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Big Stats Man on Campus : Professor Known as 'Triple Threat' in Academia Is Also the Ultimate Sports Fan

February 04, 1988|DICK WAGNER | Times Staff Writer

Dan Barber makes his living teaching in a classroom at California State University, Long Beach. But he spends much of his remaining time in a gym, keeping basketball statistics.

Barber, an associate professor in the Graduate Center for Public Policy and Administration, leads a stats crew of four that marks the shots, rebounds, points, fouls, assists, turnovers and steals at 49er games.

"I like the pressure of trying to record this stuff," Barber said. "I like the mental test, it's like a high-speed crossword puzzle. You have to be so quick and make judgment calls--was that an assist or just a pass that didn't lead to a basket? The game is fast, so you might have your head down writing and miss things occasionally. If you do, you realize it's just a game and make an educated guess."

He gets paid $50 a game and loves it so much that he gives the money back to the athletic department.

Barber, 43, has never taken a wife but has been the ultimate sports lover, basking in the court-side atmosphere he believes will sustain him forever. Wearing his yellow 49ers sweater, he kibitzes with officials and sportswriters, roots for the 49ers, rides their opponents and sometimes even jots plays on napkins and sends them over to coaches.

"The games are almost like a tapestry," Barber said. "And I like the fact that then they're over, unlike so many other things that go on and on and on. They are not like a simmering 20-year religious war."

Part of 'Press Box Culture'

His avocation has admitted him to what he calls the "press box culture," and he is grateful.

"I have the best seat in the house," Barber said.

He is large enough to break that seat, which he did to one rickety folding chair at USC in December. He attributes the steady expansion of his stomach to years of teaching at night, then going out to eat. He claims to not know or care about his weight.

"He's not afraid to stick his fingers in your M & Ms when you're not looking," said Shayne Schroeder, the 49ers' director of media relations. "You just accept that about him."

But it isn't just Barber's appetite that impresses Schroeder. "He's articulate and witty," said Schroeder, who was amazed when Barber needed only five minutes to compose a 20-line poem about a former member of the athletic department at her going-away party.

Joan Bonvicini, coach of the 49er women's basketball team, giggles at the mention of Barber. "He's funny," she said. "The kids like him, the boosters like him. He's a sincere guy who cares about our athletic programs. He's really involved."

His devotion is always evident during a game.

"I live and die a little bit out there . . . I groan, but not out loud as much as I used to," said Barber, who often travels to road games at his own expense.

He tries to keep up the morale of coaches and players. "I think coaches like to talk to a faculty member, and it's important for athletes to see a faculty member in another atmosphere," said Barber, who also works 49er football games.

Sunny sports stadiums appeal to him, but so do fluorescent academic arenas, where he is known as Dr. Daniel M. Barber. There he sees himself as an intellectual.

This Monday, for example, he gave a report at the National Conference on Public Management in Phoenix and on Tuesday morning was feeling as good about that as he would a 49er victory. "I thought I had a strong effort," he said.

John Parker, the associate dean of the public policy center, called Barber "a triple threat, active on university committees, in research and in teaching."

His fellow professors, Barber said, like the idea that he is always running off to games. "In some cases I think they're envious I have that second family or outlet," he said.

The shelves in Barber's small office are crammed with "The Bureaucratic Experience," "The Metropolis," "The American Polity" and similar books. There are color photos taken in foreign countries during study tours he has conducted. Things he has written are on a desk: A book called "Finding Funding: From Feds to Foundations" and a newsletter for fans of the women's basketball team.

Sports never seems far from his mind.

On a recent night he welcomed students to his Foundations of Public Policy and Administration class. He wore a coat and necktie that sports spectators never see, but did not keep the coat on long.

He referred to one of his former professors at the University of Miami, immediately tacking on, "you know, the national (football) champions."

A student, introducing herself, said she had attended Penn State. "The name rings a bell," Barber said.

Another student said he had gone to the University of Texas at El Paso.

"The Miners," Barber interjected.

He urged the students to attend a campus reception, at which he said, "you'll learn my predictions on the women's final four."

After a while, Barber told the class, "I may go overboard on my sports analogies, it's a personal interest."

And one born long ago.

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