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

Kelly Fang/Senior Staff

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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.

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  • ShadrachSmith

    Naked field hockey I could support. But wearing clothes ruins the whole thing.

  • R. Deschain

    Field hockey seems like an excellent candidate for the chopping block: Total financial drain that is disportionally expensive, little to no interest on the part of the student body.

    Can’t escape the really that there just aren’t enough/any major donors willing to come to the rescue. Hard lesson for the athletes to learn – if you want to be the boss, you’ve got to pay the cost. Better to learn it now than when they graduate & go back to the real world.

  • John Smith

    Cal athletics has a deficit of $20 million this year. That’s because the plan this bish put together to finance the stadium was built on, essentially, lies. There’s a bigger problem, though: All of this massive deficit is based ONLY on servicing the debt for the stadium. What happens when we have to start paying down the actual *debt* on this project, to the tune of $40 million per year?

    This woman destroyed the athletics department, then she moved on. I wouldn’t trust a damned thing this bish says or does.

    • R. Deschain

      Name calling reduces your main point to the dust bin of raving/ranting – to be disposed of forthwith.

      Which is a shame, because there is a good point noted amoung the vulgar insults.

      The football rebuild promised to pay for itself once the new facilities were completed, recruiting success increased, and Cal became a top notch program.

      The fact is that a winning football program would both fill the stadium every week & compel the lords of TV scheduling to give Cal prime consideration, on par with U$C, SEC schools, Furd, etc. etc.

      The crowds we get now & media based revenues for the team we have now simply will not sustain payment for the stadium.

      Add the fact that all the Power 5 schools have/are upgraded their own facilities, instead of having a major advantage in recruiting, we have just managed to stay on par with most of the other schools regarding facilities.

      Add the fact that we have a group of faculty who have seemed to make their life’s goal to destroy Cal football, well you see that they are succeeding. We have a Chansellor who seems uninterested to do anything about this football destructive faculty behavior.

      We have a football coach who seems to have some major flaws and yet initiates public annual job hunting campaigns to get out of Berkeley, and then is welcomed back to Cal by the AD.

      Our AD is unable/unwilling to stand up to the faculty attacking football, or demand the Cal get at least equal scheduling considerations with other Pac-12 schools, or tell said football coach to absolutely stop these recruiting destroying job hunts or be fired now – his choice.

      It starts at the top – we need a Chancellor who will genuinely support football & an AD who will make the hard decisions necessary to create a winning football program, which will pay for the stadium.

      Committee meetings won’t solve these issues. Big time donors: a sad Cal alumni & student body calls out to you, to do something about this mess.

      • still trying

        Faculty did not destroy football. Cal did. Everything Cal administrators do, ends in failure. Promises are made and broken on a daily bases at Cal by the administration. The best and brightest need the best and brightest. Unfortunately the people making decision at Cal are the bottom of the barrel in capability and decision making. And for those saying it was the tree sitters that caused the cost increase. Think again. Buried in their reports, the delay caused by the tree sitters actually saved Cal around 32 million because by the time building resumed, the cost of steel and other materials had decreased.

    • s randall

      College football is an addiction that we can no longer afford. The new stadium was supposed to pay for itself. The money from the Pac-12 television contract was supposed to support the minor sports programs. What happened? Pac-12 football coaches now get $3-$4 million. Facilities, like the old Kleeberger Field and Underhill get taken away from students, because football needs to be fed.

      We are promised that if we can somehow go from mediocre to something better, everything will be OK, but it’s not going to happen. We need accept our losses and scale back.

      • oski88

        Football has nothing to do with the deficit. Football and men’s basketball are in a large surplus. Football pays for 70% of the athletics budget. If you want to do something – eliminate the teams that football supports.

        The fact that there were no facilities for any sports and the stadium needed retrofitting is not really athletics fault but the fault of those who neglected athletes for almost 50 years. So we had to spend all of this money at one time to bring the facilities to a reasonable state – also because state law said we had to.

        Field hockey and other non-revenue sports need to do harder work to get endowed funds to pay for them. You can not rely on the state, the current administration or anyone else to help pay for the scholarships, coaching and travel associated with those sports.

        Football more than can pay for itself and the stadium. What it can not do is pay for itself, the stadium, and all other sports, which it is required to do today.

        • s randall

          We are supposed to lose $17.6 million because of the stadium debt service. The sort of thinking that caused that whiff, is the same thinking that keeps us thinking that we can somehow find a football solution to our current problem.

          • Nick

            Excellent job not addressing oski88’s point at all

          • s randall

            You can’t operate a college football program without complying with Title IX. If you want to say that the financials would be better if we could ignore Title IX, you’d be right. But so what?