Blue White Illustrated

February 2022

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 48 of 67

F E B R U A R Y 2 0 2 2 4 9 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M E D I T O R I A L MATT HERB I t was less than two years ago that col- leges across the country were panick- ing over their finances, spooked by the cancellation of the NCAA Men's Basket- ball Tournament and the potential dis- ruption of the football season that some foresaw at the outset of the pandemic. At a lot of schools, the response to the first wave of the COVID-19 crisis was to begin cutting nonrevenue sports pro- grams. A report by ESPN in November 2020 found that 352 teams had been cut over the previous eight months, and the belt-tightening wasn't restricted to the lower divisions or to smaller Division I schools with precarious balance sheets. Seemingly wealthy Power Five schools like Iowa, Minnesota and Stanford also dropped teams. Between those moves and the across- the-board salary cuts that many schools imposed, it was easy to believe predic- tions that the pandemic would bring about a new era of austerity in college sports. For a while, it really did seem as though Taj Mahal facilities projects and ballooning salaries were things of the past. But here we are in February 2022 and … well … so much for those predictions. Since the end of the 2021 regular sea- son, the biggest story in college football has been the spending spree that schools such as USC, LSU and Miami have em- barked upon in their efforts to woo high- priced football coaches away from other national powers. The Trojans convinced Lincoln Riley to abandon Oklahoma, LSU nabbed Notre Dame's Brian Kelly and the Hurricanes lured Mario Cristobal back to his alma mater after four seasons at Oregon. The combined cost of those three coaching contracts: $285 million. Even schools that didn't enthusiasti- cally participate in the offseason bidding wars — schools such as Penn State and Michigan State — felt it necessary to ante up in order to keep their current head coaches off the market for the foreseeable future. The Spartans made Mel Tucker the highest-paid coach in the Big Ten when they give him a 10-year, $95 million con- tract after just 20 games at the school, and Penn State's James Franklin isn't hurting either, having recently signed his own 10-year extension worth $70 mil- lion. Franklin's deal is part of a broader ef- fort by Penn State to build a program that can consistently vie for the Big Ten championship and College Football Play- off. To that end, the university is also in the midst of a Lasch Building upgrade budgeted at $48.3 million. Franklin has talked about the need to "compete 365 days a year with everything," which means that he's looking for an ongoing commitment to facilities improvements. During a news conference in Tampa prior to the Outback Bowl, athletics director Sandy Barbour said that the contract negotiations with Franklin this past fall were largely about ensuring that he would be given the resources he felt he needed to compete at a championship level. "James is passionate about investing in the program," Barbour told reporters. "Some of that is facilities, all things that we've heard. … You all are as familiar with the needs in Lasch as I am and as James is. And let's face it, we're in the middle of the biggest piece. We're under construction. You can see it." She added that the return of full- capacity venues this year has helped Penn State get back on its feet financially. Sales of football season tickets "were out- standing," she said, "maybe an all-time record in terms of revenue for ticket sales. "We set a student record for sales for [new head coach] Micah Shrewsberry and men's basketball. That's a big chunk — not the largest, but it's a big chunk — of our revenues to run 31 programs." Penn State has done its share of belt- tightening since the start of the pan- demic, including a round of department- wide pay cuts in Intercollegiate Athletics. But even though it fields more varsity teams than most schools, it hasn't had to take the extreme step of cutting sports. PSU has built its identity around a broad-based athletics program that is nationally competitive in a variety of sports, from football to wrestling to vol- leyball to soccer. That will surely con- tinue to be a priority, but the challenges are only going to get bigger given the resources that will be required to field an elite football program. Spiraling salaries — not just for head coaches but also for coordinators and position coaches — are a fact of life. So, too, are the costs associated with facilities upgrades. One of the reasons that Franklin has been pushing so hard for investments in the program is that those investments weren't made during the waning years of the Paterno era. Once it catches up — if it catches up — PSU won't want to risk fall- ing behind again. Barbour said as much when she discussed the university's ap- proach to facilities going forward. "We're never done," she said. As mission statements go, that's as succinct as you're ever going to hear. It's also a succinct summary of the chal- lenges that lie ahead as Penn State looks to reconcile the needs of a title-hungry football program with its desire for great- ness everywhere else, too. ■ Athletics director Sandy Barbour has hailed the Lasch Building renovation that is now underway as a sign of Penn State's willingness to invest in its future. PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL The Cost Of Doing Business VARSITY VIEWS

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