A new era in Penn State athletics has dawned as the university’s search for a new athletic director officially ended Saturday.
Penn State President Eric Barron announced the hiring of Sandy Barbour as the university’s next athletic director after a national search that began just four weeks ago. The former athletic director at the University of California will replace Dave Joyner on Aug. 18.
Barbour, wearing a Nittany Lion logo pin on her suit jacket, stepped to the podium inside the Beaver Stadium media room and read from a prepared statement. A Maryland native and self-described “East Coaster,” Barbour said she was thrilled to be “coming home.”
“When you spend a professional lifetime serving institutions and most importantly students, you dream about coming to a place like Penn State,” Barbour said. “You dream about the opportunity to lead a program like Penn State athletics. Why? Because it represents the opportunity to have it all. Athletic excellence, academic achievement, community engagement and fiscal responsibility.
“I am absolutely thrilled, over-the-top excited about this opportunity and about being the athletic director at Penn State.”
Barbour served as the AD at Cal until she was reassigned from the position a month ago. Barbour spent four years at Notre Dame in a similar role and was Tulane’s athletic director from 1991 to 1999.
The 54-year-old is a 1981 graduate of Wake Forest, where she earned a degree in physical education. She was a four-year letterwinner in field hockey and played varsity basketball for two seasons.
In addition to her experience as a varsity athlete, Barbour also has varsity coaching experience in the Big Ten, where she worked as an assistant on Northwestern’s 1983 conference championship field hockey team and 1985 women’s lacrosse team. Barbour also coached the same sports at the University of Massachusetts.
Barron said the university’s screening committee — chaired by David Gray, senior vice president for finance and business; and comprising Linda Caldwell, Penn State’s faculty athletics representative to the NCAA and distinguished professor of recreation, park and tourism management and of human development and family studies; Julie Del Giorno, athletics integrity officer; Charmelle Green, associate athletics director and senior female administrator in the department of intercollegiate athletics; Robert Pangborn, vice president and dean for undergraduate education; Tom Poole, vice president for administration; and Coquese Washington, Lady Lions basketball coach — considered all of Barbour’s qualifications at every level of collegiate athletics.
As a result, Barbour was the committee’s “first” and “unanimous” choice to succeed Joyner, Barron said. She was given a five-year contract that will pay her $700,000 in base salary annually with a $100,000 retention bonus and another bonus of $100,000 for meeting performance goals.
Barron called Barbour an “ideal candidate for athletic director.” She’ll take over an athletic department with 31 varsity teams that reported a $6 million deficit during the past fiscal year.
“We looked for a person who could continue to provide experienced leadership for our 31 varsity sports programs and our 800-plus student athletes in addition to finding someone with proven skills at the highest levels,” Barron said. “Someone who’s committed to academic excellence and our student-athletes as well as success in our sports programs. A person who’s experienced in complex institutions and multimillion dollar budgets, the smooth operation of facilities and also creating an exciting fan experience.”
Barbour said she believes her long resume with time spent in many different roles inside multiple athletic departments made her a prime target for Penn State.
“I’ve had a lot of experiences from coaching to internal management in a variety of different ways,” Barbour said. “I’ve really done most of the different aspects of an athletic department, and I think finally I have a reputation for having been involved in leadership roles from an NCAA standpoint, from a governance standpoint, from a conference standpoint, and I have a reputation around integrity.”
During her 10 years at Cal, the school’s athletic programs won a combined 18 team national titles and 88 individual championships. She oversaw a $321 million renovation project for the football team’s Memorial Stadium and the opening of a 142,000-square-foot athletic center that housed sports science offices, sports medicine units and the football and 12 Olympic sport programs.
But Barbour’s tenure at Cal wasn’t without hiccups.
In September 2010, the university announced plans to eliminate four sports — including baseball — in a cost-cutting measure aimed at reducing the athletic department’s spending on intercollegiate athletics from $12 million to $5 million by 2014. The other sports to be cut were men’s and women’s gymnastics and women’s lacrosse. The men’s rugby team was scheduled to be downgraded to a club sport.
But by February 2011, the Cal athletic department announced that it had received nearly $13 million in donations to keep the rugby, women’s lacrosse and women’s gymnastics teams in intercollegiate competition.
Meanwhile, by April, the baseball team had received enough fundraising support in the area of $9 million from alumni, former players, parents of players and other supporters to keep it, The Associated Press reported.
Barron noted the harsh losses state universities incurred due to California state budget cutbacks in higher education aimed at cutting the state’s overall deficit. UC Davis made similar announcements to cut sports due to budget losses.
According to a report released by the Public Policy Institute of California in 2012, the state spent $1.6 billion less on higher education in 2010-2011 than it did 10 years earlier. Meanwhile, from 2001 to 2011, general spending on higher education fell 9 percent.
Barron said he spoke with Cal Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and came away from the conversation confident he still had the right candidate.
“You watched a lot of things occur at Cal that occurred because of very significant budget cuts that we all know rippled through the whole California university system and had a severe impact on athletics and even the budget for student advising and mentoring in athletics,” Barron said. “Sandy viewed this as unacceptable and pushed hard for a report in the university that was focused on the student part of the student-athletes that is going to come out this fall.”
While Barbour oversaw the renovation of Memorial Stadium, the athletic department’s plan to finance the massive project failed to reach its goal last summer.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, the Bears planned to finance the stadium upgrades and construction of a state-of-the-art training facility by selling 40- and 50-year rights to about 2,900 high-priced seats in the stadium. But sales were slow as the Bears sputtered to a combined 15-22 record from 2010-2012.
As of last June, the Mercury News reported Cal was $120 million short of its fundraising goal of $272 million.
Budget constraints also prevented Cal from staffing enough academic advisers, Barron said. As a result, Cal student-athletes — notably football and men’s basketball players — struggled in the classroom during Barbour’s tenure.
According to information released by the NCAA last fall, Cal’s graduation success rates over the past four years for football and basketball players were among the worst of FBS programs, at 44 percent and 38 percent, respectively. Comparatively, Penn State’s GSR for football was 85 percent while basketball was 100 percent.
“Unacceptable,” Barbour said of Cal’s GSR numbers. “It was a combination of a number of things. I will tell you this: I learned some things from that situation that will benefit Penn State, and we are athletic programs that are parts of a university. Our student-athletes will be students first. Penn State is incredibly proud of the academic performance of our students and we will continue to be.”
Barbour said she learned how to balance and better aid her staffs in providing support for student-athletes. Barbour hired Sonny Dykes to take over the Cal football program and the Bears have upped their academic progress rate from 922 to 969.
“It’s a complex situation but ultimately, I’m responsible. I took responsibility and I also took responsibility for rectifying it, and that is what Cal is well on its way to doing,” Barbour said. “It’s a lot of factors. Individual team culture has a huge impact on that, but that’s also my responsibility to make sure the coaches we hire and the way we manage them are creating the right cultures and the right expectations and the right accountability.”