Gavin Newsom promises reform

Updated: August 14, 2014, 11:38 PM ET
By Kyle Bonagura | ESPN.com

In a pair of letters sent this week to the heads of the University of California and California State University systems, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed concern in how he thinks academics are not being prioritized to the correct standard in athletic programs throughout the state.

To change this, Newsom believes contracts for every athletic director at the universities in both systems should "stipulate aggressive benchmarks for improvement in graduation and academic progress rates of face termination, period."

[+] EnlargeNathan Broussard
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesThe Cal football team had just a 44 percent graduation rate in 2013.

In a letter addressed to Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California system, which includes Cal, UCLA and six other NCAA-affiliated schools, Newsom cited the poor graduation success rate of the Golden Bears football team -- 48 percent in 2012, and 44 percent in '13 - as examples that show change is needed.

"We have some of the lowest graduation rates in all of college sports and we're talking arguably the finest public university in the world, not just the United States, and it's a disgrace," Newsom said.

Fresno State and Sacramento State, which are part of the CSU system, and Cal are all in the process of finding new athletic directors, which is where Newsom believes reform can begin.

"I'm going to be very aggressive on these contracts," Newsom said. "There should be penalties, not just bonuses attached to academic success. We have it backwards right now.

"We incentivize and give bonuses for athletic achievement, but we pay modest lip service to academic achievement -- modest bonuses. The bar is so low."

While Newsom is more focused on how the athletic directors' contracts are structured, the concept is similar for coaches. The contract of Cal coach Sonny Dykes dictates a $10,000 bonus if the team GSR reaches or exceeds 70 percent. If the GSR reaches 80 percent, the bonus is $20,000, and it rises to $23,000 for 90 percent or higher.

There are similar incentives built in for team grade-point average and Academic Progress Rate.

Dykes' contract also would reward him a $25,000 bonus if the team wins seven games and an additional $5,000 for every win after that up to 11. He would get a $25,000 bonus for taking the Bears to a bowl game and up to $60,000 for the Rose Bowl.

Former Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour announced she would step down in June after 10 years leading the department and has since accepted the same job at Penn State. Cal replaced Barbour with Michael Williams, who was hired on an interim basis and tasked with conducting a top-to-bottom evaluation of the athletic department. Williams will take what he learns to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to help identify the right permanent replacement.

The search for a new AD at Cal has not officially begun, and Newsom said he will not be a part of the search committee, although he will be involved in oversight as a UC Regent.

Comment from Cal administration regarding Newsom's letter was not immediately available.

Because the GSR measures graduation success over a four-year period, it doesn't effectively take into account any systematic changes instituted by Dykes since he took over in December 2012. The Bears' multiyear APR score is 938, but it improved to 969 in the 2012-13 school year.

Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco, said his team is still in the process of evaluating existing contracts and plans to call for hearings "sometime in the next few months" to address academic reform.

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