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New AD Sandy Barbour 'thrilled' by chance to lead Cal sports

– Saying she'd "spent 23 years preparing for this opportunity," Anne "Sandy" Barbour met the press, the public, and the UC Berkeley community Wednesday in her new role as UC Berkeley's athletic director.

Sandy Barbour
Sandy Barbour answers questions from the media after her selection as UC Berkeley's new athletic director. (John Dunbar photo)

Print-quality images available for download

 Anouncement webcasts:
• Watch the press conference
• Interview with Sandy Barbour by George Strait, associate vice chancellor of public affairs
• Cal Athletics press release

The surprise pick makes Barbour, 44, the first woman ever to head Cal's sports program, and the first appointment by Robert J. Birgeneau, who doesn't assume his official duties as chancellor until next 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 UC 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 though 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.

Giving Cal's $40 million-a-year, 27-sport program 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 for 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 Berkeley'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 and 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 confident that we can not only hit the bar, but 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."

Cal's new chancellor - acclaiming the new AD for a "depth of experience and success" he called "truly exceptional" - seemed to agree.