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Sandy Barbour Named Penn State’s Next Athletic Director

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Former University of California Athletic Director Sandy Barbour was officially named Penn State’s next Athletic Director today, becoming the first female AD at Penn State. Unanimously chosen, Barbour will begin her role on Aug. 18, and make a base salary of $700,000 that can accrue $200,000 more in annual incentives as part of a five-year contract.

President Eric Barron said she was the clear person for the job, and she was the first choice for the search committee.

“You dream about coming to a place like Penn State,” she said. “You dream about leading a team like Penn State. And that’s because it represents an opportunity to have it all.” She also gave a nod to the We Are chant: “I love the ‘We are Penn State.’ I particularly love what it stands for. It stands for family.”

Barbour resigned from the Cal job on June 27, but she wasn’t front and center on many Penn Staters’ radars. The 54-year old was Cal’s Athletic Director since 2004, after serving in athletic administrative positions at Tulane, Notre Dame, and Northwestern. The Maryland native has been in athletic leadership positions at the various institutions for about 30 years. She is to become the Big Ten’s fifth-highest paid AD, and joins Rutgers’ Julie Hermann as the second female AD.

“Let me tell you this: I am all in…I am all in to win, and lead a team that wins the right way,” Barbour said.

“When this opportunity came up, it was too much not to look at,” she said. “It was clearly an opportunity that I jumped on, because this is a very, very special place.”

Some statistics from her time at Cal raised some questions. The football team has fallen on tough times in recent years, finishing 1-11 in 2013 under Barbour-hired coach Sonny Dykes. But its graduation rate will be more troubling to Penn State fans — the football team had the worst graduation rate (44 percent of players from 2003-07; 38 percent of men’s basketball players) among schools in a major conference and the basketball team had the worst in the Pac-12 in 2013 data.

Barron said Cal chancellor Nicholas Berks gave a vote of confidence to Barbour prior to her hire, saying she was a “champion” for student academics. He said more people could have afforded to listen to Barbour when they were at Cal. For what it’s worth, Barbour called the called the low graduation rates “unacceptable,” and promised to turn Penn State football’s 85 percent graduation rate from 2013 to 90 percent.

“I’ll tell you this: I learned some things from that situation that will benefit Penn State,” she said. To wit, the pressures on the athletes need to be handled, the autonomy leadership provides needs a fine balance, and the right vision and message about being students first needs to be disseminated.

Barbour and James Franklin already touched base. Franklin was supportive of the hire, saying they’ve built a relationship early. He noted that the search committee handled the whole hiring process, while the coaches were just a resource (the only coach on the search committee was Lady Lion leader Coquese Washington). Barbour said she’s got no doubt that Penn State will again be the “beasts of the east” under Franklin.

“I think the most important thing is there is a history and a culture and tradition at Penn State of tremendous academic achievement, and that will continue,” Franklin said.

According to this Mercury Sun-Times report, budget woes also hamstrung her tenure. Five intercollegiate sports were eliminated under her watch at Cal (three were later reinstated after a fundraising campaign), and the financing for a renovation to Memorial Stadium collapsed to force drastic measures. In June 2013, the Cal athletic department was $445 million in debt.

Barbour said Cal’s athletic department recently retooled to a revenue-generating approach. Recently, Cal secured the largest field naming rights deal in college athletics, an $18 million one for Memorial Field. She also brought up the fact that she’s acquired an M.B.A. from Northwestern.

“We retooled. We moved from a very internally-oriented department to a revenue-generating approach to create resources for the student experience,” she said.

She had success in her basketball hires. Mike Montgomery took the men’s squad to the postseason in six consecutive seasons, and women’s coach Lindsey Gottlieb has taken the women to the dance in three straight. Overall, Cal produced 19 national championships under Barbour during her decade there.

She gave a nod to outgoing Athletic Director David Joyner, who was out of town and not present at the press conference.

“He is a Penn State man, who stepped in it a time when this university needed him desperately, and did a great job,” she said. “And I am grateful for that.”

As fas as broader NCAA issues, Barbour said she thinks “unionization has no place in college athletics,” regarding Northwestern’s recent unionizing, though she said her No. 1 priority is the students.

“Students first. They’re the ‘why,’” she said. “Creating conditions for success for students, and creating a world class experience for them while they’re here that impacts the rest of their lives.”

Barbour got her undergraduate degree at Wake Forest, where she was the captain of the field hockey team. She became the assistant field hockey and lacrosse coach at Northwestern, and her status as a former player and coach were parts of why she was such a good fit, Barron said. She later earned an M.S. at Massachusetts and the M.B.A. from Northwestern. She’s on Twitter here.

Here’s the full transcript from this afternoon’s press conference.

Sandy Barbour Transcript

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