PSU Selects Woman to Head Athletics

Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour
Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour

“PSU Selects Woman to Head Athletics” was a big lead headline on the front page of Sunday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. This apparently pissed off enough people to warrant a post in


Of course it is remarkable that a woman was chosen to be the director of a major college athletic department. Have we lost all sensibility? Are we not allowed to comment on gender, race, ethnicity, or size of body parts at all? Sheeeit, I say!

Hell, my first reaction to the early rumors was “Sandy who?” I remarked to AS that the name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite recall who “he” was. AS, who has been known to correct my speech when I arbitrarily refer to a particular animal as “he”, did the same in this case. “How do you know it’s a ‘he’?” she chastised. “What kind of man’s name is Sandy?”

“Well, um, a nickname for Sanford,” I replied lamely.

A quick Google search revealed AS’ rectitude, so I let her gloat. But upon further perusal, I became somewhat more adamant in defense of my original assertion.

“Look at that picture, then draw your own conclusions once again,” I chided.

I’m treading on dangerous territory here, or territory that would be dangerous if I cared about political correctness and all. Anyhow, Sandy Barbour is nominally a woman and she is the incoming athletic director at Penn State, replacing Dr. Dave Joyner.

A year from now, will we be singing Barbour’s praise or wishing Joyner had stuck around? Like everybody else, I have to question this hire. Eric Barron and the search committee must have seen something that attracted them to Ms. Barbour, calling her “an excellent fit for Penn State and the Big Ten”. She’ll be around for at least five years, at a salary of $700,000 per, plus potential bonuses of $200,000.

This blog concentrates on football, so let’s look at that aspect of Barbour’s job at Cal. She fired head coach Jeff Tedford (who is now the offensive coordinator for the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers), who had occupied the Cal job from 2002 – 2012 and compiled an 82-57 overall record (50-45 Pac-12). His last season, 2012, was a dismal 3-9. However, what Barbour was more torqued about was the 48 percent graduation rate of Cal football players, the worst in the Pac-12. On the other hand, he had coached Trent Dilfer and David Carr while at his previous job at Fresno State and Aaron Rodgers while at Cal. He also coached Marshawn Lynch during his two 1,000+ yard seasons in Berkeley.

She hired Sonny Dykes of Louisiana Tech to replace Tedford. Dykes promptly produced an awful 1-11 season in 2013.  What’s worse is that he became the first Cal head coach since the University began playing football in 1886 to defeat a single Division I opponent in a season that has lasted at least five games. Must have been a “rebuilding year”, I suppose.

The sports media in the Bay Area condemned Dykes for trying to implement an offensive system not amenable to Pac-12 football. Dykes is a former Mike Leach protege. In his stint as Pac-12 Arizona’s QB coach and OC, he turned that team around under fellow Leachite Mike Stoops, so who’s to say that he can’t do the same at Cal? Right now, it’s just too soon to tell but sports commentators have to have something to commentate about.

Under Barbour, the University of California rebuilt seismically unsound Memorial Stadium, incurring some $445 million in debt burden with which the University has struggled.  She also built a state-of-the-art athletic performance center.

The good news is that at Penn State she won’t have the millstone around her neck that was placed there by stadium renovations. The Big Beave is in great shape. Furthermore, although she became the scapegoat for the huge expenditures at Berkeley, the big outlay was undoubtedly approved at a higher level than hers.

But if you don’t consistently beat Stanford, you ain’t nobody in Cal athletics.

I mentioned graduation rate above. Well, it gets worse. In October, a report listed the football program as having the worst graduation rate among the 72 major-conference universities and the men’s basketball program as having the worst graduation rate among Pac-12 schools. Yeah, that’s right, folks — worse than football factory USC and basketball factory UCLA. Bear in mind that this is UC Berkeley we’re talking about, the flagship of the University of California fleet.

But how much of that was Barbour’s fault, and how much was pinned on her again as a convenient scapegoat?

They can’t blame Bush.

“She’s tried hard all the time she’s been here, but she’s been over her head as a manager.”

The worst commentary I’ve read came from Michael O’Hare, who teaches public management at the Goldman School of Public Policy: “She’s tried hard all the time she’s been here, but she’s been over her head as a manager. There have been a variety of bad outcomes — whether success on the field or graduation rates or financial pressures, especially from the stadium — that have come to pass. She’s been tasked to get the athletic department back on a reasonable keel for years and it hasn’t happened.” Sour grapes? Maybe O’Hare is taking one of those fabled academic freedom based potshots. Just his opinion, and you know what they say about opinions.

On the other hand, Barbour exhibited success in basketball at Cal, both men’s and women’s.

And so, a new era begins. Barron has placed his full confidence in Barbour, including maintaining graduation rates. In her introductory comments, Barbour stated, “I will tell you, I learned some things from that [California] situation that will benefit Penn State. Our student-athletes will be students first. Penn State is incredibly proud of the academic performance of its students, and we will continue to be.”

So, what do we have now in Penn State football? A Seminole leading a Golden Bear leading a Commodore. Wait, what? They’re all Nittany Lions now. But it sure will be different!

Head Coach James Franklin, the Commodore, met with Barbour on Saturday morning. Apparently, they got along well, prompting Barbour’s ungrammatical retort, “I think we hit it off and I’m really looking forward to working with he [sic] and his staff.” UGGGH! Syntactic abomination of abominations, I strike at thee! Barbour will be working with he. I know, right?

Whence cometh this lack of communication skills, you ask? Even if you don’t ask, I’m going to tell you. Barbour tramped around the U.S. and Europe as a military brat during her youth, as her dad was a Naval aviator. Then, she attended Wake Forest where she received a B.S. in Phys Ed. (Hmmmmm.) She was a four-year letterbabe there and was captain of the field hockey team while playing two seasons of varsity women’s basketball. Then, she earned advanced degrees at UMass (MS, sports management) and Northwestern Kellogg School of Management (MBA). So, her early ballin’ years probably did her in grammatically for life.

Why do I dwell on crappy grammar? Because it’s my blog and that’s that!

Typically, people with degrees in Phys Ed are not world-class literary scholars, know what I mean?

Let this not overshadow Barbour’s thirty years’ experience in athletic department management. No matter what people say about her ten-year tenure at Berkeley, she had to learn a great deal during that length of time. She had been deputy director of athletics at Notre Dame before being hired as AD at Berkeley, and had been Tulane’s director of athletics prior to that. Not too shabby a resume.

So, yeah, a woman. An ungrammatical woman. However, this Turkey believes that all things considered, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, bottom line: Sandy Barbour has the experience and ability to move Penn State athletics forward. Time will tell whether this prediction works better than my typically crappy season predictions, which are forthcoming real soon now.

So, tell me what you think.




  1. Joe says

    Hmmmh-Sandy Koufax & the Alomar’s (Sandy Sr and Sandy Jr) come to mind.

    I was a tad perplexed by this choice especially after our new president hinted that he wanted someone with a strong business background in addition to all of the usual AD prerequisites. But I guess after the cigar smoke cleared from the selection committee’s room, she was the first and “unanimous” choice for the slot. I also think that the experts choices (LSU & Northwestern) would have carried a pretty steep price tag. Interesting that no one on the selection committee offered any comments about why Sandy was deemed the clear choice.

    Anyway, I think it will be hard for her to negatively affect the scholastic performance at PS. We seem to be on quite a tear right now with academic results and with Franklin and the other coaches publicly pushing the academic side of things coupled with what appears to be a pretty comprehensive and robust academic support system, I think this will be just fine.

    From a facilities standpoint, Franklin has some minor requests for the practice facilities (for which he did receive some donor $$), but overall the Beav is in good shape especially with the new $10M video boards.

    I think there’s talk of trying to come up with a new natatorium for the swimmers, but beyond that, there really is not a lot that needs to be done.

    She’ll give Franklin what he wants as well as Sanderson (keep those NC’s coming) although I do sense a difference in personalities between her and James, which could get interesting.

    Big thing will be what to do with Pat Chambers-I think his contract is up at the end of ’15 and I think it will boil down to their desire to try to elevate the BB program to be competitive on a conference and national stage. That will take a big name coach.

    I liked Joyner and thought he did a good job, but the purge had to be completed. Mitchell’s report is due out in late August, early September and the prevailing attitude among the conference is that the remaining scholarship sanctions and the bowl ban will go away after his report is released. Replacing Joyner was one of the last items to be checked off to clear any connection to the past.

    So overall, I’m okay with the choice, and as you said time will tell.

    Now let’s start talking about the 2014 season for crying out loud!

  2. BigAl says

    Maybe Penn State could have made a better hire, but she’s not replacing any superstars. Her predecessors were hardly legendary. I think their only purpose was to keep JoePa happy and make sure the “non revenue” coaches didn’t cause any trouble.

    At least she doesn’t appear to be angry, patronizing, arrogant, and borderline nuts like the woman Rutgers hired as their AD. Sandy just reminds me of a high school gym teacher.

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