September 28, 2010

Cal Cuts Women's Lacrosse, Players 'Devastated' by Decision

by Clare Lochary | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | updated 09/29/10 at  9:45 a.m.

"The truth is we cost hardly anything to run," says Cal women's lacrosse coach Theresa Sherry, who broke the news to her players Tuesday that the school had cut their team from its athletic program due to budgetary reasons. "I think we have a lot of fundraising power, and we're going to still try to see if there's anything we can do."

Citing a statewide budget crisis, the University of California at Berkeley athletic department cut five sports, including women's lacrosse, from its roster. The Bears' lacrosse team will play their spring 2011 schedule and continue with fall ball.

"Our kids are devastated, so I am trying to help them now," fourth-year head coach Theresa Sherry said Tuesday. "We knew they were cutting sports, and I found out this morning that we were one of them."

The other sports eliminated were men's gymnastics, women's gymnastics, baseball and rugby.

Cal women's lacrosse went 8-10 in its 2010 season, which ended with a 9-7 loss to then-No. 15 Stanford in the semifinal round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament. There are 30 players on the Bears' current roster, 12 of whom are from California. The Bay Area has been a leader in the West Coast lacrosse scene with more than 8,000 youth players reported by US Lacrosse's Northern California Chapter. California had 362 boys' and girls' high school programs in 2009 – a growth rate of 64 percent since 2005.

"Our program is going into its 12th year of varsity status, and since that first year, we have been a major factor in the growth of lacrosse all over the West Coast. Whereas some sports are fading from the college/NCAA scene, our sport is gaining momentum in every way. I have put together a staff that is made up of some of the most successful former lacrosse players ever to play at the college level," Sherry said in a recent presentation to athletic department officials.

A press conference with Cal Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Athletic Director Sandy Barbour was held Tuesday.

“Everyone deeply regrets the human toll these decisions will make,” said Birgeneau.

Birgeneau cited two key factors in the decision making process. “One, to reduce campus support for athletics to $5 million by 2014... and two, recognition that we should not field teams that are unable to compete at the highest level of the sport," he said. "This decision was not entered into lightly and was not influenced by any one factor.”

Birgeneau added that cost was not the only criteria for cutting teams. He cited the existence of national and regional varsity competition, Title IX, diversity concerns, NCAA and Pac 10 success, and a history of competitive excellence as contributing factors in the decision towards which teams were eliminated. The school will honor all existing scholarships and will aid students who wish to transfer to other institutions. Student-athletes who transfer due to program elimination do not have to sit out a year.

Barbour began her career in athletics administration as a field hockey assistant coach and lacrosse administrative assistant at UMass in 1981. She later served as an assistant field hockey coach and lacrosse coach at Northwestern from 1982-84 under Cindy Timchal.

“Obviously this is a difficult and painful day for our intercollegiate athletic programs. As an educator, I have always been about opportunities for students and the experience for student athletes," Barbour said. "However, Cal athletics is not immune to the effects of the recession and the financial realities facing this campus."

Cal looked into incremental cuts to all programs in lieu of the complete elimination of a few teams, Barbour added, but that method would have left too many teams hamstrung by small budgets and unable to remain competitive.

"I have been very loud and very frequent in expressing my thoughts on intercollegiate athletics from a financial standpoint," she said. "All of intercollegiate athletics needs to take a very, very hard look at what we’re spending and why."

Sherry cancelled Tuesday's scheduled women's lacrosse practice and took her team out for frozen yogurt instead. Cal will resume practice later this week in preparation for a Friday night scrimmage at Stanford, in nearby Palo Alto, Calif.

"The truth is we cost hardly anything to run," Sherry said. "I think we have a lot of fundraising power, and we're going to still try to see if there's anything we can do."

Cal's decision stirred Heidi Faith, director of the Northern California Chapter of US Lacrosse, to action.

"Cal has a long tradition of a strong women's lacrosse program and has many ties to our local community," Faith said. "To have one of the most emerging sports in California and the West cut from varsity status is unbelievable."

Faith wrote a letter to Barbour, which included the following:

"Over the years, the members of the Cal women's lacrosse team coaching staff have freely given their time and expertise to our northern California lacrosse community in many ways. Cal's coaches have taught clinics for coaches and players, they have conducted camps, which have been well-attended by local players, who also attend Cal women's lacrosse home games. The Cal women's lacrosse program has been an excellent model for all our youth coaches and players, with the result that many local players have attended Cal in order to be on the Cal lacrosse team...the fragility of women's DI sports in 2010 should be a wake-up call that no matter how far we have come since the enactment of Title IX, our collegiate, high school and elementary school programs must continue to fight to stay viable."

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