In a three-park race, AT&T was an easy winner over Candlestick and the Oakland Coliseum when it came time for California to find a football home for 2011, while aging Memorial Stadium is being retrofitted and renovated to 21st century standards. The university reached an agreement with the Giants to play six home games at China Basin next year, deciding the baseball park fit its football needs for a one-year hiatus from Berkeley. "Overall, AT&T offers us the best facility to meet the needs of our football program, students and fans," athletic director Sandy Barbour said Monday in a news conference on the field at the park. "AT&T provides a perfect bridge for Cal football to the 2012 season, when we return to Memorial Stadium. It provides easy access for our East Bay fans. It has a staff used to hosting college football."
Candlestick and the Coliseum were considered, Barbour said, but had more negatives than positives. Candlestick is the farthest facility from Berkeley and does not have convenient public transportation. The Coliseum provided the scheduling complication of two permanent tenants, the A's and Raiders. "We've been talking about this for several years," Barbour said. "As it became clear we were going to need to be out (of Memorial Stadium) for a year, we started talking, Larry (Baer) and I, about what coming to AT&T would look like. It came together relatively quickly." Like Barbour, Giants president Baer said Cal's playing at AT&T in 2011 would serve as a bridge for the team and its fans.
"We feel we'd be the best park to provide that bridge to the new stadium," said Baer, a Cal graduate. "As a neighborly act, we think this makes sense for both partners." The Bears will play six home games in AT&T in 2011: against Oregon State on Sept. 24, Washington State on Oct. 15, Arizona on Oct. 29 and USC on Nov. 12, with two dates yet to be filled. The university will pay rent to the Giants for the home games. Financial details of the arrangement were not available because a contract between the school and the club has not yet been signed.
The only potential complication is if the Giants reach the postseason in 2011 and have an extended playoff run. That would necessitate another alternative playing site for the Bears. "There's a possibility in October that we may have to lose a (Cal football) game or two if the Giants qualify for the postseason," Baer said. "We will play up to six games of Cal football here in 2011." Cal will take a hit on attendance as the China Basin ballpark seats 45,000 for football compared with 71,000 at Memorial Stadium, but the game-day experience for players and fans could be enhanced by a more intimate setting, school officials said. Bears coach Jeff Tedford was enthused about the one-year foray to AT&T, based on the positive experience the Bears had playing there in the 2008 Emerald Bowl, a 24-17 victory over Miami. "I'm very, very happy about coming to a place that's so familiar to us," Tedford said. "It felt like home. Such a classy place. I think our kids are going to get jacked up about playing here."
Tedford said the only negative about the bowl game was having both teams on the same side of the field. That won't be the case in 2011, as teams will be on opposite sidelines of a football field stretching from the first baseline to left-center field.
Barbour said Cal's 38,000 season ticket holders will be accommodated at AT&T, although the exact seating arrangements have yet to be made. Barbour said fans who purchased tickets in the school's Endowment Seating Program for Memorial Stadium will have access to the best seats at AT&T, including chair-back seats on the park's west side.
AT&T has been the site of a postseason college football bowl - formerly the Emerald Bowl, now known as Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl - since 2003 and has hosted games in two pro football leagues, the now-defunct XFL and the UFL.