UC Irvine is searching for a way to save baseball and avoid dropping any of its 19 sports programs, and Athletic Director Tom Ford said Wednesday he is increasingly optimistic that it can be done.
"We're working together to find a way to keep us from dropping any sports," Ford said from San Jose, where he is attending Big West Conference meetings. "That's our goal, even if it means having to cut back everywhere. What we're trying to do is get us through a couple of rough years caused by the economy and the state budget crisis."
Irvine had estimated that it was facing an athletic department deficit of $545,000 by the end of next year, and Ford said that some sports almost certainly would be dropped. He has since learned the department will receive $130,000 more in university support than anticipated, reducing the projected deficit to $415,000.
Baseball, with an annual budget of about $200,000, had appeared to be a likely victim of the financial crisis, creating suspense for the players and Coach Mike Gerakos.
Gerakos has told recruits that he will not hold them to their commitments because of the uncertainty about the team's future, and his current players have been meeting in an effort to rally support for the program.
"I know the baseball kids are concerned," Ford said. "Some of that I think is a little bit overreacting."
Gerakos is concerned that the program will be dealt a crippling blow even if it survives.
"If it's saved, what level will it be saved at? And for how long?" he said.
Ford said many of the department's financial problems stem from the recession and numerous short-term expenses, such as additional personnel costs during a period when both outgoing and incoming coaches for men's and women's basketball are on the payroll.
"Being here (at conference meetings) with these 10 institutions sitting around and talking about their problems, you realize we're not alone," Ford said, noting that such schools as UCLA and Stanford also have dropped sports or made serious cutbacks.
"We want to be in a position to rebound and respond when the economy recovers, and as our basketball program grows."