Capitol Alert

UC regents push for stricter standards in new coach bonus policy

UC Davis head football coach Ron Gould cheers on his team during a game against the Eastern Washington Eagles on Sept. 27, 2014.
UC Davis head football coach Ron Gould cheers on his team during a game against the Eastern Washington Eagles on Sept. 27, 2014. The Sacramento Bee file

Concerns raised by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom about “lower-than-last” academic criteria in a new athletic coach bonus policy have prompted the University of California’s governing board to call for a vote on the proposal.

Originally approved by UC President Janet Napolitano last month, the policy requires that student-athletes meet certain academic standards before a coach can receive any academic or athletic incentive pay.

Using the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate, a 1,000-point measure that tracks student-athletes’ academic performance, coaches would have to keep their team above a score of 930. That is the same benchmark for post-season eligibility in the NCAA.

“This conversation started after the football program at UC Berkeley ranked last in the Pac-12 for academic performance, yet the new policy sets a standard beneath that failing grade,” Newsom said in a statement, after submitting a letter to the Board of Regents detailing his concerns.

In the letter, Newsom called on the university to “set a more amibitous goal” to ensure that UC athletes are receiving a solid education. Only the UC Riverside men’s basketball squad fell below the 930 threshold last year.

As a discussion of the policy at Wednesday’s board meeting began, Regent Bonnie Reiss said the full board would weigh in with a vote Thursday during a related iterm delegating approval of athletic director and coach contracts to the university president.

“Why are we setting forth a policy at a very low level and just counting on campuses to do more than that?” Reiss said.

UC officials could not immediately clarify how a regent vote would impact Napolitano’s prior adoption of the coach bonus policy or whether it could overrule her decision.

Several regents expressed concerns that pursuing stricter academic standards for incentive pay would put UC at a hiring disadvantage.

“If we want to play in this game, we have to be competitive in this game,” Regent Norman Pattiz said. “And if we want to be competitive in this game…there has to be a maximum amount of flexibility.”

“They can still get a huge salary to attract the best coaches,” Reiss replied. “We’re simply saying that above whatever fabulous salary you’re getting, incentives will be tied to this.”

An impassioned Regent Eddie Island took exception to comments that he felt devalued student-athletes’ on-field contributions.

“There is some degree of cultural arrogance that has leaked into this discussion,” he said. “Athletic value is not some throwaway... Don’t treat this as somehow less.”

Call The Bee’s Alexei Koseff, (916) 321-5236. Follow him on Twitter @akoseff.