Cleaning Up Cal Sports

The post-Barbour athletics department demands winning teams and improved academics, a huge undertaking that interim Athletic Director Michael Williams is tackling head-on.


Former Athletic Director Sandy Barbour delivered many winning teams but dropped the ball on graduation rates in men's football and basketball.

Photo by Pat Mazzera

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A few family photos adorn the office, but for the most part, the walls and desk are bare. There has not been time for Michael Williams to decorate the top office inside Haas Pavilion. It is a stark contrast to Williams’ predecessor, Sandy Barbour, who over a decade collected enough hardware and memorabilia as the University of California, Berkeley’s athletic director that wall space became a premium.

The Golden Bears’ success during Barbour’s tenure extended from the pool to the diamond and from the hardwood to the gridiron. Barbour led an athletic department that won 19 team national championships and 92 individual national titles from 2004 until 2014. But the success was overshadowed during the last two years of Barbour’s 10-year tenure with cost overruns for a new stadium and news that the world’s top public university had two athletic programs that ranked at or near the bottom in graduation success rates, or GSR. The fallout from the Golden Bears’ tarnished reputation ultimately led to the dismal of then-football coach Jeff Tedford in 2012 and the resignation of Barbour in June.

“We took our eye off the ball in particular in a program or two and it was inexcusable,” said Barbour about the GSR in an interview before she stepped down in June. “We set about to correct that, and it happened before the GSR was released, and the final piece of that was we had to make a coaching change.”

The NCAA graduation success rate is based on the incoming freshmen or transfer students admitted during the 2003-2004 through 2006-2007 school years and finished their degree within six years. The Cal football team had a graduation success rate for its cohort of 44 percent, meaning that just 44 percent of those student-athletes admitted during the time frame earned a college degree within six years, the worst mark among the major college football programs. The Golden Bears men’s basketball team had a graduation of 38 percent, fourth worst among major college programs. The men’s basketball numbers reflect players during Ben Braun’s time with the university and not those of Mike Montgomery, who was hired in 2008 and retired in 2014.

With all of the major figures now gone from Cal through resignation, retirement, or firing, it is Williams’ job to restore Cal’s student-athlete athletic stature while also maintaining the winning tradition. Tabbed by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to replace Barbour on an interim basis in June, Williams is tasked with repairing that reputation in a new environment that will include tougher admission standards for future student-athletes and a graduation success rate for the 30 athletic department programs that mirrors the campuses’ 91 percent to 92 percent. The new standards and expected graduation success rate for future student-athletes were part of 54 recommendations—15 specifically aimed at athletics—developed by a special academic taskforce commissioned by Dirks over a nine-month period that Williams will oversee and implement.

“We intend to be second to no one in terms of our commitment for the academic success of our student-athletes and the academic profile of our athletic program,” said Dirks, who was hired in fall 2012 and began his tenure as the university’s 10th chancellor in June 2013. “And we intend to be not just competitive, but also an institution that wins in athletics as it wins in academics.”


The Golden Bears were accustomed to winning under Barbour’s leadership. The women’s basketball program developed into one of the nation’s elite, making its first Final Four appearance in 2013. On the men’s side, the Golden Bears won its first Pac-10 title in 50 years during the 2009-2010 season. On the football field, Cal had 39 players taken in the NFL Draft during Barbour’s tenure and earned a shared Pac-10 title in 2006. The Golden Bears also brought home 40 medals from the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. The success on the field also led to success off the field with the athletic department budget nearly doubling during Barbour’s tenure, increasing from $45.1 million in 2004 to close to $90 million in 2013. And after years of talk, Barbour pulled off the most visual change of her tenure with the renovation and seismic retrofit of California Memorial Stadium, a $445 million project, according to published reports.

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