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Knowlton’s Notes: Taking Deliberate Actions Through Uncertain Times

Dear Friend of Cal Athletics:

I hope you are doing well during these unprecedented times as we all try to navigate an uncertain future. Every day seems to bring change as we try to get the coronavirus under control and find a path to normalcy.

Obviously, we are in a unique time in our history, and as a parent who has seen five boys head off to college, I understand that this is a challenging time for students and their families. We know that there are a lot of questions about the fall and the rest of the year, and we are remaining measured in our approach every step of the way.

As I am sure you are aware, the Pac-12 CEO Group, which is composed of the conference’s presidents and chancellors, voted last week to 
postpone all competition until at least Jan. 1, 2021. The decision was unanimous, and I believe shows great alignment between the CEOs, athletic directors and experts on the Pac-12 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee. Chancellor Christ has been a magnificent leader, and together we issued a joint statement that confirms our shared commitment to the health and well-being of our student-athletes.

The choice was extremely difficult, but it was the right one based on our priorities for student-athlete health, and the science and medical advice we had available. Three factors ultimately swayed us - most regions in the Pac-12 do not have control of the spread of the coronavirus, we don’t have access to enough testing, and there is uncertainty about the long-term effects, particularly heart health. I believe we have a detailed protocol in place to hold on-campus workouts in line with the Berkeley Public Health Order, which currently limits us to outdoor sessions only in cohorts of 12 and no shared equipment. And as you can see in this slide show, we’ve safely managed the flow for our student-athletes during workouts at Memorial Stadium from arrival through departure.

I know that this news was difficult for our student-athletes and their families. This has been a most challenging five months since we canceled spring events in March, and I am proud of the way they are handling this situation. We are increasing our outreach at every opportunity, through phone calls with student-athletes and their parents, Zoom meetings, email updates, FAQs, and a dedicated website with links to a wide range of information. Our newly launched Cameron Institute is also offering sessions titled, “Dealing with Uncertainty, Managing Stress, and Building Resilience,” to help our student-athletes share and process their emotions in a supportive environment while learning to develop skills and strategies for navigating and dealing with uncertainty. We are dedicated to supporting our student-athletes!

As you can imagine, the University, as well as Cal Athletics and all departments on campus, are trying to manage an extremely demanding financial situation. 
Administrative leadership outlined in a message last month how it is going to cope with the challenge at a campus level.

Within our department, we have modeled different scenarios since March and are forecasting as much as a $50-55 million impact on our budget if fall sports do not compete at all this year. The impact could be reduced considerably if we are able to play football and other sports in the spring.

Among the measures the athletic department will need to take to meet our budget objectives include adhering to a campus-wide hiring and merit-pay freeze; voluntary pay reductions for our highest paid head coaches and many of our assistant coaches (including me); cutbacks of operations and administrative budgets by at least 10%; and consideration of a low-interest loan to help close any remaining budget gap after other budget-mitigating steps are put into place.

Our intent is not to make permanent changes to solve a short-term problem. Both Chancellor Christ and I have said that cutting sports would be a last resort under any circumstance. Our goal is to protect our workforce and preserve the student-athlete experience to the fullest extent possible.

Any of our student-athletes who want to opt out of athletic activities this year due to concerns about COVID-19 will have their scholarships honored. They will remain in good standing with their teams, and there will be no judgment should a student-athlete not want to play this year. 
Earlier today, the NCAA announced that it will work toward scaled-back fall championships in the spring, if they can be conducted safely and in accordance with health guidelines. In addition, fall sport student-athletes will receive both an additional year of eligibility and an additional year in which to complete it through a blanket waiver.

Despite the uncertain landscape facing our world, the Cal Athletics family continues to inspire us with its resiliency and determination to support exceptional experiences for our student-athletes. Our Cal Athletics Fund is excited to report that it raised more than $36 million in gifts and pledges this past fiscal year to enhance Cal Athletics’ mission to be the “model for intercollegiate excellence,” a total that came from nearly 7,000 donors, including almost 1,500 student-athlete alumni.

Throughout this pandemic, we have worked hard at maintaining our connections with you, our valued supporters, through multiple events, including the Cal Athletics Fund Caravan and sport-by-sport Zoom calls. Although the Caravan series was virtual this year, the format allowed us to reach a multi-generational group of Cal alumni and supporters. Check out full videos from three of the programs 
here.  In addition, close to 3,000 attendees participated in 30 Zoom calls with our teams, providing an inside look at how student-athletes are training and coaches are providing leadership during these uncertain times. For information on how to learn more about team Zoom calls, please contact the Cal Athletics Fund at

We recently completed a sequence of first-person accounts by student-athletes on racial justice. These were powerful, heartfelt messages, and I encourage you to read them on our Cal Voices page on Josh Drayden from our football team added to our Summer Reading Challenge a video of him reading a book by Ruby Bridges, the first Black student to integrate an elementary school in the South, while student-athletes have also published additional poignant videos, including this one produced by several of our Black student-athletes.

To further a commitment to transformative change around fairness and equality, we are implementing a proposal from two members of our women’s basketball program, Cailyn Crocker and Sierra Richey, for a student-athlete-led Racial Justice Council. Once it starts this fall, it plans to convene student-athlete leaders consistently to discuss race-related issues, be trained on leading team discussions, and develop student-led initiatives to combat racial injustice and systemic racism.

I am also excited to share with you that we have begun our search for an Associate Athletic Director for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, a position that arose from an initiative developed in 
our strategic plan last year. Given its crucial role, the individual will serve as a member of our Director’s Cabinet, report directly to me, and work in close collaboration with the campus divisions of Equity & Inclusion and People & Culture.

As we move through the upcoming challenges and beyond, we need to stay agile and embrace the fluidity and complexity of our world. While remaining strategic in our purpose, we will continue to learn, to adapt, and to fight for and embrace change. Above all, we promise to support our student-athletes and communicate often with you, our teammates.

Thank you again for your continued engagement, interest and support. You are true difference makers in the lives of our student-athletes. Stay safe and as always, Go Bears!

Jim Knowlton
Director of Athletics

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