LOS ANGELES (AP) _ He had offers from bigger schools, including Miami, Texas and Georgia, but Brian Wagner wanted to stay in California, so he packed up his mitt and headed for Cal State Northridge.

On Wednesday morning, Wagner became a catcher without a team.

After 39 years of fielding baseball teams and apparently emerging as one of the nation's better programs, Northridge axed the sport, along with men's volleyball, soccer and swimming and diving.

After receiving a call in the morning that the baseball program was being dropped, Wagner still hadn't completely absorbed the bad news by the afternoon.

``I really had no idea that baseball was going to be cut,'' said Wagner, who just completed his junior year at Northridge after transferring from Sacramento City JC. ``I had heard rumors some time ago that a couple of sports, maybe golf and swimming would be cut, but baseball was not one of them.

``I thought, `No way will they cut baseball.' We went 42-20-1 and were in the top 25 in the country for more than three-quarters of the season. We were a team with a good young coach, some good young players and up-and-coming program,'' Wagner said by phone from his home in Lodi, Calif.

``But I heard rumors again recently, and baseball was mentioned. And this morning I got a call from Coach (Tim) Montez and it was a done deal.''

The move was necessary, Northridge officials said, because of budget and gender-equity concerns. The school's athletic department was already $800,000 in debt, and gender-equity regulations taking effect in fall 1998 would have forced Northridge to add at least three women's sports in order to maintain all of its existing sports programs for men.

Since it was not financially feasible to add women's sports, dropping men's programs was the obvious answer. Although other schools in the area _ including Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State _ managed to help balance the gender equity by dropping football, the biggest sport in terms of both budget and number of athletes, that move was not considered at Northridge since a football team is required to remain in the Big Sky Conference.

Athletic director Paul Bubb said that, ``after crunching the numbers,'' baseball was one of the sports that had to be discontinued. Northridge spent around $250,000 on that sport this year, and baseball also was a bit more vulnerable because the Matadors were an independent, not in a conference, for baseball.

Bubb said the decision was still a very difficult one, noting that Northridge has a proud baseball tradition, with two Division II national championships and appearances in the NCAA regionals four of the past seven years.

``You try to keep the administrative goal in mind, but there's emotion; you're affecting student-athletes' lives and that's the hardest part of it,'' Bubb said. ``They're the ones who chose to come here and that opportunity no longer exists. It's very difficult.''

Northridge will continue the scholarships of the affected athletes for one more year, although most will look to transfer to a school with a program in their sport.

``My dream is to play big league baseball,'' said Wagner, a solid defensive catcher who hit .260 with eight homers this season. ``I've got a few phone calls in, talked with Southern Mississippi and I'm supposed to hear back. And I've talked with Nicholls State and with Fresno (State).''

Budd said there was one good sign during a mostly bleak day for Northridge baseball players: ``Our baseball program has been very good and I think most of those kids will have other scholarships to go on. I hate to say that other schools are vultures, but our fax machine has been burning up today, with schools wanting our team roster and wanting to know how to contact the players.''