future is cloudier.

California's reckless financial shenanigans and dysfunctional budgeting system are an opponent more fearsome than any college team. Dark days are ahead for this state -- and the young men and women graduating from our public universities. Sadly, not even an afternoon at the ballpark is insulated from life's nastier realities.

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