An Open Letter To Sandy Barbour

Downgrading Rugby to 'Varsity Club' Status is Unfair to the Team and Unwise for the Future

Persia Salehi/Illustration

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I never thought I would say these words, much less publish them in writing, but I am embarrassed and deeply saddened to be a Golden Bear today. Your decision to make Cal Rugby a "varsity club" sport, which effectively ends the program as we know it, is absurd and ill-conceived.

Cal Rugby exemplifies everything that Cal Athletics strives to be. The team graduates their athletes, cultivates men who become prominent alumni and, of course, wins national championships. By stripping the team of their varsity status, you not only exclude them from the Big C Society, you also anger hundreds of alumni that donate to the university. By alienating these alumni, we stand to lose millions of dollars in donations and corporate sponsorships. This monetary repercussion alone should be reason enough to keep the team, not to mention their countless other contributions to this campus.

In the Chancellor's letter to the Cal community, the sports cuts were announced as part of a plan to create a "sustainable financial future for Intercollegiate Athletics at Cal." However, Coach Clark of the rugby team has publicly stated, "Cal Rugby is financially self-supportive ... and contributes in excess of $300,000 annually to the athletic department's general fund." The financial motivation to cut sports doesn't even apply to rugby, which shines light on the real reason you are targeting rugby: Title IX.

First, you need to clear up the confusion surrounding what role Title IX plays in the sports cuts. In the report issued by the Chancellor's Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics on July 6, 2010, the report states, "Berkeley has effectively added 11 women's teams and not only met the 'program expansion' mandate of [Title IX] but now meets the 'full accommodation' prong for compliance."

This statement directly conflicts with information published in the Intercollegiate Athletics FAQ on the UC Berkeley News web site Sept. 28, 2010 that states, "In order to conform to the [Title IX] law, universities must meet one of three tests for participation proportionality, ... program expansion, and full accommodation of athletic interests... The university expects to be in Title IX compliance through the proportionality prong." If the university is only required to meet one of three Title IX requirements, and if we already meet the program expansion mandate, then why do we also need to fulfill the proportionality mandate? This conflicting information from the university is inconsistent and unacceptable. If you want to justify sport cuts based on Title IX, you have to be exceedingly clear about the procedure.

While a student at Cal, I spent a portion of my time competing for the varsity women's crew team. As a former female student athlete, I can appreciate the opportunities that Title IX afforded me as a female athlete.

However, the second that Title IX unfairly undercuts a men's team under the guise of promoting women's athletics, the purpose and intent of Title IX is completely nullified; it simply creates gender inequality in the opposite direction. Title IX dictates that participation in sports cannot be denied on the basis of sex. Denying rugby the right to remain a varsity sport solely on the basis of its male roster violates the main objective of Title IX. How does cutting men's rugby improve women's athletics in any way?

According to John Crumpacker's article in the SF Chronicle from Sept. 21, "Cal has about 150 more male athletes than females." That is no small oversight and is not a number that appeared overnight. How many years has this margin existed? Why haven't you been addressing and fixing this disparity gradually?

The simple answer is that you haven't been doing your job. As Athletic Director, you are responsible for developing our athletic programs while conforming to certain regulations. By neglecting to address the gender imbalance, we find ourselves in our current predicament with 150 more male athletes than female athletes. Rather than taking the effort to formulate a plan to fix the gender imbalance, you choose the quick and easy way to reach compliance - at the expense of Cal Rugby. Cal Rugby is paying the price for your incompetency and inability to comply with Title IX.

With your salary of over $470,000, you honestly can't come up with a more imaginative solution to Title IX compliance? Instead of targeting rugby, why not distribute the cut and implement a department-wide squad size reduction across all men's sports? Your uninspiring decision to eliminate rugby is a discredit to this university that values innovation.

This letter is a call for your accountability regarding the rationale behind cutting rugby. Terminating rugby under the guise of a budget cut is dishonest and deceitful. While Title IX must be adhered to, compliance should not dovetail with removing men's opportunities. Our rugby team and the Cal community deserve a much more comprehensive and informed decision making process. It simply requires a little bit of leadership on your part, which may be asking for too much.

There is still time to set things right and give our rugby team the full measure that they deserve. Anything less is inexcusable, and should call your employment into question. It is my sincere hope that you reassess the decision and save yourself from making the biggest mistake of your career.


Nina Sasso is a UC Berkeley alumna and former women's crew team member. Reply to [email protected]

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