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Cal cuts baseball, leaving supporters with plenty of questions


For a premiere institution of higher learning -- one that should excel in the art of communication, information and problem solving -- the University of California has made a mess of things recently.

"We've been stonewalled and we've been misled," said Doug Nickle.

Nickle is a former Cal baseball player who has been spearheading the effort to save five intercollegiate sports teams that were slated for elimination. Last September, the university announced it was dropping baseball, men's rugby, men's and women's gymnastics and women's lacrosse.

Last Friday, the school reversed course and reinstated three sports. But baseball and men's gymnastics were not among those getting a reprieve.

The decision-making process, rife with conflicting numbers and confusing details, has left Cal and athletic director Sandy Barbour open to criticism and suspicion.

Nickle, whose effort raised somewhere between $12-13 million, said he was told the sports needed to be saved as a group. Now he accuses the school of cherry-picking from its donors. And though he's incredibly frustrated, he's not deterred.

"We're moving forward," Nickle said. "We've accomplished 3/5s of our goal."

By reinstating two women's sports -- just days after a New York Times story analyzed the severe Title IX implications of eliminating them -- the university has launched potential gender wars. And created the impression that it didn't do its Title IX math accurately back in September.

The school's assertion that baseball alone needs $10 million to survive baffles Nickle, who never heard that specific number until last Friday, despite meeting directly with Barbour. The numbers involved have been a moving target: Originally the school said it needed $80 million to save the sports, a number that later dropped to $25 million.

"They've been all over the place," Nickle said.

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Supporters are left angry and with plenty of unanswered questions. Among them, what does Cal really want to do with Evans Diamond, a prime square of real estate located on the dense Berkeley campus, directly adjacent to Haas Pavilion?

Why, when the conference is on the verge of becoming the Pac-12, with a new television deal and new potential revenue streams, can't baseball be afforded the chance to survive until the new funds are in place?

"Why not telegraph your intentions?" Nickle said. "Why not tell everyone that you have a couple of years to raise the funds?"

Cal, like all public institutions in California, is facing a severe financial crisis. But Nickle points out that his group was effective in raising donations and pledges with little direction or support from the university in just four months.

However, he thinks Cal's actions could come back to hurt the school, which is relying heavily on donors to fund endowments as well as its ongoing $321 million retrofit of Memorial Stadium and the construction of a $150 million athletic high-performance center.

"There is such disgust in the community right now," Nickle said. "People feel they can't trust the management of their money. I've heard people threaten to pull out of the endowment project or the stadium project."

As recently as last year, an internal university committee found fault with the athletic department's inefficient finances and fundraising efforts.

Nickle said that lack of assurance has already affected one potential donor. The baseball team's most famous alumnus, Jeff Kent, has told Nickle he doesn't want to give any more money to the school he's supported over the years. Though Nickle said Kent has been active in trying to rally donors, he's indicated that he's not confident in how his money will be used.

"This is exactly the wrong message to be sending in an era when you have to rely on alumni and community," Nickle said. "Think what you could raise if you had people's confidence."

Nickle, who played in the majors for part of three seasons and professionally for eight years, will forge ahead. He hopes that Cal baseball can get its largest opening day attendance this Friday. The team will play in a tournament at AT&T Park next month that he believes can generate more attention for the cause.

"Time is of the essence," he said.