Regents table proposal to tie coach bonuses to academic performance

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SAN FRANCISCO — The UC Board of Regents tabled a proposal at their Thursday meeting that would have tied coaches’ bonuses to the academic performance of their athletes and delegated contract-making power to the president of the university.

The proposal, which came out of a report by a working group convened at UC President Janet Napolitano’s request in September, was contested mainly by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said the proposal was too modest and cautioned the board against relinquishing its oversight power.

The report’s recommendations have already been approved by Napolitano. However, the full board of regents ultimately did not vote on formally adopting the report’s recommendations, which include delegating Napolitano the power to approve contracts for high-paid athletic positions.

A revised proposal will be considered at a later meeting, though no timeline has been established.

During the meeting, the board debated a central provision of the report, the “gatekeeper clause,” a minimum standard of academic performance student-athletes must maintain. The working group recommended the university use the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate, which awards points to students who remain academically eligible and stay in school.

Under the recommendation, if a team’s four-year average APR falls below 930 on the 1,000-point scale, the team’s coach would not be eligible for any bonuses — athletic or academic.

In the next academic year, however, the NCAA will require teams to meet a minimum APR of 930 to compete in championships. To Newsom, an ex officio regent, that number is too low, creating “patronizing expectations” for student-athletes.

“We’re doing almost nothing here, under the illusion that we’re doing something,” Newsom said at the meeting.

All but one of the university’s athletic teams have an APR score above 930, which, to Regent John Perez, makes the threshold a “meaningless standard.” All but two of UC Berkeley’s teams have an APR score above 945, according to H. Michael Williams, UC Berkeley’s athletic director.

To Williams, who worked on the report, 930 is not a target or an incentive — it’s a penalty, a floor, a “nuclear option.” He said he was frustrated by the emphasis on the four-year APR, which can’t capture real-time progress, and not on a holistic approach to the student-athlete experience.

“What we need to communicate to the world is that the UC wants to take this seriously,” he said.

The report also recommends the adoption of academic incentive awards in addition to the athletic bonuses which currently exist.

It was criticized, however, for the relatively small sums of money awarded for academic achievement.

“The disproportionate nature of academic to athletic incentives is comical,” Newsom said. “It’s off the charts. It’s 30 to one.”

Williams said Cal Athletics intends to achieve a graduation rate for student-athletes equal to that of all students at UC Berkeley. The rate for student-athletes is currently at about 83 percent, eight percentage points behind the whole student body.

At the meeting, however, Regent Eddie Island said graduation isn’t the primary goal for all student-athletes.

“We need to be very careful we don’t impose a cultural arrogance that suggests athletic talent and athletic ability is not a thing of great value to an academic institution,” he said.

Sahil Chinoy is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @sahilchinoy_dc.