Former UC Berkeley athletic director says she was overruled on field hockey space decision

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Former UC Berkeley athletic director Sandy Barbour said in a statement to The Daily Californian on Wednesday that a decision she made to maintain Maxwell Family Field as a field hockey space was overruled by then-vice chancellor for administration and finance John Wilton.

From 2013-15, Maxwell — at the time the home field for UC Berkeley’s field hockey team — was rebuilt in order to construct a parking garage beneath the field. Initially, administrators planned to build a field hockey space on top of the garage, but in 2013, they chose to change the field from a specialized field hockey turf to a multipurpose turf that could be used for football and women’s lacrosse practices.

“Many more sports, both female and male, can use a multi-purpose field than the turf and field that is specific to field hockey,” Wilton said in an email sent Dec. 17, before Barbour’s statement was released.

Barbour, now the athletic director at Pennsylvania State University, said that at the time, she chose to maintain Maxwell as a field hockey space after the reconstruction, but that her decision was overruled by Wilton. Instead, Wilton decided to convert the field into a space now lined for football and lacrosse, Barbour said.

“I told the vice chancellor for administration and finance that since we had not come up with a viable alternative for a relocation of field hockey … We would be putting an AstroTurf product on the Maxwell garage,” Barbour said in the statement.

Field hockey requires a special type of turf, so the sport cannot be played on football fields. According to Barbour, Wilton overruled her decision and said Maxwell would be constructed with a turf unusable for field hockey.

When asked whether he overruled Barbour’s decision, Wilton alleged in an email to the Daily Cal that Barbour initially was in favor of a multi-use field but “the position of the ex-AD changed over time between different options.” Wilton said the final decision to change the field was made by the campus’s Capital Projects Committee.

Barbour could not be immediately be reached for comment on Wilton’s response.

Field hockey coach Shellie Onstead said Barbour’s statement matched her understanding of the decision.

Barbour served as campus athletic director from 2004-14 and oversaw the $321 million renovation and seismic retrofit of California Memorial Stadium. At a press conference announcing her resignation in June 2014, she cited both personal and organizational issues as reasons for her decision to step down. She was named Penn State’s athletic director a month later.

The change eliminated the only field hockey space on campus, requiring the team to practice and play home games at Stanford University from 2014-15. Two Title IX investigations are underway to discern whether the campus broke gender-equity laws by displacing a women’s team. Midweek commutes to Stanford for practices led student-athletes to change their majors because they couldn’t attend certain classes. Team members said the lack of an on-campus field also led to a decline in athletic performance, as practice time was limited by the commutes.

Field hockey currently plays on Underhill Field, a converted recreational field that lacks team rooms and permanent bathrooms.

The field hockey team was without a full-size field for 26 months, but Barbour said her initial plan to maintain Maxwell as a field hockey turf would have displaced the team for only two months. Additionally, the campus spent at least $7.2 million to relocate the field hockey team and to pre-empt additional litigation from field hockey players. Cal Athletics faced a $22 million deficit in 2016.

Both Maxwell and Underhill fields are used by recreational sports, in addition to the campus’s Division I athletic teams.

Austin Weinstein is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @austwein.