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September 10, 2004

Needed: Donor With $50 Million To Spare

FROM THE EAST BAY comes the latest dilemma for U-Cal Berkeley, a school that finds itself woefully out of step with what has become the standard for elaborate, opulent D1 football facilities.

Berkeley has been on a roll these past two seasons with new coach Jeff Tedford—ranked in the top 25 nationally on most pre-season polls. After so many seasons of bad and mediocre teams, Cal fans are in their glory.

However, Cal faces a near-term predicament, most acutely focused on its crumbling 1923 vintage Memorial Stadium. The situation is aggravated by the state budget crisis, the departure of the old chancellor, the hiring of a new AD and the absence of a white knight deep-pocketed donor to raise his / her hand.

Coach Tedford is a key component to the future success of the Golden Bears program. However, a coach can do only so well for only so long, unless he can re-stock his team with blue chip recruits.

And it is in the recruiting area where Cal is confronted with daunting challenges, despite its top 25 ranking and its illustrious academic stature. That’s because a large part of the attraction for high school recruits is the size and quality of the football facilities: the stadium, locker rooms, the exercise rooms and practice field.

Consider the dilapidated condition of Cal’s current facilities, which easily rank among the worst in the Pac-10:

• Memorial Stadium is conspicuously lacking in fan-friendly, revenue generating accoutrements that have been incorporated by almost every D1 program (and many D2 and D3 as well): luxury suites, club seating and better restrooms.

• The weight room is so small that only one-quarter of the team can lift at one time.

• Some players share lockers, and meeting space is so tight the offense and defense can't meet at the same time.

Over and over coaches clamor for improved facilities in order to impress the 17-year old recruits that visit their campuses. Said Tedford, "Our competition has facilities that are so much better than ours that it's hard to compete on the recruiting front.”

The clock is ticking.

There has been plenty of talk to date, but no firm agreements. Upgrades originally projected at $140 million could go as high as $175 million. This would include stadium improvements and new locker, weight and meeting rooms.

For the Golden Bears this is could be a golden opportunity to elevate their program lastingly into the top echelon of college football.

"It's critical," said Dexter Bailey, Cal’s executive associate AD for development. "We're a Division I school in one of the best conferences in the country. Our students deserve it. We need to aspire to have the best facilities."

A quick examination of Cal’s numbers, as well as those of its competitors, illustrates the stakes involved to get—and stay—competitive:

• A $106 million upgrade at Wisconsin's Randall Stadium included 72 luxury suites and 900 new club seats -- all of which quickly sold out. The Badgers have 60,000 season-ticket holders.

• A $90 million upgrade at Oregon's Autzen Stadium included 12,000 new seats. The Ducks have 40,000 season- ticket holders. Oregon has spent $160 million on athletic facilities over the past nine years.

• Cal has sold 33,000 season tickets this year -- the most ever.

Like most programs, the Cal football team feels huge pressure to raise money for the good of the entire program:

• Cal has 27 varsity sports, second in the Pac-10 to Stanford, and the athletic department budget is $42 million.

• The department has a multimillion-dollar annual operating deficit--projected to run between $3 million and $5 million this year.

• If revenues aren't increased (read: more football revenues), some non- revenue sports could eventually be cut. Women’s sports would not likely be cut.

It seems a simple solution. A renovated Memorial Stadium could also go a long way toward solving Berkeley’s financial crisis. More fans in the seats (some premium seats) for more money. And high school recruits who will be wowed and awed.

All Cal needs is a generous benefactor to start things off at about $30 or $40 million.

Any volunteers out there?

(this 685 word excerpt—with attendant commentary—was distilled from a 2861 word article from the San Francisco Chronicle of 9-9-04)