PSU names new athletic director

UNIVERSITY PARK – Penn State University named Sandy Barbour as its new athletic director Saturday, a choice that surprised many based on a track record that included several controversial issues at her previous stop, the University of California.

Barbour, 54, succeeds Dave Joyner and is the first female athletic director at Penn State. She has a five-year contract worth $700,000 per year, plus incentives, and will begin her duties Aug. 18.

“You dream about coming to a place like Penn State,” Barbour said before later adding, “I am absolutely thrilled, over the top excited about this opportunity.”

The opportunity comes one month after Barbour resigned as Cal’s athletic director after 10 years in the position. The school won 19 national championships in various sports during her tenure, but she also encountered major challenges, including:

– Cal’s football program had the lowest graduation rate (44 percent) among the 72 teams that compete in major conferences, and the basketball program had the lowest graduation rate (38 percent) in the Pac-12 Conference, according to NCAA statistics.

“Unacceptable,” Barbour said of the academic issues at Cal, which she called “ultimately my responsibility as AD.”

– The Cal athletic department faces serious financial issues, most notably a debt that was estimated last year at $445 million stemming from renovations to the football stadium and construction of a new athletic center.

Barbour received criticism for giving inaccurate sales numbers for premium seats in the football stadium to the school’s regents. That occurred in 2009, and based in part on those figures, university officials signed off on a facilities upgrade plan that cost nearly $500 million.

– On the field, the Cal football team posted a 1-11 record last season and, for the first time in school history, did not defeat a single FBS opponent. Barbour was responsible for hiring the school’s current coach, Sonny Dykes.

– Barbour also gave a lengthy and lucrative contract extension to the previous football coach, Jeff Tedford, who was fired in 2012 but walked away with a $5.5 million settlement from the school.

Despite those issues at Cal, Penn State President Eric Barron said the school’s search committee found Barbour to be “the clear choice, the first choice of every single member of the screening committee, a unanimous choice to be the next AD at Penn State University.”

Asked why she was such a clear choice, given the issues that led to the end of her tenure at Cal, Barron said Penn State’s search process revealed much more than meets the eye about Barbour.

“Through that due diligence, you have a lot more information than what is written on a paper,” he said.

The entire University of California collegiate system faced severe financial restraints following the recession, and Barron said Barbour was praised for how she navigated those trying times. Barron also cited Barbour’s vast experience as a college administrator and breadth of overall experience as reasons for hiring her.

“Sandy was an athlete, field hockey and basketball at Wake Forest,” Barron said. “She gained a master’s degree in sports management at UMass, where she also began her career as field hockey assistant coach. She also gained an MBA while at Northwestern. Sandy has been one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in the Pac 12.”

Barbour said she’s looking forward to working at a place where fans are so intensely passionate about their sports teams.

As for her ultimate goal at Penn State, she said, “We’re going to aspire to win national championships in 31 sports.”