By Eric Arden
The need for the Cal athletic department to participate in the resolution of the current budget issues and cut athletic programs, at this point, is uncontested. The major issue right now is the apparent lack of transparency and engagement of the affected coaches in the process of deciding which programs to cut and if the correct programs have been identified.
Cutting programs of this significance can have far reaching impacts beyond the Berkeley campus to parents, players and coaches at all levels of play. Without transparency in the “process”, including engaging the coaches, it is very difficult for the coaches and anyone impacted to rationalize or begin to support a direction they can’t understand.
Regional and national supporters of women’s lacrosse are trying to understand how a sport that has 6th grade through high school and NCAA participation levels that greatly exceed participation levels of other Cal women’s sports, especially in Northern California, has been selected to be cut. When I first saw the list of teams that were under consideration for elimination, I felt sure that field hockey would be chosen ahead of lacrosse. This is not to say that field hockey is an inferior sport. I am sure the parents, players and coaches are just as passionate about field hockey as those of women’s lacrosse. This is about making difficult decisions based on facts and current participation levels rather than opinions when setting a strategic direction for the Cal athletics department.
Without visibility into the “process” executed by UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Cal’s athletic director Sandy Barbour, I will offer transparency into a facts-based decision process that yields a different conclusion.
The first step is recognition of the key external customers whose interest should be placed first in the decision process. One set of customers are the best and brightest high school students that represent the pool of applicants to Cal every year. Another important customer is the California taxpayer who is still funding at least part of the Cal budget.
How do we measure interest in a sport program? Taxpaying parents, players and opportunity drive participation and it can begin as early as the sixth grade. The National Federation of State High School Associations provides clarity regarding participation at the high school level.
- In the 2009/2010 year, 1827 US high schools participated in women’s field hockey compared to 1885 US high schools participating in women’s lacrosse.
- In the 2009/2010 year, 98 CA high schools participated in women’s field hockey compared to 157 CA high schools participating in women’s lacrosse.
At a national and even more pronounced at a California level, more women are participating in high school lacrosse than field hockey.
The NCAA provides details regarding institutions sponsoring sport programs at the Division 1 level.
- The number of institutions sponsoring field hockey is 79 compared to 92 institutions currently sponsoring women’s lacrosse at the Division 1 level.
- SDSU and Fresno State are adding Division 1 women’s lacrosse programs so the numbers in California are growing even in the difficult economy.
- The NCAA tournament final game for women’s lacrosse set a record for attendance.
Participation at the NCAA level also favors women’s lacrosse over field hockey.
A well managed college sports program can extend participation far beyond the Berkeley campus. Theresa Sherry and her staff have provided countless hours of support to the Northern California Junior Lacrosse Association (NCJLA). The NCJLA program experienced a 12% growth this last year coordinating 88 girls programs through over 700 games!
Theresa has also developed the Bear Lax program to be the largest women’s lacrosse program in the bay area with players from sixth grade through high school. Recruitment of talented coaching staff from the east coast can be a challenge for lacrosse. Theresa has closed the east coast/west coast gap with talent from Notre Dame, University of Virginia, Dartmouth, Penn and even Northwestern to support her program which includes college counseling. Select teams are formed at the high school level organized by graduating year to maximize the visibility of these players to college recruiters. They are practicing and training year round for tournament play across the country. Theresa has the business acumen to recognize that a Cal scholarship dollar can recruit more California talent at in-state tuition rates and has a recruitment engine in place to achieve maximum visibility into California women’s lacrosse players.
By contrast, the Bay Area Youth Field Hockey program is co-ed and is limited to six one-hour sessions on one field.
Participation in women’s lacrosse vs. field hockey in Northern California is extremely unbalanced in favor of lacrosse. The NCJLA and Theresa Sherry’s Bear Lax program is light years ahead developing an infrastructure to produce exceptional California based talent and a recruitment engine to bring the best and brightest women’s lacrosse players to Cal Berkeley.
Based on high school and college participation as measured by the National Federation of State High School Associations and NCAA Sports Sponsorship statistics, women’s lacrosse is favored over field hockey. Additionally, the well developed NCJLA organization with Cal’s own Bear Lax club representing the largest number of players in the bay area is expertly positioned to support the taxpaying parents and players in making the most of their lacrosse experience.
In conclusion, this fact-based transparent process yields a decision to remove field hockey in favor of sponsoring women’s lacrosse. Eliminating the women’s lacrosse program when it has greater participation at the high school/college level and significantly greater momentum in California at the youth level, seems to be missing the best interest of the majority of taxpaying parents, players and coaches participating in the support of women’s lacrosse.
A measure of a good management team is the willingness to embrace change when faced with new information.
To the Cal administrators, please consider an approach to reduce sporting programs consistent with all levels of participation and with less impact to the bay area and California as a whole. Move forward with supporting the sports that have greater levels of participation, from sixth grade through the collegiate level, and can also demonstrate positive impact to the bay area and California.
Honor North America’s original game and the fastest sport on two feet. Support women’s lacrosse at Cal!