This is the second of a three-part series on Cal State Bakersfield's athletic department as it approaches its 10th anniversary of competition in Division I. Part one was published last Sunday and is available on Bakersfield.com. Part three will be published next Sunday.
Cal State Bakersfield's record athletic revenue, which has nearly tripled since it moved to Division I after the 2005-06 school year, hasn't meant the Roadrunners have more athletes or more sports.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
The school actually sponsors fewer sports than it did as a Division II institution. Starting with a round of program cuts in 2010, CSUB has narrowed the size of its athletic program since joining Division I. 2017 was no different; the school discontinued men’s golf and women’s water polo in June.
As a result of litigation brought by the California chapter of the National Organization for Women, CSUB dropped men’s tennis and men’s cross country in 1993; women’s tennis was axed in 2012; and now men’s golf and women’s water polo are gone, too. The school announced it was dropping both golf programs, women’s tennis, and the prized wrestling team in 2010, but two of those four have been spared by individual fundraising.
CSUB now has six men’s sports and 10 women’s sports, meeting the NCAA’s requirements of six and eight, respectively.
In a release announcing the latest cuts, CSUB athletic director Kenneth “Ziggy” Siegfried called the decision “difficult” but in the best interests of the department as it moved into the 2017-18 season. The saved funds, CSUB said at the time, would be “strategically re-invested” in select women’s teams, many of which are well below the Division I limit for scholarships.
Siegfried again defended the cuts in a late July interview with The Californian, arguing the school is focused on the quality of its athletes’ experience, not the quantity.
“My goal, that I set in my career, was to never discontinue a sport,” Siegfried said. “But as I continued to look at our department and forecast five, seven years down the line, I felt like it was important to make some tough decisions that ultimately would allow us to provide all of our student-athletes the experience they deserve.
“It was, by far, the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make in my career. But it was the right decision.”
There doesn’t seem to be right or wrong answer when it comes to CSUB’s calculus: Provide lesser-quality experiences to a greater number of athletes, or higher-quality experiences to a lesser number of athletes?
Nevertheless, the discontinuation of men’s golf and women’s water polo was disappointing not just to the athletic director but certainly for the athletes on those teams. For at least some of them, CSUB was the most accessible Division I athletics opportunity they had, in terms of location, affordability and competitiveness.
Freshman golfer and Liberty graduate Warren Miller had planned to major in Communication while hoping to develop into a professional golfer; Ashley Paz, a nursing major on the water polo team, was coming off a 50-goal season and was poised to have a potentially record-setting senior campaign.
What will they do now?
While those athletes’ educational and athletic futures are in their own hands, Siegfried said the department will honor their scholarships, maintain their access to the department’s athletic-academic counselors, and assist them should they wish to transfer. The former water polo athletes may even have the opportunity to join CSUB’s swimming program.
“When I say we’ve been in the trenches on helping (athletes transfer), that’s probably an understatement,” said Siegfried, who has made himself readily available to the impacted athletes and their families.
No matter CSUB's efforts, there is pain in discontinuing sports. Some college sports observers have argued costs should instead be trimmed from other areas of the department, such as facility spending or coaching salaries.
While this line of reasoning may hold more weight among the schools in the Power 5 conferences, some of which spend 10s of millions of dollars on facility upgrades alone, it falls relatively flat at CSUB. The Runners are already forced to run a tight ship because of the Cal State system budget, and it is difficult to identify any wasteful spending across the department.
There was certainly no extravagance in the water polo and golf programs, which totaled $241,334 in combined operating costs in 2015-16. Scholarship expenses actually outpaced coaching salaries in these two programs, giving credence to Siegfried’s “athletes first” mantra.
So what’s next for those funds that would have otherwise gone to water polo and men’s golf? In the near term, CSUB’s women’s soccer program will receive a 52.7 percent boost in scholarship funds, bringing the team within two scholarships of the NCAA’s maximum number for the sport.
Beginning in 2018-19, the saved water polo resources will be used to bolster scholarship spending in women’s swimming and diving, cross country, track and field and softball. The amounts paid out to each program will increase over a three-year period, and those dollars will stay in the team’s budgets for the foreseeable future.
“It’s going to take some time to maximize all of those funds that were being reallocated, because we still do have some expenses,” Siegfried said.
“... We’re looking to help as many programs as possible,” he added, reemphasizing that he “will not rest” until the department delivers the very best collegiate athletic experience it can to its athletes.
As CSUB continues to work toward that goal, it will forge into the next 10 years with an even tighter, leaner operation.