Knowlton tells Rotary Club about challenges, triumphs since taking over as Cals AD

Charles Lindauer/Special to the Town Crier
Jim Knowlton, Cal’s athletic director, addresses the Rotary Club of Los Altos Dec. 5.

Speaking before members of the Rotary Club of Los Altos Dec. 5, UC Berkeley athletic director Jim Knowlton detailed his efforts to improve the school’s sports programs since he took over last year.

Knowlton, hired in May 2018, said his primary goal is to provide support and development for Cal’s 850 student-athletes and 30 teams. To better do so, Knowlton said he has focused on integrating athletics into other campus departments and governance with support from Chancellor Carol Christ.

Among his chief accomplishments over the past 18 months: creating a balanced budget and generating the department’s first-ever strategic plan.

Knowlton told Rotarians he knew the athletic department faced a number of challenges when he came aboard, including a structural budget deficit, the cost of debt service for seismic upgrades at California Memorial Stadium and the potential of reducing a number of varsity sports.

He said he only accepted the position after meeting Christ and being impressed by her leadership. She agreed to his request that he also become a member of her cabinet and that she would “have his back.”

Since he has been on campus, Knowlton has undertaken an exhaustive speaking schedule, meeting with alumni, potential donors and faculty. The results thus far have been positive, he said.

Knowlton pointed out some of Cal’s recent accomplishments, including the football team’s success this season. After beating rival Stanford University in the Big Game, the Golden Bears defeated UCLA to close the regular season and will play in a bowl game for the second year in a row (Redbox Bowl against Illinois Dec. 30 at Levi’s Stadium).

On the coaching front, men’s swimming and diving head coach David Durden has been named coach of Team USA for the 2020 Summer Olympics, and Knowlton is also excited about the coaches he’s hired this year to lead the men’s and women’s basketball teams – Mark Fox and Charmin Smith, respectively.

Knowlton also mentioned several upgrades at Memorial Stadium, including the addition of metal detectors for security, expanded beer and wine sales, and new fan-assistance booths.

Knowlton previously served as athletic director at the Air Force Academy and at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he was named the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Athletic Director of the Year. Along the way, he had been a student-athlete and faculty member at Army West Point, and he retired from the U.S. Army as a colonel with 26 years of service.

Marlene Cowan is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For more information, visit

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