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The Stanford Cardinal football team in 2019. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Shutdown California University Athletics May Cause Election Result Shifts This Fall

Politicians facing reelection often had their staff contact teams wanting to be honored before a game, or be recognized as being there

By Evan Symon, July 11, 2020 7:36 am

College sports programs across California this week saw an unprecedented number of cuts, delays, and adjustments, which may factor into several elections later this year.

Major changes for California university athletics

Many college and university athletic programs have been drastically cut due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent shutdowns drastically affecting budgets. While some colleges are only getting rid of a few programs, some have cut many more. The most notable athletics department to have done this,  Stanford University has cut 11 different sports for the 2021 year including men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, four rowing and sailing teams, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball and wrestling.

“We now face the reality that significant change is needed to create fiscal stability for Stanford athletics, and to provide the support we believe is essential for our student-athletes to excel,” said the University in an open letter. “In that context, we are writing today with some extremely difficult news. In consultation with the Board of Trustees, we have made the decision to reduce the breadth of our athletics programs and staffing.”

“This is heartbreaking news to share. These 11 programs consist of more than 240 incredible student-athletes and 22 dedicated coaches. They were built by more than 4,000 alumni whose contributions led to 20 national championships, 27 Olympic medals, and an untold number of academic and professional achievements.”

On Friday, many NCAA football teams in California, often a large money maker for schools, announced a reduction of games so that only in-conference games would be played. The PAC-12, one of the largest football conferences which includes UCLA and USC, was the second conference to sign off on such a season, with many more expected to follow.

Community College athletics also saw a significant delay in athletics with the California Community College Board of Directors voting Thursday to push out all fall and winter sports to January. Sports such as football and basketball would begin after Martin Luther King Day next year. Teams will also be required to cut as much as 30% of their schedule.

How this affects the upcoming fall election

While these changes will have a drastic effect on education and athletics with everything from scholarships to draft declarations to students housing to college affordability at stake, the changes will also have a significant effect on politics and the election this fall.

Susan DiMarco, whose duties working for colleges in California, Florida, and Michigan included acting as a liaison between lawmakers and election candidates with college sporting events, told the California Globe that an important avenue for reaching voters is now closed.

“People in office going for reelection often had their staff contact us wanting to be honored before a game or be recognized as being there,” explained DiMarco. “Think like throwing out the first pitch, but for winter and fall sports. This brought them out before crowds who would otherwise not be that accessible to them unless they went to rallies or were news junkies.”

“And think about it. Even larger community college events could have thousands there that night, especially later in the season around election day. You get name recognition there with a lot of younger voters, you get to be seen in a more casual place watching a game like any normal person, and in-person at that. You don’t get to give a speech usually, but they are definitely seen and known when they’re announced. For more local or even state elections, many people tend to remember only recent things about them, so by going to that game and being seen as a ‘man of the people’, it can be a big influence.”

“I have colleagues in Texas who actually have people running for office attend high school football games with thousands of people and then send thank you cards after they win because they found out that it made a difference.”

“And it’s great for candidates wanting name recognition, not just incumbents. Also, you stick a booth outside the ticket areas where people walk in, and if you do it right, not only will you get that recognition, but a lot of swag will go out and they might even sign up some people for voting. Believe me, college students with not a lot of money will very rarely turn down free stuff, even if it’s someone running for office from a party they don’t like. So they also get to be billboards all stemming from these games.”

“That is largely gone now this year. With no one looking like they’ll be going to many games, combined with shortened seasons, politicians may just skip out on that. And that’s a large audience and a huge chance to make them seem relatable out the window. At games they can be celebrities, or if they’re just some guy running to be on the state Assembly, then at the very least they reach out to a bunch of demographics who would otherwise be much harder to reach out to. Plus, since everyone is being drawn in anyway, it’s like a paid-for rally and audience ready to go. And that’s all suddenly not an option right now.”

“I’m not saying that it’s a huge factor in elections, but I know for a fact it does play a significant role. Now I’m hearing that they might play more political ads during games to make up for that – but again, can’t bat a live appearance.”

Further athletic cuts and changes are expected to be announced in the lead-up to the fall athletic season this September.

Evan Symon
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