I’ll admit that I didn’t follow Penn State’s search for a new athletic director particularly closely. So I won’t pretend to know the qualifications of the candidates Sandy Barbour (right) beat out for the job.
Barbour has been the AD at Cal and Tulane. On the surface, she seems to have an admirable track record as an athletic administrator.
She must. With Penn State’s academic and athletic prestige, one would expect the institution to have the pick of any number of worthy candidates.
Barbour is female, of course. That is important to note, because it’s very possible that her gender – in addition to her resume – helped set her apart from the pack.
It’s also very possible that Penn State president Eric Barron and the hiring committee that picked Barbour felt varying amounts of pressure to select a woman.
First, there has been a push for years for women to land more of these big jobs at all levels of college athletics. Barbour is one of only four women leading athletic departments in the power five conferences.
There should be more.
Second, Penn State is still recovering from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Four leading men allegedly conspired to hide the report of Sandusky molesting a young boy in PSU’s football showers to protect the school and its most notable athletic program.
What if a woman was athletic director at the time of Sandusky’s reported transgressions? How would she have reacted? Would she have been more sympathetic to Sandusky’s young victim?
How would things have been different?
In the aftermath of the Sandusky saga, Jason Whitlock wrote: “One of the lessons to be taken from this Penn State mess is that universities need to empower women in their athletic departments.”
Give Penn State credit. The school also hired a black coach to lead its football program earlier this year. A black female coaches Penn State’s successful women’s basketball program. The institution and athletic department are striving for diversity.
Barbour, meanwhile, will make a base salary of $700,000 annually. She will be entrusted to balance a millions-dollar budget. Penn State student-athletes will be expected to be successful in sport and in academics under her watch.
Of course, she also will be expected to make strong decisions rooted in morality and ethics – and, of course, dollars and cents and wins and losses– in a college athletic landscape still dominated by men.