Reflections on the 2011 Cal Bears Baseball Program: An Instructive Model

The 2011 University of California at Berkeley baseball program completed one of the most improbable yet incredibly memorable and successful seasons in its more than 100-year history. Filmmaker Steven Spielberg should consider bringing this incredible story to Hollywood, really. Lessons can be learned from the efforts of alumni, parents, and other supporters who collectively rallied to save the Golden Bear baseball program.

This inspirational story began in September 2010 when the UC-Berkeley chancellor announced that the school would eliminate the baseball program after the 2011 season. According to the chancellor, the program was cut to address the considerable athletic budget deficit and to comply with Title IX gender equity requirements.

Rather than throwing in the proverbial towel, supporters of Cal baseball worked diligently to preserve the program which, in turn, would enable the current student-athletes to continue their academic pursuits at one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

After much uncertainty, Cal baseball was given new life by the university. To reinstate the baseball program, the university required that the program secure $12.5 million in pledges and develop a plan to achieve long-term economic sustainability in less than a year.

This was a daunting task indeed.

Nevertheless, the extraordinary effort of the baseball program to eventually reach their fund-raising goal was nothing short of remarkable. In June 2011, the Cal baseball program was officially reinstated, becoming the first Division I college baseball program on the brink of elimination to accomplish such a feat.

Subsequent to the university’s reinstatement decision, the 2011 Cal baseball team reached the College World Series for the first time since 1992, the same year I had the privilege to suit up in a Golden Bears uniform as a freshman student-athlete.

Although the 2011 Bears were extremely competitive and made a great run in Omaha, they didn’t quite accomplish their ultimate goal of winning a national championship. Still, they exceeded all expectations, demonstrating that Cal baseball is an integral part of the Bay Area community; that active mobilization of organized groups around common goals and concerns are relevant and have social currency; and that economic sustainability of many college baseball programs across the country might require the support of their alumni and the state’s baseball community, particularly in times of financial uncertainty. The accomplishments of the 2011 Cal baseball program serves as an informative model for groups, organizations, and other proponents of college student-athletes.

More recently, the National College Players Association (NCPA), consisting of current and former Division I college student-athletes, has been advocating for additional stipends for scholarship athletes. As such, several men’s football and basketball student-athletes from various colleges and universities signed an “athletes-rights” petition, asking the NCAA to set aside a portion of the television sports revenue to increase the current athletic scholarship and to provide additional grant money after their athletic eligibility expires. Although it was not a direct reaction to the petition, the NCAA recently approved- with ongoing pressures from the NCPA and other stakeholders- the option for conferences to pay up to $2,000 each academic year to its full-scholarship student-athletes.

I am simply thrilled to witness the dedication and strategic effort of advocates for the student-athlete, one of the most vulnerable actors on college campuses. As an educator, I would like a stronger push to strike a healthy balance between the dual roles of student and athlete too. Efforts to adequately engage and to protect the academic, financial, and legal rights of student-athletes can be a tall order. When you closely examine the organized aim and eventual resurgence of 2011 Cal Golden Bears baseball community, however, the possibilities of stakeholders who champion for college student-athletes are infinite.

Dr. Eddie Comeaux received his B.A. in American Studies at Cal-Berkeley, where he also played baseball. He attended the U.S. Sports Academy for his M.S. in Sport Management and UCLA for his M.A. in Higher Education.

He is currently a professor at the University of Kentucky, where his research includes intercollegiate athletics, and diversity competence and leadership in defined social systems.

He was drafed in 1994 by the Texas Rangers and spent four years playing professional baseball.

Dr. Eddie Comeaux can be reached at edcomeaux@uky.edu

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