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Capital efforts bring little help for axed UCD teams

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October 24, 2010 | Leave Comment

Enterprise staff writer

The bluster in Sacramento over UC Davis cutting four sports teams yielded this: about 235 words tucked away in an education budget trailer bill.

They require that, from now on, student-approved fees to support athletics do just that, or are paid back to students.

They do little to boost the cause of the more than 150 athletes from womenÕs rowing and menÕs wrestling, swimming and diving and indoor track and field and their coaches. Their teams were eliminated in April in a what administrators said was an effort to pull the athletic department ledger out of the red.

The budget language is a far cry, too, from Sen. Majority Leader Dean FlorezÕs promise Ñ capping a five-and-a-half-hour hearing on the cuts Ñ to hold at least one more hearing, likely on campus, or his warning that he might hold up campus funds unless the teams were reinstated.

ÒStay tuned,Ó Florez said on July 12. ÒThereÕs more to come.Ó

So, what happened?

ÒWe ran out of time,Ó Bob Alvarez, FlorezÕs chief of staff said recently. Ò(Sen. FlorezÕs) term was up.Ó

In closing the hearing, Florez recalled that, in 2001, then-Assemblywoman Helen Thomson of Davis requested that $44 million for a building project be put on hold until gender equity concerns about the Aggie wrestling program were addressed.

Alvarez said his boss just gave an example of what could be done: ÒIt wasnÕt a direct threat. He was just saying that itÕs what could happen and that thatÕs what Helen Thomson did, but everyone had a heart attack when he said it.Ó

But UCD is outside of the Shafter DemocratÕs district and his senate colleagues were reluctant to meddle in campus decisions, Alvarez said.

ÒChancellors have a lot of autonomy. UC has a lot of autonomy. TheyÕre difficult to get at,Ó Alvarez said. ÒGoing forward (the budget trailer language) gives the students a lot more say-so.Ó

He said that the hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Gender Discrimination and Title IX Implementation during which Florez grilled UCD administrators served to Òshine a lightÓ on the budget-cutting process.

Florez agreed with athletes and coaches who said it lacked transparency, was rushed and ignored a good-faith obligation to students, who provide the majority of the funding for athletics through fees. ÒA very flawed process that resulted in a very flawed result,Ó he called it.

Now, though, the athletes look to be on their own.

ÒIn the end,Ó Alvarez said, ÒitÕs the students that are going to have to demand their sports back.Ó

Zach Hansen, who was a member of the menÕs swimming team, nonetheless called FlorezÕs support ÒinvaluableÓ and the budget trailer language Òa victory.Ó

Paul Medved, a UCD alumnus whose daughter, Emily, swam for the Aggies, has spoken on behalf of the eliminated programs. In an e-mail he called the new legislation Òhighly appropriate, long overdue, and should help students on all UC and (California State University) campuses going forward.Ó

The UCD athletes have filed a grievance, which the UC Office of the President has hired an outside investigator to look into.

That investigator has begun scheduling meetings with administrators and affected athletes, UCOP spokesman Steve Montiel said in an e-mail message, a process that is expected to continue on at least through November.

Said Medved, ÒI have every expectation that unbiased outside authorities who either are presently or will be engaged in this matter will ultimately agree with the students that what happened to the four teams this past spring was unjust and must be remedied.Ó

Some affected are also considering suing the university, he said.

Hansen, a senior psychology major from Visalia, is working to organize a club swimming team and is running for student senate. He said in an e-mail that he had not given up hope for the teams, despite Chancellor Linda Katehi saying the decision to cut them was final.

ÒI think that the UCOP will continue to do its investigation and, in light of the overwhelming evidence of a grievous breach of procedural due process, among many other things laid out in e-mails and statements, grant a stay of elimination for this school year,Ó Hansen said.

ÒAs student-athletes, we can hope for reinstatement, but with every passing day that becomes less likely for this competition season. We all hope that, whether that happens while we are here or not, the decision will be overturned and the opportunity for all the future student-athletes will be recovered.Ó

The budget trailer language, which Alvarez said was Òinspired byÓ the UCD cuts, was actually introduced into so-called Òbig fiveÓ budget discussions between the governor and top legislators by Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), a UCD alumnus.

His press secretary, Alicia Trost, said that a combination of Florez encouraging action and UC BerkeleyÕs September announcement that it planned to eliminate five athletic programs resulted in the language.

ÒItÕs just a general reaffirmation of what should already be taking place,Ó Trost said. ÒItÕs a simple statement of principle.Ó

UCD Vice Chancellor Fred Wood said that he saw no problems abiding by the new state requirement.

ÒIt has been a long-standing tradition to very carefully steward these monies,Ó Wood said. ÒWe really feel theyÕre a commitment on the studentsÕ part and we want to honor that commitment and be sure that we collect them appropriately, make sure that we allocate them correctly and make sure that theyÕre spent appropriately, and we think that we do that.Ó

UCD leaders have said all along that they have honored the student referenda, which called for a 23 varsity sport program (which UCD still has after eliminating the four teams), and laid out requirements if budget cuts were needed.

Administrators say their hand was forced by massive state budget cuts that have resulted in wide-ranging cutbacks across campus, 32-percent student fee hikes, a year of faculty and staff furloughs and some 1,100 positions eliminated to date.

UCD athletics was running a $1.4 million deficit. By eliminating the teams, increasing revenue and trimming $400,000 more in spending, Athletic Director Greg Warzecka has said, his department should be above water by 2013-14.

The athletes affected did not lose their grants-in-aid, though at least some of those who have not graduated have chosen to transfer.

Ñ Reach Cory Golden at cgolden@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8046. Track him at http://twitter.com/cory_golden

Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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