They include 163 athletes and 13 coaches, a collection of talent and tradition that has won six national championships and produced countless athletic and academic All-Americans.
But the UC Berkeley baseball, men's and women's gymnastics and women's lacrosse teams now face a sobering reality: this season will be their last.
Cal announced on Tuesday that it will cut all four teams, eliminating those sports entirely, and will designate its national powerhouse men's rugby program as a varsity club sport, dropping it from intercollegiate varsity status. The decision comes in the wake of criticisms levied by faculty and alumni over the money spent on sports in a time of across-the-board budget cuts at the university.
"Clearly, this is a painful outcome after months of deliberations, analysis and the examination of every viable alternative," athletic director Sandy Barbour said in a statement. "I deeply regret the impact this will have on so many valued members of our community."
The university predicts that the move will save $4 million in the first year. It comes as part of a wider effort to reduce the money allocated in the campus budget for intercollegiate athletics. That support now totals more than $12 million annually, but university administrators hope to cut it to $5 million by 2014.
Cal's baseball program has won two national titles, in 1947 and 1957, and has produced many major leaguers, including Jeff Kent, who played for the San Francisco Giants, former Oakland Athletics player Lance Blankenship and Xavier Nady of the Chicago Cubs.
But Barbour said the decision to cut baseball was influenced by the fact that the program ran the highest net cost among men's programs, used "significant support services" and had a large roster of male athletes. The number of male athletes on campus affects compliance with Title IX, a law that requires gender equality in educational programs that receive federal funds.
Players were informed of the decisions at a meeting with Barbour earlier Tuesday. Lacrosse player Emily Abbood, a senior, said that she and several teammates were aware that such drastic cuts might be made and arrived at the meeting wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the university slogan "Every Bear Counts" in silent protest.
"I don't think it's fair," Abbood said by phone Tuesday afternoon. "I don't think it's necessary. It came so quickly. I wish we could have been given more of a chance. I wish we could have been able to fundraise more," she said. "I understand that cuts have to be made somewhere, but I don't think it had to be athletically."
For the rugby team, an unchallenged powerhouse that has won 25 national championships since 1980, the designation as a club sport was similarly shocking.
"I think it's unjust," senior rugby player Blaine Scully said after the press conference. "We've done everything right. We've done everything we're supposed to do, and now we're being relegated."
Scully plays for the U.S. Men's National Team and has his sights set on the 2016 Olympics. He transferred to Cal from UCLA, where rugby is a club sport.
"This is a special place," Scully said of Berkeley.
Barbour said that the rugby team will still be able to compete for national championships, and she expects its tradition of success to continue.
The national economic downturn and the California state budget crisis contributed significantly to the circumstances that led to the programs' elimination.
"We certainly needed a more sustainable program, but the financial crisis in California accelerated that," Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said. "The gap was exacerbated by the economic crisis which in turn led to the state's disinvestment in higher education."
"We could not justify support of intercollegiate athletics at 10, 15 million dollars a year. We just could not do it. I congratulate Sandy in biting the bullet."
With the cuts implemented and future struggles possibly averted, university officials expressed optimism for athletics. But the players whose sports were cut didn't share that positive outlook.
"There have been a lot of tears today," Abbood said. "Everyone is still in a state of shock. But now we just want to stick together, play our season and win ourselves a championship."