Report: Cal Athletics Turned a Profit in 2020 -- Sort of

The university provided a lot of financial support in a challenging year, according to San Jose Mercury News
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Bookkeeping can present facts in a number of ways to create a variety of impressions.

Despite the obvious financial hardships presented by the pandemic, Cal’s athletic department reported a profit of $3.2 million in 2020 in its latest financial report, according to a report by Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News.

How is that possible?

Well, the university provided $25.1 million in direct institutional aid to the Bears athletic program, which, according to the Mercury News report, “represents a six-fold increase over the average from the previous five years.”

Cal should be commended for being proactive in providing aid to a department that clearly was going to confront financial shortfalls with no fans at football and basketball games and, for a long time, uncertainty whether any television revenue would be available. It also demonstrates a support for athletics that was not always evident at Cal. Nonetheless $25 million is a lot of money.

This was not just a one-time thing apparently, as the Mercury News report suggests in this excerpt

The enormous assist from central campus is part of a long-term strategy crafted by chancellor Carol Christ and athletic director Jim Knowlton to eventually corral the Bears’ unbalanced budget. (The plan was discussed with the Academic Senate, in the interest of cross-campus transparency.)….

Cal sponsors 30 intercollegiate sports, the most of any Pac-12 school now that Stanford plans to cut 11 sports.

The Mercury News reported that, according to its NCAA statement of revenues and expenses, Cal showed a net profit of $4.9 million in football, while men’s basketball was modestly profitable.

Readers are encouraged to read the entire Mercury News article to learn the details of Cal’s moves and its plan.

In an unrelated report, Cal’s athletic department did not fare well in a survey provided by Athletic Department U. It asked more than 100 athletic directors and administrative executives of their opinions on nine issues related to Pac-12 athletic departments.

--Athletics facilities relative to Pac-12 peers

--Perceptions about the ability to generate donor & corporate support for the athletics program

--Perceptions about institutional leadership (e.g. President, Trustees, C-Suite) in support of the athletic program

--Perceptions about the quality of the institution’s brand

--Perceptions about the potential for serious compliance & NCAA rules violations

--Potential for Football success relative to Pac-12 peers

--Potential for Men’s Basketball success relative to Pac-12 peers

--Potential for success in non-revenue sports relative to Pac-12 peers

--Quality of Life (cost of living, schools, culture, geography) if all other factors were equal

Cal’s athletic department ranked 10th overall in the Pac-12, and it was last in both brand perception and potential football success. However, Cal ranked second in compliance.

Stanford ranked first overall, and USC was No. 1 in potential football success.

In one final item of Cal administrative news, Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton issued notes on the state of Cal athletics, and it included this excerpt about fundraising:

The Cal Athletics Fund is grateful for the Golden Bear family stepping up to support safe and exceptional experiences for our student-athletes during these extraordinary times. We are excited to announce that through Dec. 31, 2020, we have raised approximately $18.9 million in gifts and pledges for fiscal year 2021 — about $4.7 million ahead of our pace through the end of 2019. In addition, our community has rallied behind the Roll On campaign to provide essential annual fund resources to help us weather the pandemic while maintaining our championship culture. Through the end of 2020, we raised approximately $6.1 million in annual support — about $1 million ahead of our pace through 2019. Thank you to everyone who has given generously to support our future leaders through endowments and annual support. If you have not already given to the Roll On campaign, please make a gift to the sports or programs that mean the most to you.

Contributions can be made by clicking here.

Cover photo of Cal's Memorial Stadium cutouts on game day by Kelley L Cox. USA TODAY Sports

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