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PLEASE NO! No alcohol in Memorial!

Jon Wilner has been reporting on the budget shortfall for the athletic department at Cal.  Among all the talk was this nugget:

One option, based on a brief conversation with AD Michael Williams, is alcohol sales throughout Memorial Stadium.

For the love of God and all that is Holy… NNNOOOOOOO!

I’m no prude.  I drink.  But Cal games need to remain alcohol free.  There are just too many bozos who don’t know how to control themselves at games once they get liquored up.  It’s not like one’s private life where I can just stop inviting those sorts of people or stop going to things where those sorts of people are invited.  No, I’m stuck with these random jerkwads who can’t control themselves once they get a few beers in them.

DON’T DO IT!

New Memorial Stadium bag policy

Have you guys seen this:

http://events.calbears.com/nl/jsp/m.jsp?c=4049bf4658f4402714

(Cal has gone the way of the NFL and will now only allow clear bags in the stadium)

I’m getting really sick of these ever increasing “security” measures.  If they’re looking for a way to get me to stop being a season ticket holder, this is their best path.  I can take losing (I sat through the Holmoe years), but what I can’t take is being treated like a criminal.

So I decided to write a letter to the athletic director.  Here it is in full:

I was recently called about my season tickets and during that conversation was told about the new bag policy at Memorial Stadium. I was also sent an e-mail about the policy as well.  I have a number of objections:

1. First and foremost, every time we get one of these announcements they are made LOOONNG after we’ve purchased our season tickets.  I find it cowardly that the athletic department does not announce these changes when we’re buying our tickets, when we actually have an opportunity to push back with the one thing that matters: our dollars.  To that end, it is not surprising that no refunds were being offered on my tickets when they called me.  As I’m sure the athletic department well knows, part of what compels people to buy tickets is a certain level of comfort.  That is why padded seats or bench backs and the like cost more than the bleachers.  Refusing to disclose ways in which you plan to reduce our comfort at games when we buy our tickets is deceptive and lacks integrity.

2. More importantly, shame on whoever decided to advertise this as a necessary security measure.  All bags are checked as we enter the stadium and have been for years.  How will making the bag clear meaningfully change anything?  Can someone not roll a sweatshirt or some other acceptable item around something they’re trying to conceal?  Unless everything in the bag must be clear, that the outer layer of fabric must be clear is of little security value. Inspection and/or pass-through detectors remain the only meaningful way to screen bags.

3.  It is further coercive to tie this policy change to “recent world events” as if what has happened in Europe sporadically over the course of the year has any connection to what might happen in Memorial Stadium.  It is a manipulative ploy to pretend that this policy change is justified on the basis of these events, none of which have happened in a stadium.  It is disgraceful that this University that prides itself on critical thinking and innovation would stoop to such a poorly thought out policy that does little to increase security while causing meaningful discomfort to the fans who fund the stadium and the team, and then use a smoke screen of unrelated events to justify it.

4. Make no mistake, it is a significant reduction in comfort for us fans.  I’ve always brought a small soft-walled insulated cooler with soda and water.  That’s always been allowed up until now.  It brings me great comfort to have cold beverage of my choice throughout the game that I don’t have to pay $5 for.  This new policy effectively bans me from doing that.  Also, preventing me from keeping my camera and binoculars in a protective bag could cost me hundreds of dollars if they were accidentally dropped without the above mentioned bag’s padding.    Additionally, although you allow seat pads, if someone wants one with a back, they must rent them (even MORE cost to us fans who like to be comfortable) as it is no longer acceptable to bring them in.  Then there’s the inconvenience to my wife to dump out her purse every other Saturday and put only a few of those items in a “clutch bag”.  Not to mention that it seems every year I must buy a couple new bags to meet whatever new arcane requirements have been implemented.  Let there be no mistake.  The cumulative effect of the new restrictions every year has notably and significantly reduced my family’s comfort and increased our cost of being Cal football season ticket holders.  And for what?  As points 2 and 3 make clear.  The security benefits are trivial.

5. In fact, it is even worse than that, as the bag policy actually makes my family less safe.  Although it’s not a further reduction in bag size from last year, the continued reduction in bag size over the years means it is a lot harder for me to carry sweatshirts and snacks for the whole family in a sizeable backpack that leaves both my hands free for my four kids so they don’t wander off.  Now I must split that up into multiple small bags leaving me far more encumbered and unable to protect my children on the busy streets of Berkeley.  I ask you: what is more statistically likely, that my young child will get hit by a car or my family will be harmed in a terrorist event?  Anyone with even a elementary understanding of mortality statistics knows how infrequent terrorist attacks are.

6. Finally, any comparison to the NFL is anecdotal and a complete misunderstanding of the fans.  Many of us come to Cal football because we enjoy the traditionally more relaxed, less restrictive, more family friendly (and bringing bags with stuff for the kids is a significant portion of that) environment that has separated college football from pro football.  It is notable that there is no mention of the far more lax policies of Major League Baseball as compared to the NFL.

To summarize, this announcement is cowardly timed, shamefully advertised, disgracefully justified and costly to my family’s comfort, while actually putting them more in harms way than in the past.  All things considered it will take a lot more than “The NFL is just as bad” to convince me of the wisdom of this ridiculous policy.

I respectfully request that this policy be reversed immediately.

Ken Crawford
Season ticket holder since 1999

I encourage all of you to do likewise and e-mail the athletic director at: athletic.director@berkeley.edu

Playing Oregon at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara

The news came out yesterday that Cal has agreed to play it’s 2014 home game against Oregon on a Friday night at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara.

The university gives two reasons for the decision:

  • They expect a million-dollar bump in revenue from doing this
  • Since Cal has to occasionally play a weeknight game and the UW game in 2012 was problematic, they wanted to play their next one away from campus to ease logistics.

I must admit, after my initial gut reaction of anger subsided, that those reasons seemed pretty reasonable. One can argue how ridiculous it is that Cal has to occasionally play a Thursday or Friday night game at home, but that ship has sailed (at least for the foreseeable future). Cal is stuck with the Pac-12 TV contract for better or worse. And if we can get a two-fer of getting some more money and dealing with the unfortunate contractual situation in a way that doesn’t create additional logistical hassles, that’s a win-win, right?

Until I dug deeper:

Key point #1: this game will not be included in the season ticket package. At some level that’s good. Fans should have the right to opt out of such a game and excluding it from the season ticket package accomplishes that. HOWEVER, who amongst us is stupid enough to think the season ticket prices will be lower next year? I highly, highly, highly doubt it. If I’m wrong, good on Cal. That’s a pretty good compromise. But seeing as how the millions have to come from somewhere, I’m guessing they’re expecting that to come from additional ticket revenue, which means the ticket sales have to be incremental to the normally expected season ticket revenue, not a replacement for lost season ticket revenue.

Key point #2: Levi stadium has just as many logistical problems on Friday night. I’m being told this 2nd hand, but I have no reason to doubt these sources. Apparently Levi has no dedicated parking and they’re overall plan is to rely on all the adjacent businesses for Sunday parking for 49’er games. With this game on a Friday evening, how are they going to make that work? When you add to it that there’s no good public transit options into what I’ve long called the “southbay triangle of hell” (where I-880, US 101 and 237 come together), and this has the makings of a logistical nightmare.

Which all adds up to a poor decision by the University and more cranky Bears fans.

Yo Sandy: Bears fans are already pretty cranky (am I right, joshiemac?), there’s no need to give them more reasons to be upset.

My two 1st loves in one picture

Sailing and Cal Football:

Thoughts on new no-backpack policy after seeing it in action

(It’s been a busy week. Sorry for the lack of posts.)

Well, the new no-backpack policy received very little backlash on Saturday. Everyone seemed to be prepared for it so there was no rash of heated arguments at the turnstile. There was no protest, even by yours truly. From the AD’s perspective, the roll-out has to be seen as a success.

To some degree, I was prepared for that possibility. My big question was how literally they were going to be in the definition of a backpack. And as I went to look up the exact wording for this post, I saw that it had changed, yet again, as seen in this much more informative article/page. Here’s the relevant text (that is again changed):

A backpack is considered a bag worn on or over your shoulders with the primary compartment carried on the back. It can have one (cross body) or two straps (over shoulders) and have one or more zippered pockets/compartments. Neither adult nor kid-sized backpacks are allowed.

The key change is the ‘primary compartment carried on the back’. That language wasn’t there before. And to be even more helpful, the article/page has a set of pictures of acceptable bags and then another set with unacceptable bags. What’s clear from those pictures is the only “one strap” backpack they’re referring to is type of backpack many bicycle delivery people use, but they’re not referring to handbags/diaper/small duffel bags that also happen to have a long, cross shoulder strap.

Which shows that, as the ongoing conversation the last two weeks more or less concluded, that this was an aesthetic issue/policy, mostly in place to prevent people from freaking out when a shady looking character goes to get a hotdog and leaves his backpack, something that looks like the bag used in Boston, in his seat. But as far as actual security, there’s nothing of note, of whatever weight, that couldn’t be carried in one of the many acceptable bags, that could be carried in one of the unacceptable bags. (Along the same lines, there seemed to be no more additional rigor in which they were searching the bags from the past.)

The other question I had was if they were going to get more picky about the 14″x14″x6″ part. Go measure your backpacks, I’ll tell you right now, NONE of them have a max dimension of 14″. The height of a backpack (i.e. the length of the section that touches your back, is generally 18+”. Was this perhaps an excuse to shrink the size of the bag?

And again, the answer is a resounding no. I saw a ton of bags that wouldn’t fit in a 14″x14″x6″ box. This of course further proves the aesthetic argument.

So the end conclusion for me is that it is still a stupid policy but not as horrific as my first reaction. The biggest impact is I have to go buy a couple of non-backpack bags such as this or this or this, all bags that I can wear “over the shoulder” (to use the old Cal language) and thus keep two hands free for the kids but still can hold as much as a traditional school-sized backpack. Another $20-$30 down the drain to stupidity, and perhaps not quite as comfortable to carry, but there are worse things in life.

One final comment on the subject… the Athletic department has been doing a good job lately of reacting quickly to concerns. The updated article/web page posted Tuesday the 20th (probably late in the day, based on when I posted the relevant text previously on the blog), was a significant improvement over the pages I saw on the 19th when I got the e-mail (although published on the 15th) . The pictures were a big help. I think it’s a good thing that they’re being proactive at addressing concerns. What surprises/concerns me is that you’d think they’d be doing more to preempt these things. If they can re-write the bag policy page one day after announcing the policy via e-mail, adding pictures and more descriptive text, why can’t they spend a few hours BEFORE they announce the policy to anticipate the concerns and get it right the first time? After all, I didn’t see the updated page until today, because I had read the previous version on the 19th and saw no reason to go re-read it.

More precise text on what defines a backpack

The webpage describing this change has slightly more precise text than the e-mail I received:

A backpack is considered a bag worn on or over your shoulders. It can have one or two straps and have one or more zippered pockets. Both adult and kids backpacks are not allowed.

So, it looks like it’s still a question of whether it is designed to be worn over your shoulder, but they seem to be implying (the word “can” leaves them wiggle room) that if it doesn’t have either an over-the-shoulder strap AND at least one zippered pocket, it’s not a backpack. So a bag that you put over your shoulder that is open ended (without zippers) or perhaps has snaps or a drawstring opening wouldn’t count. But it also looks like a fanny pack or a small duffel that has zippers, as long as it doesn’t have an over the shoulder strap, would be OK too.

And so I ask this question: In what way does this “enhance public safety and improve stadium access” or from elsewhere on the same page “create a safer environment on game day”?

Source

1st protest idea

Thanks to David, I think we have a first protest idea. Everybody brings a cheap backpack to the game to dump on the security personnel. David suggests some… ehem… “creative” things to put in the backpack. I’m not willing to go quite that far to put something in it so inflammatory. But I do think filling them with something is a good idea, at a minimum so that they take as much room as possible, but also to identify them as part of the protest.

It could be as simple as popcorn. Any ideas?

Looking quickly, this was the cheapest backpack I could find, for those who may not have an old one they’d be willing to donate to the cause:

Amazon – Everest Brown backpack: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005IFCGA4/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=A1IP5Q3GWK9OUR

Who’s with me?

Starting a protest

Just got an e-mail from the athletic department: No backpacks allowed in Memorial Stadium this year.

THIS IS COMPLETE BS!

I’m not a criminal and I don’t expect to be treated like one. I tried to call 1-800-GOBEARS, but the line was busy… Likely because I’m not the only one who’s upset.

It’s ridiculous policy for a number of reasons:

  • First and foremost, because bags up to 14x14x6 are still allowed. The prior rule was the same except backpacks of that same dimension were allowed. So what defines a backpack? Thankfully, at least they’re willing to define it: “A backpack is considered a bag worn on or over your shoulders. It can have one or two straps, have one or more zippered pockets.” Uh, what kind of security concerns does limiting bags that meet that sort of description limit?
  • It’s ridiculous to release this policy two weeks before the first game, long after people have made ticket purchasing decisions and perhaps after people have purchased bags or other stuff that they might put in an existing backpack for the season, that they now are stuck with. They’d better at a minimum be willing to issue refunds for those who find this policy unacceptable.
  • This hyper-security, over-bearing mindset is ridiculous. The e-mail starts out with “due to heightened security”. What sort of ridiculous BS is that. WHAT REASON do we have for heightened security!?! It’s all a bunch of scare tactics. More people have and will continue to die in their cars on the way to the game than will ever be killed by something that somebody is going to sneak in with their backpack.

Write a comment if you agree and answer the poll question.

My time with the uber-weathy

For those of you who went to the game yesterday, I’m sure you noticed the numerous times they talked about the special things they were doing for season ticket holders. One of them was that 200 ticket holders were getting their seats upgraded to either the Field Club or University Club for that single game.

“That would be really cool”, I thought to myself. “But there’s no way they’re going to give those to any of us in the Gold Zone.”

So you’ll imagine my surprise when just before the end of the 1st quarter a lady came up to us, asked us if we were season ticket holders and gave us tickets to the Field Club. AWESOME!

We were in section G, row 10, seats 7-9 (there were only 3 of us at the game). That’s on the 45 yard-line.

The entrance to the clubs is not on the concourse level, but the “ground floor” plaza level, so we went down the stairs. Outside the club entrance, there are tents where you show your tickets and they give you wrist bands for entrance into the clubs.

Field Club is the lowest of the 3 clubs, yet season tickets cost between $2700 and $4100 a year. That’s just a *slight* increase from the $225 (and only $125 for the kids) I’m paying in the Gold Zone.

When you enter the club, there’s this very fancy large room with concessions around the perimeter, and two bars in the middle. And I really do mean the word bars. I had assumed that they would just have a couple of beer options. Not at all. It’s a full bar that could mix up most hard drinks. I think they all still come in paper cups however…

I toyed with the idea of getting a drink (when else would I ever get a chance?) but decided against it.

The room is surrounded by lots of televisions, covering not just the Cal game, but many of the other football games going on. I didn’t see it, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had some of the baseball going on as well.

From the club, you can enter the stand at the bottom and go up from there into your seats.

The seats are standard ballpark affair down in the Field club. I think they’re more plush up in the Stadium club and then the University Club is something entirely different and for the truly uber-uber wealthy. The spacing didn’t feel any more generous than a normal stadium, but that’s obviously more than we get in the Gold Zone (excepting me in the 1st row and the extra space that gives me). I actually felt boxed in as the only way we were getting in and out of our seats was to ask the 6 people between us and the isle to stand up, which I hate doing.

(As a quick aside, yesterday morning I had the temptation to bring a tape measure and try to get over to section EE to measure it. Oh how I wish I had, so I could have measured the Field Club seats!)

Row 10 is pretty low, but at the 45 yard-line it’s not nearly as bad. I would still want to be up at row 18-20 at a minimum. I’m very glad I didn’t take the seats in EE in row 8 when I was picking my season tickets. That said, the 45 yard-line is s SWEET place to be.

Considering how many open seats there are in the section, it’s a strong temptation to figure out how I could pay to sit there. But it’s just SOOOO out of range, the temptation doesn’t last long. Of course if it was significantly cheaper, I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one considering upgrading.

But it is VERY nice and if you’re someone who has that sort of disposable income, it is definitely worth considering. They’re definitely going to take care of you if you do.

Stadium crew doing great

For something completely different:

I had noticed how bit in diameter the field-goal net poles were and thought it odd. The old ones were small and since there are people sitting behind them, it’s important they be small. It didn’t obstruct my view, so I never mentioned it either here, in the podcasts or to the University.

But apparently others did.

The result is that the poles are being taken down for Saturday’s game and there will be no net until they figure out an alternate solution.

This is an example of how the staff around the new Memorial Stadium are committed not just to building it, but getting it right in the long term.

While on the subject, I did notice that at The Horseshoe, the net was suspended by wires stretching across the stadium and there was no pole. That might just be the best solution.

Seat dimensions

I’m the type of guy who can never have too much information… and I’m willing to do the legwork to get that information. To that end, you know what the first thing I did when I got to my seats on Saturday?

I pulled out a tape measure, pen and paper and started measuring:

Dimensions of the Gold Zone bench seats, side view:
Side view of Gold Zone bench seating
(Click on the picture to a full sized view)

Dimensions of the Gold Zone bench seats, front view:
Front view of Gold Zone bench seating
(Click on the picture to a full sized view)

To be clear, I just measured my seats, which are the first seats above the handicapped seating platform at the the tunnel (note the railing at the front of the side view and across the front of the front view). Although I suspect this spacing is pretty consistent throughout the non-donor bench seating, I can’t be sure.

A few thoughts:

  • 24″ total per row, after the first row, is pretty tight. Sit down and measure the distance from the back of your butt to the front of your knee to appreciate just how tight that is.
  • On the other hand, 18″ of butt width is pretty generous for our otherwise cramped quarters. It’s wider than most airplane seats anyway.
  • You an also see why I was so determined to get the first row in that section. 34″ (up to the wires, not the post) is a TON more space than 24″. That 10″ goes a LOOOONNG way.
  • Also notable is the 5+” between the foot platform and the bottom of the seat in front of you. Wise people will make use of that space for their feet. Get your butt as far back as you can in your seat to get your knees back and then slide your feet under the seat in front of you.
  • Also notable is how much space there is under the benches. One could even store a stroller there if so inclined. (and I’m not)

If you’d like the source for the graphics, you can find the Visio file here.

The Horror! Pepsi products!?!

OK, for some levity this evening to get me out of my bad mood:

I’m somewhat of a soda aficionado. I can tell all the flavors and all the different brands apart. I know when a fountain soda has a poorly tuned mixture. I can tell a Mug from a A&W from a Barqs. I can tell a 7-Up from a Sprite from a Slice/Sierra Mist. When 7-Up changed their formula, I noticed before I had heard an advertisement for it. I can usually tell on a new soda who made it based on the flavor of it and the philosophies of the flavoring of each company.

Oh yeah, and a SURE AS HECK can tell the difference between a Pepsi and a Coke.

I think the movie “The Invention of Lying” got it right as to what the purpose of Pepsi is in their “honest commercials”: Pepsi… for when there is no Coke.

So I was pretty disappointed when I saw that they were dispensing Pepsi products.

SSSSOOOOOOOOO disappointing!

The new CMS: The house that Tedford built

(This is the fourth and final post in a four part series taking stock of just how momentous Saturday’s opening game against Nevada will be, coming home to the newly renovated Memorial Stadium. Read the previous ones here: Part I, Part II, Part III)

Today is game day! The day we’ve all been waiting for. The day that’s been 23 years in the making, or at least 10 years, depending on what you want to start with.

And there’s only one thing to finish my 4 part series with: A thank you to the man who made it happen, Jeff Tedford. There’s just no other way to say it, the new California Memorial Stadium complex with the Simpson Center is the house that Tedford built.

I know for some of you who have been unhappy with Tedford’s performance, it’s hard to see it in that light. Similar to how Protestants often have trouble accepting the term ‘Mother of God’ for Mary because of their aversion to the Catholic view of her, you need to get over the aversion. Just as if you accept Jesus as God (as Protestants of course do) and Mary as her mother, there’s no getting around ‘Mother of God’ being accurate, there’s no getting around there is one and only one person who’s responsible for the events of the last decade.

This IS the house that Jeff Tedford built. He demanded it when he arrived. He stuck around when the going got tough, even when the enticing call of other jobs, even in the NFL, came his way. He persevered, doing his best to keep his team focused on winning even when there were smelly hippies in the trees beating their drums. He did his best to keep the team focused when they were homeless, both when the Simpson Center was being built and when they had to play away from home at AT&T.

So… as much as I’m expecting the Bears to win tomorrow and am optimistic about the season (particularly if Maynard makes the leap that we are hoping for), Tedford can no longer do wrong in my eyes. His place as one of the greatest coaches in Cal history is secure.

The Bears could face-plant tomorrow and have a disastrous 2 or 3 win season, and I think he deserves another year in 2013. The man that built Memorial Stadium deserves one more year. He could repeat that performance in 2013 and likely be released by the University (as would be appropriate at that point) and he will ALWAYS have a fond place in my heart.

This will always be the house that Tedford built.

Continuing down my theoretical timeline, Sandy could replace Tedford with an unknown assistant coach named What A. Bonanza for a small salary and take us to the Rose Bowl, winning the conference, in his first year, and this would still be the house that Tedford built. It would be the one of the greatest moments in Cal football history. New blogs would be started, “BonanzaIsGod”, “AnotherRoseBowlWithBonanza”, yet it would still be the house that Tedford built.

‘What’ could take the team to a national championship game and win the following year in 2015, securing a place in Cal football lore that could never be taken away from Mr. Bonanza, but it would still be the house that Tedford built.

Point being, it doesn’t matter what happens to Cal football from this moment forward, Tedford has accomplished something remarkable, something that many, many people thought could never be accomplished in Berkeley. He managed to change the culture not just of the football team but of the campus. While in many ways the campus was ready to finally stop living in the shadow of the 60’s and embrace a richer, ironically more diverse existence, it was the football team that brought that issue to a head.

See, the way I see it, the tree-sitters where never about the trees. They were about the culture of Cal. It was a battle for the heart and soul of Cal: Was Cal a campus that was trapped in the late 60’s and would be perpetually in protest? Or would it be a campus that moved on, even while embracing that history as an important time, even something to be proud of, but that times had moved on and it was a new era at Cal?

Somehow, Tedford managed to take on the semi-impossible task of being the leader of the movement the reclaimed Cal to something bigger than just the protest. In many ways, he was just a football coach and was just the catalyst. It’s even unfair to him to put that much weight on his shoulders.

But even just as a catalyst, it was a key moment for Cal. California Memorial Stadium will be forever changed, will forever be a symbol of the ‘new Cal’.

And it IS the house that Tedford built.

Time lapse of stadium project

Here’s a pretty nice time lapse of the stadium project, done by the University:

The new CMS: Wonder and Awe, what makes it so great?

(This is the third in a four part series taking stock of just how momentous Saturday’s opening game against Nevada will be, coming home to the newly renovated Memorial Stadium.)

I truly believe that the upgraded California Memorial Stadium and its attached Simpson center will be regarded as one of the best college football settings in the country. I see 5 things that make it truly special:

1. History

While there is no doubt that this is a *new* stadium, it did it in a unique way that retains its history. There were 4 great stadiums made on the West Coast in the 1920’s (the beginning of big stadium building): The Rose Bowl, the LA Coliseum, Stanford Stadium and California Memorial Stadium. Of those, California Memorial Stadium now becomes the crown jewel for college football. Stanford Stadium entirely lost it’s connection with history when it gutted the old stadium and built the tin rectangle. The LA Coliseum is still a special stadium, but has always been compromised for football as it was built as an Olympic stadium. The seating setup for football is no comparison to the true bowls of Memorial and the Rose Bowl. Plus it has become a dump. The Rose Bowl is someplace very special and always will be. Yet it has one HUGE problem: It’s not on campus. It’s a constant issue of woe for UCLA fans. Plus it’s a bit rundown by modern standards, particularly compared to the renovated Memorial Stadium.

Think about that for a second: California Memorial Stadium has no equal as a historical college football stadium on the West Coast. It’s a remarkable transformation.

2. Geographic Setting

The only Pac-12 stadium that comes close to comparing to Strawberry Canyon is Husky Stadium on the periphery of Lake Washington. If you haven’t made the trip up the western rim of Memorial Stadium in a long time, you owe it to yourself to head over there Saturday afternoon to look at the beauty below. What is amazing about Strawberry Canyon is that you don’t even have to look to the west, the beautiful Eucalyptus covered hills to the east as well as Strawberry Canyon itself are a marvel to behold.

3. Complementing the geography

What adds to the views is how well the stadium is nestled into the surroundings. I’ve been to a lot of stadiums and a number try to make use of the surrounding geography to build the stadium into the environment. Most of the attempts come off very clunky. Sun Devil stadium in Tempe is prototypical. It’s kinda cool from a distance, but once you get close, you realize it’s a monstrosity carved in with blunt instruments. There used to be an aspect of this at Memorial with the exposed dirt under the western wall. No longer. It’s now perfectly nestled into the hillside (and the Simpson center only helps) as if it was always meant to be there.

4. Student Section

Every other stadium renovation I’ve seen have all had one thing in common: The students got booted from their prized 50-yard-line seats to give more opportunities for expensive donor seats. Stanford students are relegated to the corner. Oregon too, even with the Nike money. Oregon State as well when “Reser” came to town. USC did the same, even without an upgrade. While there may be one or two left who still have their students on the 50, I can’t think of one that is. And DEFINITELY not any stadium after an upgrade/replacement.

Cal students: You need to add a new cheer that goes something like “HEY ALUMNI… THANK YOOOOUUU!” The alumni and the athletic department was very generous to you wanting you to have the privilege that was given to the generations before. It’s a special gift you should cherish.

5. Top end training integrated with a top end stadium

Some schools have great stadiums. Some schools have great training facilities. Some schools have both, but they’re miles apart. I only know of one school in the conference that approaches the closeness *and* niceness of the CMS and the Simpson center: Oregon. But even there, they’re just adjacent and very nice. There’s no sense of integration and oneness. If anything they’re a little awkward standing next to each other. It’s very unlike what we now have in Berkeley. Cal went from having substandard facilities to not only having some of the best, but in a way that oozes harmony between the two buildings.

These 5 things mean we’ve got something very special going on in Strawberry Canyon these days and mark my words: You’ll feel it tomorrow, even if you’re watching on TV. It won’t be obvious what it is that makes it so special, at least not right away. Nevertheless there will be an energy tomorrow that can not be solely attributed to the standard things: newness, the return after being away, the triumph after a long struggle. All of those things will be part of it to make it even more euphoric tomorrow. But at it’s root this energy won’t be going anywhere one or two or even ten years from now.

Somehow Memorial Stadium reminds me of the old Berkeley Toyota line:

Nobody Beats Berkeley. They never have and they they never will!

The new CMS: The history

(This is the second in a four part series taking stock of just how momentous Saturday’s opening game against Nevada will be, coming home to the newly renovated Memorial Stadium.)

I think it is important to remember just how much has transpired to get us to now. I started off with a post that mostly covered the pre-Tedford activities. Now onto the actual events, with more links to good historical data to keep in your cap than will fit in a 10-gallon cowboy hat, that led to Saturday’s bonanza…

It took 3 years for Tedford’s success (2002, 2003 and 2004 seasons) to really take hold to the degree that progress on the Simpson Center was possible. The first key move the University made to make it happen after Tedford was hired, was to hire Sandy Barbour in September of 2004. As the deputy Athletic Director at Notre Dame she had been responsible for the construction of a 100-000 square foot sports center. Cal needed an AD who knew how to do capital projects.

By the end of 2004 and throughout 2005 Sandy aggressively reached out to Cal’s biggest donors to raise the money needed for the “High Performance Center”. In November of 2005, Cal released its plans for a sports facility immediately to the west of the CMS.

The plan had many facets, but the following was clear:

  • Construction on the HPC would start after the 2006 season
  • The HPC would be ready for the 2008 season
  • The stadium renovation would start at some unstated (but soon) date after that (Ken’s note: I can’t find a link to back this up, but I remember it originally starting after the 2008 season, with 2009 being the away year and 2010 being the re-opening of the CMS)
  • The plan would also include upgrades to the academic facilities for both the law and business schools

The University spent most of 2006 going through the process of formalizing those plans:

  • From May 8th, 2006 to July 7th, 2006 the University circulated the EIR, a necessary first step to its approval and giving us our first glimpse into the specific plans.
  • On October 31st the EIR was completed.
  • On November 14th, 2006 the UC Regents building committee decided to delay on formal approval of the EIR, but did approve the funding plan.
  • On November 16th, 2006 the full board of UC Regents approved the funding plan
  • On December 5th, 2006 the UC Regent building committee approved the EIR

That is to say, things went reasonably smoothly, although the UC regents delay of one month on approval of the EIR was a bit troubling.

Whether or not that was meaningful, could be considered a matter of debate. The City of Berkeley voted in September of 2006 to hire a lawyer to prepare to sue the UC if they approved the project. So it seems likely that no matter how quickly it was approved, there was going to be a lawsuit.

Nevertheless, before the Regents could put their official stamp of approval on the project, local and longtime Berkeley activist Zachary ‘RunningWolf’ decided that he wasn’t going to sit, on the ground anyway, still while the trees were cut down. So on December 2nd, 2006, the day of the 2006 Big Game, he and a handful of activists climbed into the oak trees and started a tree-sit.

3 days later, the UC Regents officially approved the EIR and thus the HPC project.

The opponents of the project didn’t waste any time in filing lawsuits against the project. Between December 11th, 2006 and December 19th, 2006 three different lawsuits were filed. One was by the City of Berkeley. A second was by the Panoramic Hills Association (the homeowners association for the houses above the stadium). The final was by the newly and specifically for this purpose formed “California Oak Foundation”, the legal entity for the tree-sitters.

The very first request of the lawsuits was that an injunction be put on construction. Seeing as how the University was intent on starting right away, the court acquiesced on December 21st, putting a preliminary injunction pending a full hearing, to be held on January 23rd. Just under a week later, on January 29th, Judge Miller confirmed every Cal fan’s worst fear and granted an injunction while the case was heard.

It’s worth taking a short segue in the issue of the value of the tree-sitters and their impact on halting construction. The reality was that it was the injunction starting December 21st that was what put a halt to construction. Considering there were only a handful of days between formal approval of the project and the lawsuits, there was really no opportunity for Cal to start construction. The tree-sitters were the publicity machine for the struggle, but in practice had no impact on halting construction.

Far more important was the involvement of the City of Berkeley. Without their participation, the Panoramic Hills Association (PHA) and the California Oak Foundation (COF) would have had to put a bond for $10 million dollars, something the COF would have no means to afford and the PBA wouldn’t have had the stomach for. However, when a municipality gets involved, no bond is needed and there is no risk of having to pay out the increase in construction costs.

Amidst all of the legal wranglings, the University was continuing to push forward with preparations for the project, including the remaining fundraising. On December 21st, the same day as the injunction was put in place, the name for the HPC was announced. It was to be called “The Simpson Center”

Meanwhile, back in the bat ca… er back in the courts, as with all Environmental Impact cases, things went slowly. On May 25th, 2007 all of the necessary filings were made to the court. In all 198 different documents with 40,055 pages were submitted to the court. Originally oral arguments were supposed to be heard over the summer of 2007, but between various additional filings, motions and briefs, the in-court phase of the trial did not begin until late September 2007.

The hearings themselves would take far to long to go over, but here are some relevant links and nuggets:

After the trial wrapped up, it was back to the waiting game, with the side-show of the tree-sitters to keep us busy. In a separate court the University got permission to remove all the tree-sitters when they saw fit to do it. However, realizing that protecting the grove from re-intrusions while the injunction was still in place would cost more than leaving them there and have significant and unnecessary PR implications, the University chose not to act on that right.

Judge Miller had to rule on the case within 90 days, but we were assured that she’d rule much more quickly than that. But the days and nights passed without a ruling and 89 days later we got the 2nd possible worst news: another delay.

Judge Miller, instead of making a ruling, issued a ruling on a couple of items and ordered more evidence be provided in regards to other areas.

Over the remainder of December 2007 and January 2008 multiple filings and hearings continued to slow things down. It wasn’t until March 20th, 2008 that the actual hearing on the additional evidence Judge Miller requested was heard.

That started another 90-day waiting period, which we were assured again wouldn’t take that long. I vented my frustration at how long this could be drawn out, pointing out the length of the timeline:

  • 12/11/06: Original case filed just days after EIR approved by Regents (and yes, that’s 2006)
  • 1/23/07: Hearing held on Preliminary Injunction
  • 1/29/07: Preliminary Injunction granted (notice how quick that was)
  • 4/23/07: First documents submitted for hearings
  • 7/11/07: First hearing briefs submitted
  • 9/19/07: Start of “2 day hearing” to decide case (hearing delayed from original June estimate)
  • 10/11/07: Final day of “2 day hearing”
  • 10/26/07: Final briefs filed on hearing (90-day timer starts today, ends 1/24/08)
  • 12/10/07: Judge orders additional evidence be submitted
  • 12/26/07: Plaintiffs object to submitting evidence
  • 1/11/08: Hearing on ojbection to additional evidence
  • 1/23/08: Plaintiffs objection denied
  • 2/22/08: Additional evidence submitted by both sides
  • 3/20/08: Hearing on additional evidence (90-day time starts today, ends 6/18/08)

Judge Miller finally released her ruling on the very last day possible, June 18th, 2008. As the ruling approached, things got dicey at the Oak Grove, as seen by these two days (day 1, day 2) of live-blogging of the events.

Immediately after the ruling both sides had declared victory. My thoughts were a bit more mixed. The reality was that while the vast majority of the ruling was in favor of the University, there were a few concessions to the plaintiffs (The City of Berkeley (COB), the PHA and the COF). And much to my credit I for the first time had an accurate assessment of how long it would take to wrap up the remaining legal wrangling: The end of August 2008.

Throughout the remainder of June and July the legal wrangling continued as did the shenanigans at the Oak Grove. The legal wrangling got quite intricate at this point:

  • On July 17th, 2008 Judge Miller issues a ruling promising to lift the injunction and rule in favor of the University.
  • On July 23rd, 2008 COF lawyer Stephan Volker requests a retrial mostly just because he lost the last one.
  • On July 25th, 2008 an appeal was filed.
  • On August 8th, 2008, the appellate judge ‘rejects’ the appeal, but not in the way we’d want. Instead he indicated that Judge Miller had left a mess of an open case and needed to document and wrap things up before an appeal could be heard.
  • On August 15th, Volker withdrew his request for a new trial, instead deciding to put all his eggs in the appeal basket.
  • On August 20th I post my update on BearTerritory.net trying to explain it all.

Finally, on August 27th, a final judgment is issued and the injunction is lifted. However, there’s still the matter of the appeal and a possible injunction by the appellate court. Here I try to make sense of it all over at BearTerritory.net.

The appellate court, very unlike the district court, didn’t waste any time. On September 4th, 2008, the appellate court rejected the request for an injunction. And then the University didn’t waste any time cutting down the trees, cutting them down starting the following day, September 5th and completing it September 9th.

Yes, only 4 days.

The tree-sitters sat in those trees for 643 days, accomplishing nothing other than attracting attention to their ridiculous antics all to slow down what was at most 2 days of cutting to 4 days. What a waste of time.

With the court case won and the tree-sitters gone, the 2008 season was a quite one on the facilities front, with the University waiting until after the season was complete to start the project. After the season ended with a glorious victory over Miami in the nut bowl, the University went right to work, starting with excavation.

By the start of the next season, the 2009 season, less progress had been made than the original plan had indicated. All they had at that point was a reinforced hole in the ground.

Because that hole in the ground had taken away the walkway around the western rim of the stadium, the University put up an elevated walkway made of wood to carry the load. It was mostly a good idea, but it had a problem.

The walkway didn’t extend all the way around the stadium, It went about 40% of the way in on either side. So, if you entered on the north and had to get to the south side of the stadium, you couldn’t walk around the rim walkway like before. You had to head up to the concourse for at least the middle 20%. The same was true if coming from the south and headed to the north end. Of course once up there, only the very determined would head back down to the walkways.

The result was a DRAMATIC increase in the number of people in the concourse on the western side. This came to a head at the USC game with a packed stadium. Both Jason and I wrote separate posts about how bad it was. The University listened to the best of their ability, closing concessions in the concourse during the peak times and adding more security help to direct people to use the appropriate entrance, hopefully walking around the stadium outside the gates.

Amidst all of this, the University was plugging away on getting ready for phase 2 of the project, the renovation of the stadium itself. On September 17th, 2009 the UC Regents approved the funding plan for the retrofit. As part of the plan the Bears would play away from home during the 2011 season.

While the University was plugging away on the Simpson Center, things were otherwise pretty quite through the rest of 2009 into 2010. However, in the summer of 2010 the Appeal made some small news.

See, the Appeal had not been rejected back when the trees were cut down. All that had happened was the judge refused to put an injunction on the case. The result was that Cal could cut down the trees and continue with construction while the appeal proceeded. Since 99% of the lawsuit’s goal was to stop that from happening and attempting to indefinitely delay the project until the University ran out of time and money, once the project was underway, there was little value to the appeal.

But the PHA and the COF were determined and they continued with the case. Finally, in April of 2010, the PHA decided they had enough of paying for lawyers who were accomplishing… what exactly? So they proposed a settlement to the University and settled the case. This left the COF as the only plaintiff and Stephan Volker was back to working pro-bono (as the COF has no money).

Then in September of 2010, the COF officially lost the appeal, bringing an end to a gigantic waste of tax payer dollars (the courts).

This was all small news at this point, with Cal fans anxiously looking forward to the completion of the Simpson Center, which had now been extended to a 3 year project, instead of a 2 year project. Nevertheless, by the time the 2010 season had started, the Simpson Center was complete enough that the wooden walkways were gone and we could now walk on the roof of the Simpson Center, a preview of what life would be like after the stadium renovation. The nice wide walkway was wider than the original walkway to say nothing of the temporary wooden walkway.

Also on fans minds was the renovation itself. There had been a lot of speculation as to where the Bears would play in 2011. The main candidates were the Oakland Coliseum, Candlestick and AT&T park in SF. The Coliseum was a favorite of many as it was the closest and was football friendly. However, with conflicts between both the A’s and Raiders factoring in, it was just too schedule constrained. That left Candlestick, which was a better football park and constantly available, and AT&T, which has the nicest amenities, but had scheduling issues with the Giants and wasn’t ideal for football.

Enter Jeff Tedford and his measuring tape and he found a new way to layout the field, shifted slightly, so that each team could have their own sideline, something that hadn’t been the case in previous football games at the park. That was the last barrier to it being picked and it was announced on May 10th, 2010, that football would be played at AT&T park in 2011.

For the most part fans were pleased. That is, until pricing for 2011 were announced. The University, wanted to make the most of the opportunity, set prices high, hoping the reduced capacity and the significantly better amenities would give them some much needed revenue in a very tight time, both between the economic downturn and all the money that was being poured into the Simpson Center and CMS renovation.

The result, as I predicted, was very low ticket sales particularly in the big donor sections and a half empty, very small stadium for all games except USC. For USC, we were treated to the humiliation that Stanford used to get before they redid their stadium when the Bears came to town. More than half the crowd was rooting for the opponent.

And although AT&T was nice in some ways, it just wasn’t home. It was our time of wandering in the desert. A trial that must be endured. Better amenities were no consolation in a desolate time of soul searching and longing.

We knew how much we missed and loved Memorial Stadium for all of 2011. It added to the anticipation. Was there a day coming when we’d get the quality of amenities we had at AT&T in a football stadium? Would we get it on our home turf, our beloved Strawberry Canyon? Would all the years of sacrifice, of dealing with smelly tree-sitters, ridiculous court cases, dangerously narrow concourse walkways, portable toilets 100’s of yards from our seats, would it all someday be worth it? Could it possibly be true?

It comes true on Saturday morning.

Notes from gameday information

I’m one of those guys who reads through all of the various documents the University provides about the games. Everything from the A-Z guide to all the maps of the concessions. I was particularly interested this year with the renovations. A few notes for everyone:

  • The company doing the shuttles from the BART stations and other locations around the area into the stadium has changed. More importantly, the price has doubled to $10 a person round trip for the short runs and more for the longer ones. That’s ridiculously expensive for a 2-mile trip in my opinion and makes it prohibitively expensive for a family of 6. Said another way, getting a kid TO the game is 2/3rds the price of getting them a ticket to the game. I’m very thankful we pay for parking passes at this point.
  • They’ve got a new standing policy: “…Please keep in mind that when you stand, you block the view of others. We encourage fans to cheer, but continuous standing in the seating areas will not be tolerated…” That’s a bit worrisome to me. Is standing for meaningful 3rd downs or on key drives or in the redzone considered “continuous standing”? This feels a bit vague to me. No mention of the student section either.
  • The root camera policy has not changed, but they’ve upped the visibility… “Professional Cameras” is now on the prohibited items list. When you click the link to the “Camera policy” it says this: “Guests may bring personal, still-photo cameras (lenses no longer than five inches to capture special moments from Memorial Stadium.” (note that it looks like there’s a missing close parenthesis there.) So effectively they’ve defined a professional camera as one that has a lens longer than 5″, which rules out low f-stop telephoto lenses.
  • There is ZERO mention of personal seatbacks being brought into the stadium, either in the positive or the negative. However, considering the bag policy is 14″ x 14″ x 6″ and there’s no mention of an exception for seat backs (which are usually wider than 14″), this might be an issue. Hard to say for sure, but I’d be nervous bringing one that doesn’t fit in those dimensions.
  • In more positive news, they now have a kids play area in the concourse behind the north endzone. Sometimes those are kinda weak, but I like the effort being made.

Finally, I think it’s worth looking at the maps of the entrances and concourses for the amenities available:
Overall stadium map with numbered gates
Concourse on West Side
Plaza level on the West Side
East Rim

Nice to see so many concessions. :)

The new CMS: A long time in the making

(This is the first in a four part series taking stock of just how momentous Saturday’s opening game against Nevada will be, coming home to the newly renovated Memorial Stadium.)

When people think about the newly renovated Memorial Stadium and how long it has been in the making, most will think back to when Tedford was hired, and with good reason. However the story of facility issues at Memorial Stadium have a much longer history.

If I had to put a date on when this process officially began it would be October 17th, 1989 at 5:04 PM. If you’re a Bay Area resident, or were at that time, I’m sure you remember exactly where you were. I was a 14 year-old freshman trying to get my homework done on my computer before the world series started in the room above the garage when the books started shaking off the shelves, when the Loma Prieta earthquake kicked into high gear.

That was 22 years ago. I wasn’t even particularly fond of Cal football at the time, although Cal was were I was headed for college when I graduated from high school.

For far too long the Bay Area had escaped the terror of a life-claiming earthquake, but that streak ended with the collapse of multiple freeways, most notably the Cypress structure freeway in West Oakland that sandwiched its lower deck, killing 42 (a remarkably low number in my opinion considering the length of freeway collapsed).

After the earthquake, dozens if not hundreds of public works projects were started to seismically strengthen everything from dormitories, including on the Cal campus, to freeways to bridges. Memorial stadium, sitting on the Hayward fault was included in the discussions of what needed to be retrofitted, but somehow it never bubbled to the top. The fact that in 1989 the Bears had been riding the cellar of the Pac-10 for over a decade had something to do with it.

But in 1990 something remarkable happened… The Bears started winning. The Cal Bears sparked my interest for the first time, and it seemed that between the multitude of earthquake renovations being done on the Cal campus and what head coach Bruce Snyder was accomplishing on the field (and demanding off the field) that something was likely to happen sooner rather than later.

But then Snyder left for Arizona State, disgusted with an University that had turned its back on athletics and refused to give him the tools he needed to recruit well nor the salary he deserved for succeeding under such difficult circumstances. All of a sudden that “inevitable” retrofit vanished, not to be spoken of again for a decade.

When I became a season ticket holder in 1999, just after graduating from college, the Bears were mired in the Holmoe era, an internal hire who had been defensive coordinator under Steve Mariucci and was supposed to extend Mariucci’s short lived success but instead returned Cal to the basement it was used to from the Keith Gilbertson era. There was no discussion of upgrading Memorial Statdium. Frankly, there weren’t enough people there. The bathrooms were not an issue, despite being archaic, there weren’t enough people there to matter. The same was true of concessions.

Finally, the Cal Bear football team emerged from it’s grave when it hired Jeff Tedford in 2002. Perhaps because so many before him had failed, perhaps because he came from a University that had been putting facilities high on its priority list, perhaps because he wanted to win and knew what it took, Tedford had it written in to his contract that a new training facility would be built and with it, Memorial Stadium would be significantly upgraded.

It’s worth pausing to reflect on just how long it had been. I was no longer a pimple-faced freshman, but a married man and a successful engineer with a 4 bedroom home of my own. Two Republican (!?!) Governors, Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, had completed their terms during that time and Gray Davis was shortly on his way to being recalled. Willie Brown started that era as speaker of the Assembly and ended it in his 2nd term as Mayor of SF. Two different George Bushes had been in the white house. A big eared Texan named Ross Perot had stormed onto the scene to fix the country and had completely vanished back into obscurity. The Dow Jones industrial average had steadily climbed from around 3000 up to near 12,000 before dropping down to as low as 7500 in the 2nd recession of this period. Keith Jackson had retired and then unretired from calling college football games for ABC. Suffice it to say, a lot happened in those 13 years.

Sadly, in 2002, our long facilities nightmare was just beginning…

By the end of the 2002 season it was quite clear that Tedford’s Bears were going to be something very different than their predecessors. The stadium was getting visibly more full with each passing game. Bathrooms were a problem. Concessions were becoming unbearable. The hallways, once easily navigable where now something to be dreaded.

Finally the promise of a new stadium finally had real promise. The campus cared what happened on Saturdays in Strawberry Canyon. The community was spending money on Cal football like it hadn’t in decades. Donations to the athletic department were rapidly on the rise.

I’ll leave the history of the next decade to the next post in the series, but I want to give a few factoids from 2002, when Tedford was hired, the end of 2006, when construction was supposed to start and now.

2002:

  • CA Governor: Gray Davis
  • # of kids in my home: 0
  • # of boats I owned: 1
  • Value of my house: ~$350k
  • Dow: ~8000
  • Key players on the team: Kyle Boller, Joe Igber, Jonathan Makonnen, Nnamdi Asomugha, Donnie McCluskey, Chris Maderino.
  • Issues of the day: Enron, the CA power crisis, starting the Iraq war, Apple has a hit with the brand new iPod.

Things that happened in between:

  • Keith Jackson retired for real.
  • Aaron Rodgers came and went from Cal football and was drafted by Green Bay, starting the speculation on when Brett Favre would retire.
  • Pope John Paul II died and was replaced with Pope Benedict XVI.
  • 14 Cal Bears are drafted by the NFL, including the above mentioned Aaron Rodgers, JJ Arrington, Marvin Philip, Exchemandu, Chase Lyman and Kyle Boller.
  • Lance Armstrong wins his 5th-7th Tour de France titles.
  • The following Cal blogs are started: My personal blog, SturdyGoldenBlogs, TedfordIsGod, TheBandIsOutOnTheField, TightwadHill, RoseBowlBeforeIDie, OurSturdyGoldenBear (and others).
  • America’s Cup is raced in New Zealand and won by Switzerland
  • I start reporting for Rivals

2006:

  • CA Governor: Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • # of kids in my home: 2
  • # of boats I owned: 2
  • Value of my house: ~$530k (down from $580k earlier in the year)
  • Dow: ~12000
  • Key players on the team: Nate Longshore, Desean Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, Dante Hughes, Desmond Bishop.
  • Issues of the day: ending the Iraq war, Democrats win back Congress, when will Brett Favre retire?, Windows Vista stinks.

Things that happened in between:

  • Brett Favre retires… 3 separate times
  • Apple releases the iPhone, then 4 follow ons, then the iPad, and two follow ons.
  • The following Cal blogs are retired: SturdyGoldenBlogs, TedfordIsGod, TheBandIsOutOnTheField, TightwadHill, RoseBowlBeforeIDie, OurSturdyGoldenBear.
  • The Cosco Buscan runs into the Bay Bridge and the Deepwater Horizon explodes in the gulf
  • 26 Cal Bears are drafted by the NFL, including Brandon Mebane, Justin Forsett, Craig Stevens, Zack Follett, Alex Mack, Syd’Quan Thompson, Jahvid Best, Tyson Alualu, and Chris Conte.
  • I retire from my hobby of sports reporting
  • The following Cal blogs are both started and retired: TheBearWillNotQuit, OskiTalk, BearNecessity (and others)
  • Lance Armstrong retires… 2 times.
  • The following Cal Blogs are started: ExcuseMeForMyVoice, CaliforniaGoldenBlogs, BearsWithFangs (and others).
  • Obama is elected president and the Republicans win back the House
  • America’s Cup is raced twice in Spain (by the Swiss) and is brought back to the US

2012:

  • CA Governor: Jerry Brown
  • # of kids in my home: 4
  • # of boats I owned: 5
  • Value of my house: ~$300k
  • Dow: ~13000 (after bungee jumping from 14k to 7k and back to 10k all in just over a year)
  • Key players on the team: Zack Maynard, Keenan Allen, Isi Sofele, Kendrick Payne, Steve Williams
  • Issues of the day: I’ll let you decide that for yourself…

In short (too late!) this has been a LOONNNGG time coming. Thinking back over all the things that have transpired in that time: The friends who have come and gone; The issues that were critical at the time and are no longer; The changes in the world that have come full circle; the myriad of ways the world has changed since 1989, or even 2002 or 2006… it all points to just how momentous of a moment this is.

While I can take no personal credit for this finally coming to completion, we are the heirs of the Bears fans who have come before us. They have struggled and fought. They have put their hearts and minds into this program. On Saturday it comes to fruition. All the pain and failures were not for naught. We have finally seen our dreams come true and it is a great day for Cal football.

Blessed is he who patiently endures trials; for when he has stood the test, he will gain the victor’s crown

James 1:12

Excited about the return home and my new seats

OK, now that I’ve got my 2 lamenting posts out of the way, on to bigger and better things…

What an exciting year we’ve got in front of us!

After giving up on the bench-back seating, I had a choice to make. Do I sit in effectively the same section as I’d had for all of my years as a season ticket holder or do I “downgrade” to the Gold Zone?

(Note, it’s probably worth looking at the seating chart while reading this post.)

Before the construction, we’d had some pretty special seats in DD: Rows 44 and 45, seats 1-3 in both rows. Obviously 1-3 is on the isle, but more importantly, 44 was the first row above the concourse, so there was nobody in front of us and we had a large platform where the kids could walk around. It had a minor downside that people on their way to and from their seats liked to stop on the platform when a play was happening, obscuring our view, but other than that, they were awesome seats, particularly with young children. The seats on the other side of the isle in E would have been even better because they wouldn’t have had the people obstruction, but our seats were still pretty dang good, all things considered.

But again, by the time my selection time came around, seats like that were nowhere to be found in DD. However, I could have gotten a set of seats in the middle of the first row above the handicap section in J (the equivalent of DD on the other side of the 50). Those were pretty good, but we very much liked having two rows. We put the kids in front of us and my wife and I could sit next to each other. With 6 in a row, we’d inevitably end up with them in the middle and each other barely within shouting distance.

Plus, my costs were going to go way up, at least for that year. $1200 down the drain plus the $1800 for 6 seats (OUCH!). We were back to 6 because I’d want them for future years and there’s no reason to compromise down to 4 as I wouldn’t have to make such big donations in future years. But it put a pinch on this year for sure.

But then, while browsing around, I found the miracle I was hoping for.

In section C, in the Gold Zone, the first two rows on the isle, the first rows above the handicapped section/concourse area, were available. 4 in the bottom row, 3 in the one above it. EUREKA!

Sure, section C gave me a bit of pause, but it was offset by the cost. See, for those not in the know, the Gold Zone has not only cheaper prices for adults, it’s the only section with kids pricing. While the $75 savings for the adults was nice, the BIG win was the $175 savings for each kid. With 4 kids, that’s a lot of savings! All told, I would go from $1800 down to $950.

My lone concern was that, as I had learned in 2011, night games provide a challenge if you buy kids seats. I won’t bring a 8 year old, much less a 3 year old, to a 7 PM game, for obvious reasons. And since nobody else will either, when you’ve got kid’s seats, all of a sudden, you’ve got worthless tickets. With the new TV arrangement I expecting plenty of night games, so it was a real concern.

So I e-mailed my very friendly and helpful University donation rep to ask him if there was any way on a game-by-game basis to upgrade children’s seats to adults. He informed me that all I have to do is take the tickets to the ticket office or the ticket window at the game (or a prior game), give them the children’s tickets and pay them the difference, and they’ll issue adult tickets in exchange.

SWEET! That was the final domino to seal my decision.

All of this went down about 3-4 days before my selection window. So I spent the next half week logging in every 15 minutes hoping “my” seats wouldn’t be taken. I have a firm “no praying about sports” rule, but if I didn’t, there would have been rosaries galore!

And my hopes and wishes came true, my selection time came and the seats I desired were still available. HOORAY!

But what’s this? I select my 6 seats, 3 in the front row and 3 behind them on the isle and the system balks. You can’t leave a single seat orphaned, it informs me.

ARG!?!

Thinking quick on my feet, I try multiple combinations to see what it will allow. There’s no way to get just 6 of the 7 available seats. BUT, it will allow me take all 7 of course, and being in the Gold Zone, that 7th seat can be a kid’s seat and only costs an extra $125. Being a devout Catholic, an extra kid’s seats is at most 28 days away from potentially being needed, so what the heck, I’ll take 7. In the mean time, we’ll get some extra butt space. My wife and I can spread out and take the 3 seats for two of us in the upper row and the 4 kids can sit in the front 4 seats.

(BTW, it seems to me that this is an excellent strategy for those desiring more butt-space. For only $125 a season you can buy an extra kid’s seat that you never intend on using and allow yourself to spread out.)

And that’s what we did: 2 adult seats and 1 kid’s seat in the upper row and 4 kid’s seats in the lower row. The more I think about it, the happier I am. For future years I’ve saved myself a considerable sum and for this year I mostly offset the $1200 donation. I “baby proofed” my seat needs for the next couple years, not needing to move if I ever need an additional seat. And, I managed to get seats nearly as nice as I did back in DD pre-construction. True, there be no platform to walk around on, but we also won’t have the obstruction issue either and we’ll still get the extra legroom of having a first row seat.

Needless to say, I’m happy with my seats and I get more excited about opening day in a beautiful new stadium.

Where did everyone else get seats? Any good stories?

I donated $1200 and I didn’t even get a lousy T-Shirt

One of reasons I didn’t do a lot of blogging late in the off-season was I was pretty ticked about how things went down in regards to donating to the athletic program. Before I get into my story, I want to be clear that I believe what happened was more my fault than the University’s and I wouldn’t want anyone to not donate to our Bears because of this post, assuming it’s otherwise the right thing to do.

Think of this more as a cautionary tale to make sure you’re donating for the right reasons.

It all started in December when all of us season ticket holders got e-mails about donating before the end of the year to increase our priority points. Being a guy with ridiculously low points (12 at the time) despite having being a season ticket holder for every year but one (which really hurt my points) since 1999, I decided to look into it.

See, up until now, I’ve always sat in the non-donor reserved section. But the possibility of sitting in the increased leg-room bench-back section was pretty enticing. I’ve traditionally bought 6 seats, running $300 a seat for most seasons or $1800 a year. With the latest baby being a girl and a wife who doesn’t like the games as much as I do, the thought was we’d get 4 seats in the bench-back section. $1200 for the seats ($300 x 4) and $800 for the required donation ($200 x 4) only ended up being $200 more than we used to pay. Then we could mix and match who went to which games: Sometimes me and the boys. Sometimes my wife and I and another couple (night games). Sometimes the whatever 4 from the family who could go when the kids have commitments.

And as with all purchasing decisions, there’s always the upgrade possibilities. Since at the $1200 ‘Big C’ donation level one gets a free parking pass that would otherwise cost me $150, and other benefits like earlier selection times for single-game tickets (and hopefully bowl tickets), it was worth the extra $250 in donation ($800 required, plus $150 for the parking is $250 less than the $1200 needed to be a ‘Big C’ donor) to get there.

I e-mailed the donation office to clarify a few things, notably that I’d get 5 extra points for an additional year of consecutive donating plus 12 points for the $1200. I also said I was interested in seats in a particular section and wanted to make sure I would be donating the right amount.

They were very nice and prompt in their reply, validated everything I asked, but gave one caveat that I ignored: “Of course this donation will not guarantee you seats in the section you’re interested in.”

“DUH!” I said. Priority points determine who picks when, right? But there’s no way all the seats would be gone I thought to myself. I could always pick seats on the opposite side of the 50 if it was overbooked where I wanted to sit.

Then came the selection period. Every day I logged in to see what was available as my day approached. And every day the number of available seats in “my” sections kept shrinking until a couple days before my selection, all that was left was seats in row 7 and below in all of the bench-back seats, on both sides of the 50, both at the $200 and the $400 donation levels.

Frankly, I was heart-broken.

There’s no way I’m going to sit that low. You just can’t see the game. Even if you’re on the 50 yard line, the lack of height takes away your depth perception in the endzones. At the 10 yard line where I’d be sitting, depth perception would be non-existent on the far side of the field. There’s just no way I’m sitting that low.

And to increase my frustration by an order of magnitude, there was this $1200 dollar donation looming over my head. It was now effectively wasted money.

Without going into too much details, it’s worth pointing out how much money $1200 is to my family. I’m a middle class guy, but with 4 kids and a stay-at-home wife (who’s awesome BTW), our budget is stretched pretty thin. We don’t own an HDTV. A 27″ tube TV from 1999 is all we’ve got. Our DirecTV subscription is a thing of the past and we’re not turning it back on for football season. We don’t have smartphone plans with the big carriers, it’s too expensive. We pay $55/month for both our cellphones and are considering cutting back further. Until the Jetta accident, we owned a ’97 Jetta and an ’02 Odyssey with no car payments. Frankly, I’d better get a raise someday soon as the insurance money for the Jetta isn’t going to pay the car payment for the new truck for very long. That or some other budgeted items are going to get the ax pretty soon, and as you can see, we’ve already cut pretty deep.

To be clear, I’m not complaining. I have a blessed and wonderful life and I wouldn’t change a thing. The tight money doesn’t inherently bother me a bit. I know that there are millions of Americans who live much more frugally and couldn’t afford even the cheapest Cal Bear tickets and the expense that goes with going to the game. People with no health insurance, no savings for retirement, things that I’m grateful to have. I’ve got no reason to REALLY complain, and I know how lucky I am in the big picture.

Nevertheless, my point is, $1200 is a BIG deal in my family. It’s a considerable percentage of our disposable income after the necessities are paid for. It’s an ‘up late for 3 or 4 nights in a row discussing it with my wife and running various budget scenarios to decide whether it is worth spending’ amount. It’s a VERY big deal.

“Well”, I told myself, “at least we’ll get some extra perks.” We got to pick our seats earlier than we otherwise would have. We’ll get a good parking spot, not one a mile away on the other side of campus. Things like good seats at the Ohio State game, seats that others may not be able to get.

Well, after talking to the rep from the donation office, it appears my additional priority points benefit should be measured in hours, not days, as to how moved me forward in the pecking order. After getting my Ohio State tickets early, it looks like everyone and their brother was able to get tickets to the game with numerous left over. And the final straw was when my parking pass arrived. I wasn’t in Underhill or somewhere similarly close. Nope, Lower Hearst. it’s only 30% closer than the lot I had last year!?!

Frankly, I got nothing of note for my $1200 (we’ll really for my $1050, as the parking pass would have been $150). Sure I get a promotional magazine in the mail now and again. I get lots of nice letters thanking us for our generosity. I guess my parking spot is a little closer. And I guess if the Bears miraculously make it to the Rose Bowl this year (more on that later), it will be worth every penny when trying to get tickets. But as far as concrete value, I didn’t get a whole lot and I’m not expecting much more in the future.

And at some level, I guess that’s OK. As you’ll see in a later post, I ended up going with some seats that as time has wore on I’ve been more and more happy with. It’s not called a DONATION for nothing. Thinking of it that way, how much should I be expecting in return?

The moral of the story is be very careful what you donate and what your expectations are for that donation. Make sure you can really afford it. Make sure you won’t be heart broken if you get very little in return. Don’t fall for the trap I fell for.

At his point, all I can do is hope the University makes remarkably good use of my donation. My son’s birthday is coming up soon and what he’s going to get from his parents kinda sucks. See, there’s this missing $1200 I could have made VERY good use of…