“Clear and Unanimous” Choice Sandy Barbour is the New AD
Barbour, who until earlier this month had worked for nearly a decade as the AD at UC Berkeley, met reporters Saturday in the Beaver Stadium press room. Introduced by President Eric Barron as the “clear and “unanimous” choice for the job, the 54-year-old Barbour described Penn State as something of a dream destination. The Maryland native presented the move as a sort of homecoming, and said Penn State “represents the opportunity to have it all.” She’ll officially start work on Aug. 18.
Barbour’s resume is impressive. Prior to 10 years at Cal—where she led a department that supports 28 varsity programs and won 19 national championships during her tenure—she worked as an assistant AD at Notre Dame and Northwestern and also served an eight-year stint as AD at Tulane. A two-sport standout at Wake Forest, she owns a master’s degree from UMass and an MBA from Northwestern, where she also worked as an assistant AD. She knows college athletics from a coach’s perspective—she was a field hockey and lacrosse assistant at UMass and Northwestern—taught a course on sports management at the University of New Orleans, and even spent a summer as a production intern at the Fox Sports affiliate in Chicago
Media coverage of her time at Cal paints Barbour as a passionate advocate for and supporter of student-athletes, while offering harsh appraisals of her efforts in two key areas: Graduation rates and budget management. While most of Cal’s teams graduated at high rates under Barbour, the rates for football and men’s basketball were among the lowest rates for any major conference program. As for budget issues, Bay Area media were particularly critical of Barbour’s handling of a costly facilities upgrade—a process complicated by the fact that Cal’s aging Memorial Stadium rests atop an active fault line, requiring hundreds of millions in additional costs to make it safe.
Without redirecting blame, Barbour said the low graduation rates of Cal’s highest-profile programs were “unacceptable,” and said she “learned a number of things in that situation that will benefit Penn State.” Barron said he called Cal’s chancellor to ask about Barbour’s role, and was told that “Sandy was a champion for the success of the students, and was putting on considerable pressure to make the situation improve.”
Barbour will face very different challenges at Penn State, where she takes over from Dave Joyner ’72, ’76g, who took the job on an interim basis in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, played a lead role in the hiring of both Bill O’Brien and James Franklin, and oversaw three largely successful years for Nittany Lion teams. Noting how the university “stayed together” through the scandal, Barbour said, “I really admire your recent record of looking in the mirror, and recognizing the need to be better.” Barron said Joyner will continue to serve as AD until Aug. 17, and thereafter in a consulting role helping Barbour in her transition.
The location of the press conference, and the presence of James Franklin, who joined Barbour and Barron afterward for photos on the Beaver Stadium turf, emphasized the central importance of football to the athletic department. Barbour referenced Penn State’s reputation as the “Beasts of the East,” adding “I have no doubt we’ll return to that under Coach Franklin.” But she emphasized that, both in football and across the board, Penn State teams under her leadership won’t settle for regional success.
“We aspire to national championships in each and every one of our 31 sports,” she said. “That’s what we’ll work toward every day.”
Ryan Jones, senior editor