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Cal football has given up. Should fans give up too?

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OCTOBER 19, 2022

“You just have to laugh” is most often used rhetorically. But in this case, I mean it in the most literal sense.

Cal fans: just laugh. What else is there to do after scoring 13 points through four quarters against a winless, hopeless Colorado team, one that was considered to be the worst Power Five team in the country? Oh, and sixth-year head coach Justin Wilcox and third-year offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave had not one, but two weeks to prepare their team.

A season that began with so much hope — 2-0, a near win against Notre Dame and an offensive explosion against Arizona — has petered out into what looks like a 5-7, maybe 6-6 year. Another one.

Cal will have to win out against teams not named No. 10 Oregon, No. 12 USC and No. 9 UCLA in order to squeak its way into the — drumroll, please — Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl (or some other bottom-of-the barrel bowl). Don’t get too excited, though! It’s highly unlikely now.

No, seriously, what is there to do but laugh? All answers are welcome for what remains of the Cal faithful. But any and all proposed solutions are dead ends.

“Fire Wilcox” is catchy enough. But is that really feasible? No, it’s not. Wilcox’s six-year contract extension, which he signed in March of this year, states that, including his base salary and retention bonus, his buyout is $4.2 million at the end of this year. If Cal fired him at the end of this season without cause he would be owed an average of $4.75 million per year through the year 2027.

Is there the financial support to make that move possible, or even effective? According to the California Golden Bearcast, a podcast by Rob Hwang and Andy Johnston, in fiscal year 2020 Cal spent $8.2 million on coaching salaries. Utah, on the other hand. spent $14.6 million: a little less than double Cal’s total for an area that has a much higher cost of living than Salt Lake City.

A $7.5 million endowment donated by the Travers family last year will provide some support. But in a college football world that demands ever-increasing investment, that’s a drop in the bucket.

There is not nearly enough buy-in for Cal football, so why expect someone better than Wilcox? And the fact of the matter is that he’s most likely not going anywhere. To buy him out would put an even greater financial strain on a football program that already woefully underspends on coaching.

Okay, next option. “Fire Musgrave and all the other coaches.” What quality coach is willing to work for what is effectively a quarter of the salary the next best offers? Next.

“Fire the athletic director.” Oh, Jim Knowlton? Why should he get fired? He has done everything Chancellor Carol Christ expects from him. By “everything,” I really mean two things. He has fielded a football team (one), and put enough pressure on Wilcox to keep the football team’s graduation rates and average GPA high (two). After all, the last Cal head coach to win nine games in a season, Jeff Tedford in 2008, was fired in large part because Cal had the worst graduation rate in the Pac-12.

But does the focus on maintaining academic standards explain the Bears’ endless mediocrity? While Wilcox’s teams never get over the hump, the only other UC campus with an FBS football program is currently ranked No. 9 in the country, and subject to the same admissions and academic standards as Cal. As mandated by the UC Board of Regents, most recruits with very few exceptions must have a minimum of a 3.0 GPA in core high school courses to be eligible for admittance, a relatively high bar.

But unlike Cal, UCLA has adapted to the fast-moving college football world. The administration hired a proven winning coach in Chip Kelly, whose contract extension last season started at $4.7 million a year. In 2020, UCLA reached an agreement with Jordan Brand to be its new official apparel outfitter, joining Michigan, Oklahoma, Florida and North Carolina.

Why is Cal not in that group of flagship universities? What about UCLA making a recent move to join the Big Ten conference in 2024 in order to secure much (much) more revenue from the Big Ten’s lucrative TV deal?

To put it simply, UCLA and the other big public schools have figured it out. Young people want to be a part of something. Students will pay the tuition, get the grades and pick you over other schools just to be a part of it. The best recruits want the flashy uniforms, to be treated like kings and to be coached by the very best in the country.

It’s a symbiotic relationship: Football drives university brand, and university brand drives football success. Cal should have made an effort to be a part of the club a long time ago. Instead, the Bears are just too far behind to catch up.

So, Cal fans, just laugh. This willing mediocrity is just as much out of your control as it is in the control of those who just don’t get it. And they never will.

Contact William Cooke at 


OCTOBER 24, 2022