Cal junior Kyle Bunthuwong on the rings/Photo:

On Friday at 7:30 p.m., Cal’s men’s gymnastics team takes to the floor against arch-rival Stanford at the Haas Pavilion. Unless supporters of the team can present a plan that will raise $4 million over the next five years, the meet could be the team’s final home meet ever.

University of California Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau announced in September that five sports — baseball, rugby, men’s and women’s gymnastics and women’s lacrosse — would be eliminated as varsity sports. The outcry that followed that announcement, and the feverish efforts of supporters for the sports, resulted in a reprieve last month for three of the sports, but baseball and men’s gymnastics were still left out in the cold.

Despite the pressures, the men’s gymnastics team has competed fiercely throughout this season, and is currently ranked third in the nation. After the Stanford match, the team will go to the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championships (gymnastics is not a Pac-10 sport) in Colorado and the national championships in Ohio next month.

But what happens after that?

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Neil Popovic, who was on the team in the early ’80s and is active in Cal Gymnastics Forever, the effort to raise survival funding for the sport. “We have an opportunity and a concrete goal that the athletic director presented to us. We’re making amazing progress, but it’s not done yet.”

Popovic said that the effort has raised $1.8 million so far, more than had been raised in the past 25 years for men’s gymnastics.

“People are being remarkably generous,” he said. The effort had started with alumni of gymnastics, but it has spread to a wider community of Cal supporters.

A core group of supporters, together with men’s coach Tim McNeill, met with athletic director Sandy Barbour, deputy athletic director Steve Holton, and senior major gifts officer Monica Lebron at the beginning of March. Barbour reiterated the $4 million threshold for saving the team, but, according to Popovic, there has not been a firm deadline for when those pledges need to be confirmed.

“The longer you wait, the harder it gets,” he said. “We need to keep the momentum going.”

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...