An open letter to boosters, donors and alums at the University of California on the occasion of the departure of another athletic director:
Dear Old Blues,
We need to chat. Not to go all Al Gore on you, but it is time to hear some inconvenient truths. Better sit down. This is going to take a bit.
First, congrats to whomever installed the revolving door on the athletic department. What a timesaver. I count four basketball coaches in the past nine years and three football coaches in five. The two most recent hires, Justin Wilcox for football and Wyking Jones for basketball, didn’t exactly rock the local sports world. The general reaction was, “Who?”
Then, on Tuesday, Athletic Director Mike Williams announced he was leaving. That was fortunate, because the villagers had just gathered enough pitchforks to chase him off.
So, OBs, you’re not happy. Because back when you were at Cal, they used to find great players and hire brilliant coaches all the time. The jocks played four years, got an education and later ended up selling insurance in the neighborhood.
Well, put away the racoon coat, Grandpa — it’s a new world. There are three major changes in modern college sports: money, money and money.
Take the mess when hoops coach Cuonzo Martin left in March, despite — five months earlier — Cal giving him a raise and extending his contract to the 2020-21 season. How did that happen?
Well, did you check out Cuonzo’s deal at Missouri? Twenty-one million over seven years. Guaranteed.
This for a guy who never won a league title or a single NCAA tournament game at Cal.
Everyone says Martin’s replacement, Jones, is a great guy. But you wanted a bigger name, didn’t you? Yep. And I wanted to win the San Francisco Marathon.
A few years ago, Cal made a run at Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall. Marshall listened, then sniffed that he was already making that much — at a place where the cost of living is a third of the Bay Area.
Guys, coaches care about two things: Am I getting paid? Can I win? So first, you’re going to have to pay to play.
And to do that — you’re still sitting down, aren’t you? — you’re going to have to cut some sports.
Cue widespread hysteria. But seriously, Cal has 30 varsity sports, second only to Stanford in the Pac-12. Oregon has 18. Most schools are in the 20s.
Cal has a terrific sports history. But 30 is too many. Even if the financial savings aren’t that great, you need a narrowing of focus. (One theory is that Williams might announce cuts before he leaves as a thank-you to Cal for letting him depart gracefully.)
Second, you have to do more for the players. Yes, Cal is justifiably proud of its academics. But before you tell me you were no great shakes as a student, but you got through … understand something. This is a new world.
Today, Cal is as academically demanding as any school in the country. And proud of it. It ain’t an easy place to recruit.
But, you say, Cal admits athletes every year who don’t have the academic chops. And that’s true. What Cal isn’t doing is supporting them. There was a time when Cal bragged about its athletic tutoring program. What happened?