Spartan Alumni Led Men’s Varsity Program Reinstatement

Wednesday’s announcement by San Jose State University that it would reinstate men’s varsity water polo in 2015 is the culmination of efforts by a committee of highly engaged alumni with deep connections to the successful Spartans teams of the 60s and 70s. That group, including well known Olympic Club and West Valley College coach Bruce Watson, has raised “a little over $200k per year” for the next five years, according to an email solicitation sent by Watson to area coaches and fans. That figure falls short of the $350,000 required annually to fund the team between 2015 and 2020, as detailed in the email, but evidently surpasses a threshold which triggered the program’s reinstatement.

The committee continues to seek “a yearly contracted commitment for each of the first five years of the program” toward its funding goal of $350,000 per year. Those terms were shared in a July 16 brochure sent to the same list of potential donors, adding that “[t]he funds that are raised will be used for coaching, travel, team clothing, tournament fees and two scholarships,”

Watson, who has led his West Valley men’s team to five California junior college championships, is a leading candidate for the Spartans’ head coaching job according to people familiar with the process. In his fundraising email Watson mentions that the name of the new coach “will be announced following the current community college season.”

Other members of the organizing and fundraising committee include Ed Samuels, long time Bay Area high school coach; Bill Gerdts, member of the Spartans’ 1968 national championship team; John Wagner, assistant coach of the men’s club team, and Bill Simpkins.  Samuels and Watson were teammates on the 1971 NCAA Championship runners up.

No word has yet emerged regarding the new team’s conference affiliation with some speculating that the Western Water Polo Association would offer the best fit.

The sponsorship of San Jose State’s varsity team will bring the first new addition to NCAA Division I men’s water polo in “over 25 years” according to Watson’s email. In recent years similar private efforts have had mixed success in preserving distressed programs. Donations were key in sustaining UC Davis’ men’s water polo team in 2010 after the university announced plans to cut the program, which has since returned to the top ranks of the Western Water Polo Association. Efforts to keep the University of Maryland women’s team afloat were unsuccessful; it was officially cut in 2012 after falling short in its fundraising campaign.