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Tough decision

I know there were some raised eyebrows when former senior associate athletic director Jim Bartko decided to leave Cal and return to Oregon. After all, much of the reason he was hired was because of high-performance center and football stadium. As we all know, the project has hit a few snags and Bartko is gone.

But if you want to take a man at his word, Bartko had a lot of good reasons for going to Oregon that had nothing to do with the football stadium. First, he worked there for 17 years and obviously has a lot of ties there. Most of his wife’s family is there and her parents miss their grandchildren.

Still, Bartko says he wouldn’t even have thought of returning if Oregon didn’t hire Pat Kilkenny as its new athletic director. Bartko and Kilkenny have a friendship that dates back over 20 years. Kilkenny was one of the first donors that Bartko dealt with at Oregon.

Even with all that, Bartko said he mourned over his decision for weeks. He said he feels terrible that he let everyone at Cal down. He said his kids wanted to stay. He said it took this unique situation, with Kilkenny getting the AD job and asking Bartko to come back, to make the move.

I only had a chance to talk with Bartko a couple of times but I have no reason to doubt his sincerity. Sure, the timing does give one pause. But he also couldn’t control the timing of Kilkenny’s hiring.

Here are a few more quotes from Bartko that didn’t make it into my story that ran last Sunday:

“I let the people in the Bay Area down, I know that. It will be something that will be hard to live with for a very long time. Cal put its trust in me and gave me that opportunity. Leaving after one year was not something I wanted to do. I know I let Sandy (Barbour) and the chancellor down.”

“This decision took its toll on me. I did not sleep very well for a few weeks. But that just shows what a special place Cal is for me. If it were easy to leave, there would be something wrong. I just hope I don’t get eggs thrown on me by donors and fans when I come back to Haas Pavilion.”

“You never foresee all the issues with any project. It surprised me a little bit that the city of Berkeley was in a battle against us. I think the University of California makes that city. It’s what brings life to that area.”

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The No Boo Zone

I’ve had an ongoing debate with a friend of mine for about 20 years now on the place for booing in sports. The topic came up again recently in light of the story I wrote for Sunday’s paper about former Cal quarterback Joe Ayoob.

As most of you know, Ayoob was booed by Cal fans for some of his poor performances in 2005. He had some forgettable games in which he didn’t help put the Bears in position to win.

My rule of thumb has always been this: As long as the player is giving his maximum effort, he doesn’t deserve to be booed. If he simply isn’t good enough, so be it. But if the player is trying his hardest and just not getting the job done, what else is he supposed to do? Maybe he’s just not good enough, despite a good work ethic.

The discussion between my friend and I usually was in the context of professional sports. But I think my golden rule is even more applicable in the college game. The athletes aren’t getting paid huge sums of money. Granted, many of them are on scholarship, but that’s not a fair comparison. Either way, if he is trying as hard as he can to do the best job he can, he shouldn’t be booed.

This is true especially in college. Joe Ayoob was a 21-year old college student who the previous year was playing in front of a couple hundred people each week in junior college. He was going to classes, working toward his degree, going to practice, doing everything asked of him by the Cal coaching staff.

His one shortcoming is he wasn’t a good enough quarterback. Certainly, he shouldn’t have been the target of boos.

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A mystery

I see that ESPN.com’s Chad Ford now has Cal center DeVon Hardin projected to go late in the first round to Detroit in his latest mock draft. I’d be surprised if that actually happens. Actually, not so much surprised but in disagreement with it.

Hardin clearly has the combination of size, strength and athleticism that NBA scouts drool over, but his game still needs a lot of work. A lot of NBA teams don’t worry about that — they believe as long a a player has the measurables and potential, they can turn him into a legitimate pro. But as athletically gifted as Hardin is, he is yet to demonstrate any consistency on the collegiate level. If I were an NBA general manager, I’d like to at least see Hardin show he can consistently score, stay out of foul trouble and make good decisions throughout one full college season.

I think Hardin will get it, eventually. He’s an incredibly bright kid off the court. So far, that hasn’t translated to a high basketball IQ or good feel for the game. Assuming he returns to Cal for his senior season, he should be able to excel with all the help he will get inside from Ryan Anderson, Jordan Wilkes and Jamaal Boykin. A strong showing next season and he could legitimately be a lottery pick in 2008.

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Take that

I have to admit, when Cal’s baseball players told me a month ago that they thought they could still make the NCAA Tournament, I was rolling my eyes on the inside. But here we are with one weekend left, and the Bears actually are in position to get an at-large berth. They’re in the conversation now by winning their last five games, a streak that started with a blowout of nationally ranked UCLA. This team’s success depends on getting strong pitching from others in addition to ace Tyson Ross, who has established himself as one of the best pitchers in the country.

Cal is all alone in fourth place in the Pac-10, and if the Bears finish strong this weekend at Washington, they should get a bid. It would be sweet redemption for the upperclassmen that were snubbed in 2005, when Cal thought it had a bid wrapped up and somehow was left out of the field.

Cal plays Washington tonight, Saturday and Sunday. The selections are revealed Monday.

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Reality strikes

Cal’s softball team was hoping the clean slate of the NCAA Tournament would be a chance to show that it is better its record indicates, but all it did was demonstrate what the regular season told us — that the Bears were a borderline NCAA Tournament team.

Cal did have a good win on the first day against Florida State on Friday, but losses to Tennessee Tech and 11th-seeded and host Alabama on Saturday ended the season. It marked the first time since 1998 the Bears haven’t advanced past the first weekend of the tourney.

Cal ended the season at 34-32, its fewest wins since 1987. The question is whether the Bears will bounce back and return to their usual level of national prominence next season. With only one departing senior and seven freshman, experience will certainly help. Cal will need improvement from sophomore Lauren Frankiewicz and freshmen Marissa Drewrey and Brittany LaRosa on the mound, where the Bears ranked last in the Pac-10 in ERA. More help may be on the way in high school standout Valerie Arioto from Pleasanton, who has signed to come to Cal next year.

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still waiting

For those wondering what is going on with the stadium issue, we’ll still waiting for a trial date to be set. All I have been told is it’s supposed to be sometime this summer. The three lawsuits — by the City of Berkeley, the Panamoric Hill Association and the California Oak Foundation — have been consolidated into one suit, so there will be only one trial.

Most of you probably have heard that Cal has still gone ahead with some of the planning involved. The university hired Hunt Construction Group to manage the facility, and they have done some pre-construction tasks. But no physical changes are allowed to take place because of the injunction handed down in January. Construction can only begin if and when the ruling on the lawsuit goes in Cal’s favor.

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Hot ticket

Word out of the athletic department is season tickets for the 2007 season have already exceeded 30,000. That mark wasn’t reached last year until July 15.

Speaking of July 15, that is the first day single-game tickets go on sale for the upcoming season.

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It begins

Cal fans undoubtedly can’t wait to see where the so-called experts think the Bears fit in nationally. There are 3 1/2 months until the start of the season but that hasn’t stopped Athlon from weighing in with its preseason top 25.

The magazine has been counting down its rankings with one team per day and revealed Cal as its No. 11 team on Friday. That seems about right for a team that likely is to be ranked anywhere between 10 and 20 in the various preseason publications that publish such rankings.

Athlon also picked DeSean Jackson as its first team All-American at punt returner and tabbed center Alex Mack as a second team All-American.

The magazine also chose a preseason All-Pac-10 team. On its first team are Jackson, Mack, tight end Craig Stevens and punter Andrew Larson. Quarterback Nate Longshore, wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins, offensive lineman Mike Gibson, linebacker Zack Follett and kicker Tom Schneider are on the second team and running back Justin Forsett, defensive lineman Matthew Malele, linebacker Worrell Williams, and cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson were picked to the third team.

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Gameday clarification

There seem to be some fans that are under the impression that ESPN has made the decision to send its “Gameday” crew to Berkeley for the Cal-Tennessee football season-opener on Sept. 1. While it’s a possibility, it’s not a done deal.

According to the Cal athletic department, the game is under consideration for a visit from Gameday, but no decision has been made yet.

Still, there’s probably a strong chance the game will be chosen for Gameday. It will feature two top 25 teams and looks to be the country’s most compelling matchup that day. And ABC already has chosen it for its first “Saturday Night Football” game of the season.

Here’s guessing Cal’s game against USC on Nov. 10 will also get a visit from Gameday, providing both teams are having the types of seasons expected of them.

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Yes, but does he have a curveball?

This just in from the A’s: Marshawn Lynch will be throwing out the first pitch before Wednesday’s game against the Kansas City Royals. It’s part of a pregame visit Lynch is holding with the Oakland Boys & Girls Club. Lynch was a member of the club when it used to be called the Wallace W. Knox Clubhouse.

Speaking of Lynch, here’s a link to a Buffalo News story about his first mini-camp last weekend:
http://www.buffalonews.com/213/story/74627.html