Since taking over as the athletic director at Cal in 2004, Sandy Barbour has had to deal with such issues as a long protest against the school's new athletic center and the potential elimination of the baseball team. A former two-sport athlete at Wake Forest, Barbour talked with espnW about those controversies, cheating in college sports, being one of the few woman ADs and the importance of fathers to female athletes as part of our Power Players series highlighting women in the sports business.
espnW: Since your tenure as Cal's athletic director began in 2004, the school has won 12 national team titles and 51 individual championships. What's your single proudest accomplishment during that time?
Sandy Barbour: I think it's that combination of athletic achievement, national championships, Olympians and academic excellence. What I'm most proud of is when I get feedback on how well our student-athletes are doing.
espnW: What was it like for you during the 21-month period from 2006 to 2008 when people protested the construction of the $125 million sports complex? What did you think of the people who sat up in the oak tree during the entire 21 months as a form of protest?
SB: That was certainly a difficult time. The court delay was standing in the way of getting our student-athletes the quality facilities they needed and deserved. It was a little bit of what Berkeley is about, which is to stand up for what you believe in, particularly the individuals in the trees. I respect their passion.
espnW: You and Lisa Love of Arizona State are the only two female athletic directors in the Pac-12. What is it like being a female in such a predominately male position?
SB: The great part is that in the Pac-12, Lisa and I have each other. No other BCS conference has more than one woman. Not being the only woman in the room is comforting. But we're trying to do a difficult and complex job, so the fewer times we have to think about our gender being unique in this position, the better. As women, we do come at issues from a different paradigm, so we have the ability to bring a fresh approach. But we're just like the other 10 guys sitting in that room. We have a complex and difficult job to do.
espnW: Just nine months after Cal's baseball team was scheduled to be cut from the athletic program, it made it to the College World Series this year. What was it like watching that magical run?
SB: The magical run was just so satisfying, so fulfilling, to know the difficulties those young men had been through.
espnW: Is the program still in danger of being cut?
SB: They raised $10 million. That's going to last them seven to 10 years while we work on a permanent endowment. Given the reaction of our community, they're probably not going to let [a cut] happen.
espnW: When you were in college at Wake Forest, you were captain of your field hockey team and a two-year basketball player. How does your experience as a college athlete affect how you manage your college athletic program?
SB: To have been a student-athlete at the collegiate level is a huge privilege. It was such a positive experience, and I want to be able to provide that for my student- athletes on a daily basis. There were some unpleasant experiences when I was in college; for example, a coach who didn't play me. But many years later, I'm very appreciative of those experiences because I learned many lessons. When you're 18 to 22, and you're mature, or perhaps you think you are, you haven't been through it all. You don't know what curveballs life is going to throw you. The thing I think about all the time is that I know, someday, these kids will understand. I've told this to my coaches: You're going to have some hard decisions that are going to be unpopular.
espnW: With recruiting violations so abundant and the recent implosion of the Ohio State football program, what do you do to make sure these types of things don't happen at Cal, and what needs to be done across the board to eliminate these types of violations?
SB: We make sure that the people we hire come to us with the right values, and we create a culture that makes clear what is acceptable and what isn't. We've also got to make sure that cheating doesn't pay off. If you're going to cheat, we're going to make sure you're penalized and that those penalties are harsh.
espnW: The line between professional and amateur sports still continues to blur and spark debate. Do you think college athletes should be paid?
SB: I think they are. They're receiving something in my estimation that is priceless: an opportunity for an education. But we do have to continue to examine addressing their needs. I'm all for making sure student-athletes have what they need to pursue an education and athletic opportunities.
espnW: What about being compensated with money specifically?
SB: That would change things dramatically, but it's one of those things that we can continue to examine. The education these kids are receiving is something that's going to serve them throughout their professional careers.
espnW: We all know that male college sports get more media recognition than most female teams/athletes. What improvements can be made in promoting NCAA female sports?
SB: We've made such great strides with our culture and our society, valuing women in sports and their grace and talent. We have to keep at it, market our programs and devote resources to them. The best thing ever to happen to women in sports is that a father decided that it was OK for his daughter to participate in sports, not unlike my own father. Not only do fathers take an interest [in] what their daughters are doing, but they start to watch the sport at the higher levels because they have an appreciation for what goes into it.