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Penn State’s Sandy Barbour becomes one of the Big Ten’s highest-paid athletic directors

AD Barbour looking for contract to be renewed early 2019

Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour talks about her contract being renewed on Monday, Dec. 31, 2018.
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Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour talks about her contract being renewed on Monday, Dec. 31, 2018.

Sandy Barbour said in December that Penn State will be her “last stop.” Friday served as a step toward that goal.

Barbour, Penn State’s athletic director since July 2014, agreed to an extension that will keep her in Happy Valley for another half-decade.

After a compensation committee approved the athletic director’s new deal on Thursday, the Penn State Board of Trustees made Barbour’s extension official Friday afternoon. The contract runs through the 2022-23 academic year and will pay Barbour an average base salary of $1.27 million, which would have been the fourth-highest AD base salary in the country during the 2017-2018 school year.

“I’m thrilled to have my contract extended, to continue the work that my colleagues and I, both within the athletic department and across the university, are doing together,” Barbour told the CDT on Friday afternoon at the Penn Stater Hotel & Conference Center.

Added Board of Trustees chairman Mark Dambly: “We support President (Eric) Barron’s commitment to extending Sandy’s contract. ... Her record speaks for itself. We’ve excelled on and off the field, more importantly off the field. And her contract speaks to that.”

Barbour’s base salary will be $1.17 million in 2018-19 and gradually work its way up to $1.37 million in 2022-23. In this new contract, Barbour’s annual $100,000 retention bonus will be eliminated and the AD’s title will also be changed to Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics.

The new base salary is a sizable raise for the 2016-17 AD of the Year. Barbour made $835,420 in 2017-18.

In 2017-18, Barbour’s upcoming base salary of $1.17 million would have ranked fourth in the country behind Duke’s Kevin White ($1.45 million), Texas Tech’s Kirby Hocutt ($1.33 million) and Texas’ Chris Del Conte ($1.31 million).

However, there are other athletic directors across the country that outpace Barbour when it comes to total compensation — base salary, in addition to bonuses. For example, Notre Dame’s Jack Swarbrick had a base salary of $994,751 in 2017-18. But according to data compiled by USA Today, Swarbrick was the highest-paid AD in the country with $3.05 million in total compensation, thanks to over $2 million in what is denoted as “other university compensation.”

It’s tough to say exactly what Barbour’s total compensation will be on a year-to-year basis. In her new contract, her maximum performance bonuses is capped at $260,000 annually.

But the significant boost in base salary alone puts Barbour among the top-earning ADs in the Big Ten. Northwestern’s Jim Phillips paced the conference by making $1.57 million in total compensation in 2017-18, Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez pulled in $1.55 million, and Ohio State’s Gene Smith pocketed $1.42 million.

“It’s similar to what we’ve looked at in our head coaching positions; it’s around market,” Barbour said of her compensation. “It puts me in the top four in the conference. It puts me somewhere in the late top 20 in the country. For where Penn State is today from a performance standpoint on the field, court, pool, fundraising, producing revenue, academics, that’s probably right about where it ought to be.”

Barbour said there was never any “mystery” about whether or not she would be extended. She noted as much in December, when speaking to reporters prior to the Citrus Bowl. In Orlando, Barbour said her and President Barron work together on a daily basis and that he was pleased with the progress of the athletic department. Barbour echoed that sentiment Friday.

For the AD, the most important aspect of this extension is the security it brings to the department. Penn State is in the thick of a long-term Facilities Master Plan. Announced in 2017, the “20-year road map” includes 11 new buildings and renovations to Beaver Stadium, which likely won’t begin until the tail-end of Barbour’s new contract.

However, fundraising efforts for the Facilities Master Plan have continued since its March 2017 unveiling — and Barbour believes this new deal could help in getting more donor support.

“We’re starting to get momentum across a lot of different aspects,” Barbour said when asked about the Facilities Master Plan. “You want donors and supporters to know that there’s stability, and I think this contract extension certainly does that.”

Barbour signed a five-year contract when she was hired in July 2014. She served as Cal’s athletic director for 10 years before moving to central Pennsylvania. In her time at Berkeley, the Bears won 19 team national championships and captured 92 individual titles. However, the year before she stepped down, Cal’s football team owned the worst graduation percentage among Power 5 programs. And in 2010, she approved cutting baseball, women’s lacrosse and gymnastics due to budget concerns.

Barbour hasn’t faced those kinds of issues in her time at Penn State; the Nittany Lions boast five national titles, 25 conference championships and a top-tier academic record in her four-plus years at the helm. In 2017-18, a school-record 360 Penn State athletes earned Academic All-Big Ten honors.

But will Barbour remain at Penn State beyond her new extension? When hired at Penn State, Barbour said she “stayed too long” at Cal.

“Leading a program like Cal’s, like Penn State’s, in terms of a major conference and a lot of sports and a lot of moving parts, 10 years is a long time,” the AD said back in 2014. “If you look around the country there are very few (athletic directors) that have that kind of length.”

Barbour will be pushing 10 years at Penn State when her new contract is up in 2023.

When asked about what lies beyond her extended contract, the AD said, “I’m not worried about what happens after 2023.” But the AD does know one thing for sure: Penn State is still her final stop.

“This will be it,” Barbour said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Whether it’s visiting Saquon Barkley’s hometown or flying out to the Fiesta Bowl, John McGonigal covers everything Penn State football. The Nittany Lions’ news cycle is never-ending, so follow along throughout the year for features, analysis, gifs of The Office and much more.


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