SBJ/20090525/Sports Business Awards

Athletic Director of the Year

Sandy Barbour - University of California
 

Many athletic directors have experienced the stomach-churning stress that comes with searching for money for a badly needed facility upgrade. But only Sandy Barbour, the AD at Cal-Berkeley, knows what it’s like to land that money — in this case a whopping $140 million — only to see the project delayed for nearly two years by a lawsuit and a bout with tree-sitters who set up camp at the proposed site.

Barbour, 49, navigated that delay successfully, culminating with a September groundbreaking for the athletic complex that many doubted they’d ever see. The project includes a renovation of the school’s football stadium.

“We are under way,” Barbour said at the ceremonial groundbreaking, “and it sure feels good.”

What we liked:

Shepherded a desperately needed $140 million athletic complex to fruition after a court battle held up the project for almost two years.

Had guts and foresight to hire Mike Montgomery as basketball coach after he spent 18 seasons at rival Stanford.

Hung on to oft-romanced football coach Jeff Tedford, who in January signed an extension through 2015.

It was the highlight of a banner year for Barbour, who also connected big when she landed Mike Montgomery to resuscitate Cal’s basketball program. Montgomery, who led rival Stanford for 18 years, was a gutsy choice for Barbour. She insisted, quite correctly, that Bears fans would embrace him and she was rewarded with a 20-win season and a return to the NCAA tournament, which Cal had missed in five of the previous six seasons.

Barbour, who took over the department in 2004, followed that by locking up football coach Jeff Tedford through 2015.

One of only three female athletic directors in the six BCS conferences, Barbour oversees an annual budget of about $60 million, with more than 800 athletes competing in 27 sports. Cal matched its best finish in the annual NACDA Directors’ Cup standings in 2007-08, landing in seventh.

Joe Castiglione - University of Oklahoma
 

Shuttling back and forth from men’s and women’s Final Fours. Politicking for his football team’s appearance in the Big 12 championship game. Taking the reins of a game-changing NCAA group that is studying further academic reform. Few administrators represent the evolving role of the athletic director better than Oklahoma’s Joe Castiglione.

The demands on today’s athletic directors take them from the classroom to the playing field and everywhere in between. They are prominent public figures on campus who deal with controversial issues and have every decision scrutinized and, in many cases, second-guessed.

“This job now requires someone to do more than recognize the sea of change in front of us, but it requires someone to embrace the changes,” said the 51-year-old Castiglione. “Our world is changing so rapidly, it’s only natural to expect our part of it to be changing, too. But you do it while maintaining your core values and staying on your mission.”

What we liked:

Castiglione’s basketball hire, Jeff Capel, guided men’s basketball to 30 wins, while football is on a run of four BCS championship game appearances this decade.

Appointed by NCAA President Myles Brand to chair a working group to review the academic progress rate of Division I football student-athletes.

Paid off more than $15 million in debt that had been racked up by previous athletic administrations.

The mission at Oklahoma looks a little different than a decade ago when Castiglione inherited a department with a fallen football program, a failing budget and a reputation that didn’t exactly sparkle with integrity.

The Sooners’ athletic budget has grown from $26 million to $75 million since Castiglione assumed the AD role in 1998, football is again among the nation’s elite programs, and his men’s and women’s basketball teams each captured the state’s attention (not easy to do in the football-mad region) with legitimate national championship runs.

“The type of success we’ve had raises expectations and wishes,” Castiglione said. “It inspires us to do even more to maintain or improve on the success that we’ve had.”

Jeremy Foley - University of Florida
 
What we liked:

An $85 million budget and more than $100 million in annual revenue put the university’s program among the largest in the nation.

A $28 million upgrade of the football stadium included a “Gateway of Champions” that shows off the program’s history, new offices for coaches and administrators, and an expansion that tripled the size of the weight room.

 Handpicked, and then hung on to, coaches Billy Donovan and Urban Meyer.

Florida’s athletic program became the first to win basketball and football championships in the same calendar year in 2006. It followed that by becoming the first to ever hold both in the same academic year when its basketball team repeated in 2007.

And then, just when you thought the Gators had run out of unprecedented feats, they became the first school to win four titles in three years in those two sports when they hoisted the football trophy again in January.

That combination of championships is a feat no other athletic director can claim, but the list of accomplishments at Florida since Jeremy Foley, 56, arrived in 1992 doesn’t end there.

The Gators also have succeeded in sports that attract less attention. Eleven of Florida’s teams finished in the top 10 in the nation in 2007-08. The Gators won five SEC championships that year, with all of them (soccer, golf, tennis, softball and volleyball) coming from the women’s side of the program.

At a time when the NCAA estimates that as many as 90 percent of Division I programs lose money, the Gators operate comfortably in the black, reporting revenue of $106 million for the 2007-08 academic year. That figures to increase, thanks to a comprehensive rights deal signed with Sun Sports and IMG College in July that will guarantee the university at least $80 million across 10 years.

The program, which has contributed more than $48 million to the general university coffers since 1990, anticipates turning over another $6 million in the coming year.

Joel Maturi - University of Minnesota
 

In the early years of Joel Maturi’s time as athletic director at the University of Minnesota, a constant theme he heard from fans was the need to bring football back to campus. It wasn’t that the Gophers didn’t have football, but that they played in downtown Minneapolis at the Metrodome, and the atmosphere often left a lot to be desired.

So Maturi, who took over as AD in 2002, embarked on a mission that will no doubt provide the foundation of his legacy at Minnesota — building an on-campus football stadium.

The $285 million TCF Bank Stadium now underway demonstrates Maturi’s willingness to hear his constituency and a determination to drive through the economic challenges facing every campus.

What we liked:

Maturi’s hire in basketball, Tubby Smith, guided the Gophers to 22 wins and their first NCAA tournament bid since 2005.

Created a policy that requires any team traveling within 400 miles, or a six-hour ride, to drive rather than fly.

Budget has almost doubled, rising to $70 million for 25 sports, and Minnesota has not had to ax any sports during Maturi’s seven years.

Maturi’s department set a goal of raising $86 million privately and recently had reached the $81 million mark. TCF’s naming-rights deal is worth $35 million over 25 years. “We knew the last $5 million would be the most challenging,” Maturi said. “But that’s the reality of this economy. Finding people who can give us $25,000 is in some ways more challenging than finding people to give a million.”

The economy also has led to some tough decisions for Maturi, 63, who typically sends the band with the ice hockey team to the NCAA tournament, but couldn’t do it this year as the department looked for cuts in areas that affect travel and personnel. Minnesota is in the midst of a salary freeze as well, which has limited Maturi’s ability to grant contract extensions. But the wily veteran AD has navigated those challenges while expanding facilities and keeping the Gophers competitive.

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