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UC regents shelve policy tying coach bonuses to academics
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The University of California’s governing board tabled a policy on Thursday that would have made the public college system the nation’s second to tie bonuses awarded to winning athletic coaches to how well their players do in the classroom.

The new policy approved by UC President Janet Napolitano last month would have made coaches ineligible for lucrative incentive payouts if their intercollegiate sports teams failed to meet certain minimum academic standards. The University of Maryland adopted the same compensation provision in the fall.

The California policy also would have applied to campus athletic directors and was set to take effect this week but ran into opposition on Thursday. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and some other members of the university’s Board of Regents argued that the academic performance standard underlying the policy was not ambitious enough since all but one of UC’s Division 1 teams already meets it.

“The reform, it seems to me, is a bit modest at best. In fact, it is a bit illusory,” Newsom said. “We are doing almost nothing here under the illusion that we are doing something.”

Newsom specifically faulted the policy for using the same cutoff score for satisfactory academic performance that the National Collegiate Athletic Association already uses to determine how many hours teams can practice, how many scholarships they can award, and whether they can compete in the post-season.

By reserving the most lucrative bonuses for a team’s athletic prowess and relying on the NCAA’s academic eligibility benchmark, the new rule does not give coaches any real additional incentive to make sure their players are succeeding academically, he argued.

Dan Guerrero, athletic director at UCLA, cautioned against what he said would be the unintended consequences of the University of California setting a standard higher than the NCAA’s. Sports agents might insist on higher salaries for their coach clients. Student-athletes might shy away from rigorous majors, he said, or be deprived of better opportunities at other schools because their coaches could be penalized if they transferred, Guerrero said.

“Maybe our coaches should be recruiting three-star athletes who do slightly better academically instead of recruiting five-star athletes,” he said.

The exchange sparked a spirited debate about the role of sports in a college setting, with some regents arguing that perhaps coaches should get bigger bonuses if their team amassed a winning academic record and others suggesting that the idea was elitist.

“The college degree is not the goal of every athlete that comes to the university. They come to the university for athletics and athletics in itself are a valuable thing,” Regent Eddie Island said.

In the end, the board decided to look at alternatives before revisiting the issue at an unspecified later date.

The shelved policy was developed by a committee Napolitano created in September to address concerns over low graduation rates for the football, men’s basketball and six other teams at UC Berkeley.

Currently, only Berkeley’s head football coach, Sonny Dykes, works under a contract that links his future bonuses to how well his players perform off the field over four years. Because Dykes is only in his second year at Cal, the provision has not yet been part of his annual performance review.