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LNP (Lancaster, PA)

 

Penn State has a plan.

If/when that plan comes to full fruition, the northeast sector of the vast University Park campus will be an athletic village of sleek structures of brick and glass with sweeping roofs and state-of-the-art amenities for the athletes and coaches of 31 intercollegiate programs.

The plan was released Monday morning, and discussed in a presentation open to the public and media Monday afternoon. The artist's conceptions were cool - renovated Beaver Stadium looked great in a brick-and-sandstone suit - in a futuristic way, like images of a proposed colony on Mars.

Twenty-three buildings will be involved, including a "Center of Excellence,'' where most of athletic administration, training and nutrition, sports science and seven varsity teams will be headquartered.

Also, eventually, new: a home for the All-Sports Museum, basketball practice facility, cross country team house, golf clubhouse and indoor practice facility, Olympic sport training center, outdoor track and facility and a parking garage to replace some of the spaces gobbled up by all this construction.

Major renovations are coming for the Nittany Lion Softball Park, Bryce Jordan Center (where the goal is "a more intimate basketball atmosphere''), the field hockey complex, Lasch Football Building, lacrosse field and both golf courses.

Wow.

The operative word above is "eventually."

Related: Beaver Stadium Renovation Delayed for Other Projects

It's a 20-year plan. Even if it becomes a total reality, by the time it's finished, James Franklin will likely be in his late 60s, and This Space might be covering senior-tour shuffleboard.

Speaking of This Space, it was naive/cynical enough to assume that the roughly six-month delay in unveiling this plan was because the school was struggling to come up with the money, or at least a concrete plan for raising it.

Turns out, none of it is funded. That financial piece of the plan is only now at, in Athletic Director Sandy Barbour's words, the "philanthropy feasibility study'' stage.

"It's an aspirational plan,'' Barbour said Monday. "Ultimately, we'll build what we can pay for.''

This is not to suggest that the assembly and unveiling of this lavish plan was a waste of time. Just figuring out where everything can and will go, doing the square-footage math and thinking in detail about the engineering and logistics of it all are sizable steps to fruition.

Think of the details. Cost overruns. Building codes and other red tape. Continuing to run a university while all the work is going on and on and on. The mind boggles.

Surely the money is going to be an issue. Per the plan, it will come from private giving, along with "public-private partnerships.'' Only in the case of the indoor tennis and aquatic facilities, which will be partly recreational for the entire student body, will fees be assessed of Penn State students, Barbour said.

The first stage alone - the Center of Excellence, the indoor tennis center and natatorium, and upgrades to the soccer stadium - will cost an estimated $120 million.

The extensive planned renovation of Beaver Stadium by itself will surely cost much more than that, and won't begin before 2023.

We're dealing here with one of the two great pillars of college sports that the media can't touch, and that thus remains mostly mysterious: fundraising.

(The other is admissions.)

Penn State's athletic department famously claims to fund itself, without government or general-fund money.

This might be the ultimate test of that.

In Barbour's previous AD job, at Cal, the school eliminated four sports because of what was widely termed "poor budget management.''

Also at Cal, she was the driving force behind the construction of a football training facility and renovation of the football stadium, for which the financing plan collapsed. The University ended up taking drastic measures to manage its debt.

Barbour seems sharp and tough and engaging. The Cal experience could be a useful one.

Joe Paterno is estimated to have been the driving force behind $2 billion in giving to Penn State, but that was university-wide, not just for athletics, and took place over nearly a half-century.

If the university has a current figure to line up behind like JoePa, I'm not aware of it.

Will the endless Sandusky scandal litigation, in the news again this week, hurt? Will winning the Big Ten and going to the Rose Bowl help?

We only have 20 years of waiting to find out.

@MikeGrossLNP.

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March 17, 2017
 
 
 

 

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