UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Her eyes darted upward a few times as she spoke about Penn State. Sandy Barbour, announced Saturday as the school's new athletic director, was glancing at fellow university employees and benefactors, asking them to join her as she takes control of an athletic department that has been successful but still familiar with unrest from fans and financial trouble.
"It's about building a team and it's about understanding what the goal is and where we're headed," Barbour said. "And it's about making decisions, each and every one of us, about acting every day and doing things that are in the best interest of Penn State."
Barbour replaces outgoing athletic director Dave Joyner. She officially starts August 18. Barbour is the first woman athletic director at Penn State, and she's one of only three women athletic directors in the five major conferences.
University president Eric Barron described her as the clear, first and unanimous choice of the selection committee. Though she presided over an athletic department at the University of California Berkeley that totaled 19 national championships in her 10 years and made renovations to the football stadium, her tenure at California also featured low graduation rates for football and a debt problem. And while California's sports as a whole thrived, the football team declined from being a fixture at the top of the Pacific-12 Conference in the early years of her tenure to going 4-20 in the past two seasons.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, California took out $445 million in long-term bonds to pay for the stadium renovation and owes $18 million annually through 2032 to pay the debt -- a figure that jumps even higher after that year. The athletic department intended to pay off much of the stadium through 40- and 50-year rights to premium seats. But with a lackluster product, compounded with the recession, California didn't sell seats as quickly as it planned.
The football team has struggled on the field as well as off. Of the nine graduation rate reports released during Barbour's tenure, the football team had a rate of less than 50 percent six times. Barron said he spoke with leaders at California who praised Barbour for putting together a solid academic environment and applying pressure for changes amid an athletic department decimated by California's budget cuts.
"I asked him if there was any issue in there with respect to Sandy," Barron said. "He said quite the opposite, and she is a champion for the student-athlete. The university perhaps should have listened to her more closely and they would have been more successful."
Before California, Barbour worked as athletic director at Tulane and as an associate athletic director at Notre Dame. She describes herself as an "East Coaster," having grown up in Maryland and attended college at Wake Forest and the University of Massachusetts. As a field hockey and lacrosse coach at Northwestern, she said she visited Penn State once in a while for games and followed the football program during her youth.
After stepping down at California in June, she planned to launch a sports management program at the university. But the opportunity from Penn State was more appealing.
"I've told you the place that it holds for me having grown up in Maryland," Barbour said, "and it was too much not to look at."
The board of trustees committee on compensation approved Barbour's salary before the news conference Saturday, and she will receive a $700,000 annual salary with a yearly $100,000 retention bonus.
That salary is nearly twice what Joyner made ($396,000) and places her in the top quartile for athletic directors nationally and fifth in the Big Ten Conference.
Like Joyner, Barbour faces substantial challenges. Penn State has experienced declining attendance at football games and criticism from fans, and the athletic department is scheduled to take out $90 million in loans from the university over the next few years.
"There are no individual agendas," Barbour said. "We are one, and we are about what's best for Penn State. Everything I hear is that what we have here is people that love this place and want to do that, and we have to create the vision or maybe tweak the vision and get after it."
Name: Sandy Barbour.
Born: Dec. 2, 1959, in Annapolis, Md.
College: Graduated from Wake Forest with a B.S. in physical education in 1981. She played field hockey and basketball. Earned advanced degrees from Massachusetts (sports management) and Northwestern.
Experience: Named athletic director at Tulane at age 36. Served as AD from 1996-99. ... Was associate AD at Notre Dame from 2000-02 and deputy director of athletics from 2002-04. ... Has been athletic director at California since 2004.
Of note: Barbour is one of four women to head athletic departments in the five major conferences. The others: Julie Hermann (Rutgers), Debbie Yow (N.C. State) and Christine Plonsky (Texas women's athletics).
Mark Dent: email@example.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.