UC Berkeley News


Expectations, hopes are high for Cal athletics and its new director
A renovated stadium? A trip to Pasadena? Sandy Barbour faces a full agenda

| 22 September 2004

Sandy Barbour (Steve McConnell photo)
Saying she’d “spent 23 years preparing for this opportunity,” Anne “Sandy” Barbour met the press, the public, and the UC Berkeley community last Wednesday, Sept. 14, in her new role as Berkeley’s athletic director.

The surprise pick makes Barbour, 44, the first woman ever to head Cal’s sports program, and the first appointment by Robert Birgeneau, who assumed his official duties as chancellor only this week. Wearing a blue-and-gold Cal necktie, Birgeneau noted that the announcement — a topic of intense speculation among Cal boosters and media wags alike — came on his third day as a Cal employee, and said he “couldn’t have imagined how exciting it would be.”

For her part, Barbour, the deputy director of Notre Dame’s sports program, pronounced herself “incredibly blessed” to be at Cal, and “thrilled” by the challenge of steering the financially strapped athletics program through what she called “a critical juncture.”

“The time is now for everyone who cares about Cal athletics — and I know that passions run very deep with this program — the time is now to step forward and help us ensure that we not only sustain our current level of achievement, but that we build a foundation that will enable us to grow to even a higher level,” she said.

Second in command at Notre Dame’s sports program, Sandy Barbour comes to Berkeley as Chancellor Birgeneau’s first appointment and Cal’s first woman athletic director. Her priorities, she said, are in tune with the campus’s: “academics first,” with athletics “right behind it.” (Steve McConnell photo)
Providing the $40-million-a-year, 27-sport program with a sound financial foundation will mean completing the renovation of rundown Memorial Stadium, home of the resurgent Golden Bears football squad. Barbour termed the ambitious stadium project, considered essential to keeping acclaimed Bears coach Jeff Tedford at Berkeley, “a huge priority.”

“We’re committed to getting it done,” she declared. She also vowed that trimming lower-profile sports to make ends meet “would absolutely be a last resort.”

Asked about the historic nature of her appointment, Barbour allowed that she hoped she could be a role model for women, but viewed her gender as “relatively unimportant” to the work at hand.

As second-in-command of Notre Dame’s sports program, Barbour has been responsible for facilities and event operations, including construction of a 100,000-square-foot sports center scheduled for completion next June. Previously she spent eight years at Tulane University, winning the job of athletic director in 1996 at the age of 36. Tulane teams won a dozen conference championships during her three-year tenure as head of the sports program there.

While promising to build on Cal’s recent winning ways — “I think we need to get reacquainted with the Rose Bowl,” she said — Barbour insisted it was Cal’s dedication to balancing sports and scholarship that drew her here.

“Cal represents everything that’s right with higher education and intercollegiate athletics,” she said, praising Berkeley’s focus on student athletes, “the core of what we do — they’re what we’re all about.”

Cal, she added, “not only understands, but embraces the true concept of the student athlete….In today’s vernacular, Cal gets it.”

A native of Annapolis, Md., Barbour was raised in a military family that stressed integrity and education. She was a four-year letter winner and captain of the field hockey team at Wake Forest University, where she graduated cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in physical education. She went on to earn an M.S. in sports management at the University of Massachusetts, and an MBA at Northwestern University.

At Berkeley, she suggested, the “non-negotiable” values with which she was raised — integrity and education — mesh perfectly with her athletic career.
“Athletics can be such a powerful tool for an institution,” she said. “We’re the great rallying point for the institution as a whole…. It’s academics first. But athletics is right behind it.”

Barbour, who didn’t know exactly when she would take over at Berkeley, paid tribute to Steve Gladstone, who announced in June that he intended to step down as athletic director and return to coaching.

“The bar has been set high here,” she said. “No doubt we have some difficult challenges. But I am not only confident that we can hit the bar, I anticipate that we will continue to raise it and hit it again and again and again.”

Berkeley, she said, “is a world-class institution with a phenomenal reputation. Its athletic department should mirror that reputation and level of achievement.”

Berkeley’s new chancellor — lauding the campus’s new A.D. for a “depth of experience and success” he called “truly exceptional” — seemed to agree.