After almost nine months of waiting, hoping, seeking donations and counting pledges, the University of California finally had good news for its baseball team: the games will go on after the 2011 season. Back on Tuesday, September 28, the University had officially announced that intercollegiate baseball at Cal would be cut at the end of the year due to budget shortfalls that have caused a growing need for the school to subsidize their intercollegiate athletics program. Although receiving university funds is not an uncommon practice at the Division I level, Cal’s goal of becoming completely self-sufficient resulted in the need to make dramatic cuts (along with baseball, women’s lacrosse, rugby, men’s and women’s gymnastics were also announced to be eliminated).
Not soon after the announcement was made, several parents and alumni of one of Cal’s oldest and prestigious sports (founded in 1892, the baseball program has won two College World Series Championships) put together a plan to raise the needed funds to save the program. An announced $10 million would be needed to continue baseball at Cal.
The use of volunteers and non-university personnel to aid in fundraising is nothing new. Every campaign, fund-drive, special event and advisory board involves those who are unpaid and simply volunteer their time to give back and benefit an organization. What transpired at Cal, however, shows what an emotionally fueled and fiercely determined group of volunteers can do to support a fundraising initiative. Since that Tuesday in September, enough funds have been raised to bring back all five sports (rugby, lacrosse, and women’s gymastics were saved in February, men’s gymnastics in May, and baseball, officially, in June).
Leading alumni started several websites to spread the word, made endless calls to ask for support, and put their own money forward to bring back the sports. For baseball, the donations came from all angles; even rival Stanford University put forward $50,000 to bring back the program. Baseball alumnus, Stu Gordon, is credited with spearheading much of the volunteer efforts by putting up $550,000 of his own money.
Of course, and as this post was written, the Cal baseball program has made the story of their year long struggle to survive even more astonishing. The team has managed to make it to the 2011 College World series on the backs of several improbable comebacks and unlikely victories. The lasting memories and unrivaled experiences that the student-athletes at Cal are getting are going to carry on with them for the rest of their lives, and thanks to many dedicated donors, those opportunities will continue for Cal athletes into the future.
But will this model of independent volunteer groups raising money for specific sports change the model of athletics fundraising? So think some, perhaps bringing programs closer to the “Booster” organizations of old and away from the unrestricted annual fundraising of today. Only time will tell what the impact of Cal’s efforts in 2010 and 2011, but the landscape has surely shown signs of change.