Bob Stanton/USA TODAY Sports file photoCal’s football team just finished up a 1-11 season and the school’s academic performance has slipped of late under the guidance of athletic director Sandy Barbour.

Cal’s athletic department needs a change at the top

In the wake of a 1-11 season, it's natural for Cal alumni to romanticize about the good old days when the football team stank but you could be proud knowing it was among the best and brightest squads in the country.

The Bears didn't win a single Pac-12 Conference football game this year and now they're also ranked last among 72 major-conference teams in the most recent Graduation Success Rate data (44 percent) released by the NCAA.

Last year, Jeff Tedford took the fall for the team's dismal performance on and off the field. Who's next?

Ultimately, the buck stops with athletic director Sandy Barbour.

The current numbers are based on a four-year cohort ending in 2006, and while changes may already be occurring, it's clear that a priority shift took place in revenue sports under her watch and the athletic department could use a fresh set of eyes.

Barbour took the helm in 2004, the same year the football team put together just its second 10-win season since 1949. With a taste of success, the school set its sights on building a BCS powerhouse, competing with USC and Oregon for the best recruits in the nation.

Instead of attracting athletes with the school's academic reputation, Cal invested $474 million in facility upgrades while selling the promise of being a path to the NFL.

As a result, the football team gave scholarships to students who weren't qualified to be at Cal or lacked the desire to keep up with the school's rigorous workload.

Is this Barbour's fault? Not entirely.

Barbour's track record in non-revenue sports is laudable, she appreciates the student-athlete's mission and she's hired several dynamic coaches during her tenure, including women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who embodies the ideals of Cal athletics.

Unfortunately, she was complicit in the behavior that led to the downward spiral in football by admitting to prioritizing winning over academics. She also dropped the ball last winter when she refused to suspend men's basketball coach Mike Montgomery for shoving Allen Crabbe, sending the message, once again, that winning trumps everything else.

Simply put, the athletic department needs a new vision.

The road to success at Cal is fairly obvious: recruit student-athletes who are hungry for self-improvement, interested in the world around them and willing to tackle the challenges of taking classes at a top university while also competing in elite athletics.

Rather than simply focusing on talent, you look for character, following the model established by coach David Shaw at Stanford and general manager Bob Myers with the Warriors.

Not every athlete who attends Cal needs to be a future Nobel laureate, but they should possess an understanding of what it takes to be a student at the university and a willingness to see it through.

Of course, the problem is easy to fix in print, but why should one of the world's most prestigious public universities compromise its standards?

Barbour received an opportunity to make this vision a reality and, unfortunately, she caved to the pressure to win. Now, the school needs to hire a leader who's willing to fight for the integrity of the athletic department.

Paul Gackle is a contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at pgackle@sfexaminer.com and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.

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