In 1987, former Cal chancellor Ira Heyman gave an impassioned speech before NCAA delegates that appeared to stamp the school's athletic identity forever.
Heyman warned of great dangers that Cal and all colleges faced pursuing an aggressive course in intercollegiate athletics while skewing academic priorities. He advocated a number of radical proposals, including freshman ineligibility for varsity sports, vast reductions in coaching staffs, salaries and athletic scholarships, and an eventual ban on postseason football and basketball games.
"The commercialization of big-time sports and the accompanying emphasis on winning requires engaging in activities that are not good for our institutions or students," Heyman said.
Fast-forward a little more than 20 years. Not only did the NCAA ignore Heyman's admonitions, so did his own university. In the expanding world of high-priced and high-pressure college athletics, Cal has markedly accelerated its position in the past five years and hopes to shift into an even higher gear over the next five with the hiring of basketball coach Mike Montgomery, along with the construction of a $125 million athletic performance center and a $175 million Memorial Stadium renovation.
Beat Stanford? Absolutely.
But Cal's expanded horizons also set a course for regularly beating the USCs, Michigans, UCLAs and North Carolinas in football and men's basketball, and remaining a pace-setter in the school's 25 other scholarship sports. In football, a BCS bowl — not just the Rose Bowl — is the goal. Playing in the Final Four is what alums and athletic administrators now have in mind for men's basketball.
Cal's program isn't there yet, but in a short period — primarily since Jeff Tedford was hired as head football coach in 2002 — the school has built a burgeoning athletic empire that flies in the face of Heyman's vision. The Bears have tried to escalate their national standing with little apology.
"I think we're pretty darn good," said athletic director Sandy Barbour. "What excites me is that we can be so much better."
Despite a year that did not meet expectations in the two revenue-producing sports — football and men's basketball — Cal's overall profile continued to flourish in what is clearly an athletic renaissance. The football program that drives the engine played in its fifth straight bowl game while the athletic program as a whole sent teams to the postseason in 22 of its 27 programs.
"We're winning multiple national championships on an annual basis," Barbour said. "We have individuals who are competing at the highest level in NCAA competition, many of whom are Olympians. We've finished in the top 10 of the Director's Cup four of the last five years. That speaks to our solid place as one of the top 10 programs in the country, and yet, we're doing it from a financial standpoint on a less than consistently stable base."
Cal's athletic department has a budget that exceeds $60 million annually, most of it self-sustained through ticket sales, TV/radio rights, apparel and uniform licensing, and one of the most vigorous and well-staffed fundraising operations in college athletics.
A Chronicle of Higher Education study reported that in 2006-07 Cal ranked eighth in money raised among all Division I schools. The Bears were tops among the eight Pac-10 schools that disclosed donation figures (Stanford and USC, both private institutions, declined to participate). David Rosselli, Cal associate athletic director for development, proudly asserted that if the survey had covered the past three years, Cal easily would have led the nation in donations.
This is a major transformation for Cal, said retired Clorox chief financial officer Bill Ausfahl, one of several devoted alums who have helped initiate a donor revolution, not only in athletics but on the academic side.
"Ten years ago, Cal was in the dark ages," Ausfahl said. "But the school's level of sophistication regarding fundraising has improved tremendously in recent years."
With 450,000 living graduates worldwide, Cal athletic officials believe the school has only begun to tap its potential for athletic development and large-scale endowments. But the alumni have to be engaged with successful football and basketball programs, which means securing top coaches, paying them top dollar and also making sure modern capital improvements to their facilities are made.
Tedford, who is the successful architect of a football program that last year generated $14 million for the department, was paid $2.8 million last season, second only to USC's Pete Carroll in the Pac-10 Conference. Last month, after paying about a $1 million buyout to oust Ben Braun, Cal hired the highly regarded Montgomery as men's basketball coach at a figure believed to be more than $1.5 million per season, which is in the same neighborhood as UCLA's Ben Howland.
Even Cal women's basketball coach Joanne Boyle is making $423,770 this fiscal year, which is only slightly less than that of current Cal chancellor Robert Birgeneau.
So what changed attitudes at Cal?
There are a number of theories, one of which involves Heyman's stepping down as Cal's chancellor in 1990. His successors — Chang-Lin Tien, Robert Berdahl and Birgeneau — all had an increasingly aspiring vision for Cal athletics.
The late Tien was an avid sports fan whose enthusiasm and support helped reenergize a wider campus acceptance for athletic pursuits. During Berdahl's term, Cal completed an ambitious basketball arena renovation that resulted in Haas Pavilion. Birgeneau arrived in 2003 and hired the energetic Barbour, embraced the mammoth Memorial Stadium project and took it to yet another level.
'He (Birgeneau) understands how powerful athletic success can be for the campus," Barbour said. "I also attribute this movement back to the fact that Cal is about comprehensive excellence. The same alumni who want a great athletic program want Cal to have the most Nobel Prize winners, the No. 1-ranked business school, the top reputation in research, public service, you name it."
Ausfahl believes Birgeneau's philosophy has made all the difference.
"It starts at the top," he said. "Birgeneau has made it very clear that he wants great athletic performance, and his goal in every sport is to be the national champion."
Since finishing last in the Pac-10 in both football and men's football in 1983-1984, Cal has had several tastes of success that laid the groundwork for grander goals. Landing high-profile recruits such as Jason Kidd in basketball and Russell White in football, the Golden Bears reached two Sweet 16 appearances in three years in basketball and a scored victory over Clemson in the Jan. 1, 1992 Citrus Bowl that gave Cal a 10-2 record and No. 7 final national ranking.
Neither program could sustain success. The basketball program was beset by a recruiting scandal under coach Todd Bozeman, then a competitive leveling off under Braun. The momentum of the '91 football season was lost when coach Bruce Snyder, stalled in his quest for a more lucrative contract, abruptly departed for Arizona State.
Rosselli, who heads a staff of 15 in Cal's athletic fund-raising department, believes some valuable lessons were learned from Snyder's departure.
"There was not a commitment (with Snyder) to make a statement financially that Cal was going to play in the national spotlight," Rosselli said. "There was never an orchestrated effort to go pursue the alumni and there was no development structure in place to go pursue them.''
Former Cal quarterback J Torchio, now part of a real estate lending firm in Lafayette and an active partipant in mobilizing donors for the football program, said Tedford was the galvanizing figure who set an entire engine into motion.
"Cal has been a diamond in the rough for a long, long time," Torchio said. "It just needed the people that touch it to get on the same page. Finally, with Jeff, all the pieces started to fit and we could take off with it."
In 2004, when Cal feared it might lose Tedford as it had Snyder, the department and alums responded. An astounding $10 million was raised in just five weeks to sign Tedford to a market-rate extension, a deal Rosselli views as the key moment, not only in the progression of football but the entire department.
"Had the alumni not stepped up at that time and committed those dollars, I don't think we'd be where we are today," he said. "I don't think we'd be in a position to bring in a Mike Montgomery had that pendulum not swung in that direction in 2004, because it just fueled everything we do now. It delivered a message to the alumni, the administration and the coaching fraternity that Cal could compete on the national scene."
It also enabled Cal to realize its vast fund-raising capability, first prioritized by athletic director Steve Gladstone in 2001, to help fund the department's athletic programs in the face of dwindling state government support. Gladstone made a major investment in a development staff that has grown so large that it recently opened an office in Orange County to solicit Southern California alums.
"There are 100,000 Cal alumni in Southern California, and we have 700 donors down there," said Rosselli. "It was a no-brainer."
Cal's donor pool has increased from 5,000 in 2004 to more than 8,000 today.
Donation figures have risen in kind. In 2004, Cal raised $16 million for capital improvements. That soared to $60 million in both 2005 and 2006 as part of the stadium campaign, $40 million more last year and up to another $40 million this year. So much of it was simply communicating to the alumni that they were needed.
Beyond that, Cal is shooting for $11 million in unrestricted donations (money used for special pursuits, such as luring a big-name) before June 30 after raising $9.5 million last year and $8 million the year before that.
"I'm not in the fundraising business, but if you look at the outside world vs. academia, Cal needed to run itself like Nordstroms," Torchio said. "They needed to build relationships, give great customer service and make people feel comfortable and want to give. But it's a process."
Torchio said he has recruited many donors who aren't big check-writers but are dying to help out in some way. Mobilized, they can make for quite an army.
"You become more passionate when you feel like you're invested in something, when you can tell someone giving money that their money went directly to that football that just got kicked through the goalposts for the winning field goal," Torchio said.
Rosselli said Cal's donor recruiting strategies are similar to that of presidential hopeful Barack Obama — grassroots but increasingly Internet-savvy and thorough in terms of alumni engagement. In the past few years, Cal also has set up coaches' tours in Northern and Southern California — one began this week featuring Tedford, Montgomery and Barbour — to entice future contributors.
"Those aren't going to be big donors, these new ones," Rosselli said. "But every dollar counts, so those are going to be $50-$100 donors who we know once they get on board — and if we do our job — in 10 years those will be $1,000 gifts, $5,000 gifts, $10,000 gifts. It's getting them on the train."
It's a science and strategy Heyman never could have imagined back in 1987, let alone endorsed. But Cal's athletic aspirations have emerged from a new station, and the train is moving full steam ahead on a track bound for unprecedented success.