As a Penn State graduate, I’m often asked why the Nittany Lions can’t be more relevant in basketball.
And on the surface, it does look like one of the seven sports wonders of the world: good conference, nice facility, deep-pocketed alumni, a loyal fan base desperate for something to cheer about in the winter.
Like most issues, there are no simplistic answers. There are a lot of things that make the job a challenging one -- where, for example, is Penn State’s recruiting base? Northeast kids lean Big East; Chicago and Detroit kids think Big Ten but not necessarily Penn State.
But to me, the single greatest obstacle between the Lions and success is the administration.
At best there is disinterest. At worst there is neglect.
Two years ago, I went to State College to talk to Ed DeChellis about trying to grow a basketball program in the shadow of a great football team.
I went on believing that the notion that Penn State was, and would always be, a football school that was killing the basketball team.
I was right.
I just didn’t realize it was the people at Penn State who were reaffirming that notion.
DeChellis gave me a tour of the Bryce Jordan Center. He showed me the office space only recently redesigned for him and his staff. He pointed out the new signage in the practice facility and within the arena, all signifying that there was a basketball team using the place.
The building was built in 1996. Until then it could have been the Lakers’ homecourt for all the Penn State branding.
Prior to, the Jordan Center was a multipurpose facility that just so happened to house a basketball team.
And now this.
As Blue White Illustrated reported, this week the Nittany Lions were forced to practice for the second time in as many weeks in the Intramural Building across from the Bryce Jordan Center.
Last week, Bon Jovi, rehearsing for an upcoming tour, commandeered the space -- including the separate practice courts that the Lions typically practice on. This week it was a career fair.
Yes, a career fair.
I’m just trying to imagine Joe Paterno taking his team to the IM fields because of a tractor pull.
The IM Building, I can attest, was old when I was in school and that was more than 20 years ago.
The kind administrators went out of their way to retrofit the space for hoops (it’s usually used for volleyball).
They hung some temporary hoops -- Blue White Illustrated photos show they’re crooked -- and kindly covered up the spots where volleyball stanchions usually sit with tape.
You know, so Talor Battle wouldn’t blow out a knee.
Penn State is a football school and it should be. Without football, without Joe Paterno, it would be an ag school stuck in the middle of the state.
But that certainly doesn’t mean its basketball team should be treated like an ugly stepchild.
Ohio State has a nice little football team. Basketball team isn’t half-bad, either. Ditto Texas and Florida.
And I’m going to venture a guess that Thad Matta, Rick Barnes and Billy Donovan haven’t been sent schlepping to make way for Lady Gaga.
Part of the problem here is the complicated tap-dance that involves running the Bryce Jordan Center.
It’s on Penn State’s campus but another group, Arena Network, helps to book the venue, and because of the convoluted process to get the funding, the university actually has to pay rent to use the arena for basketball and even for its office spaces.
Which means the basketball team can be booted for Bon Jovi.
But if the administration cared, heck if it noticed it had a basketball team, it could rattle a few cages and make things break in favor of the Lions.
You build a practice court, theoretically, so your team can practice on it.
More than that, more than prep time for critical games for a team trying to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament (yes, there is more than that), is the message shuffling your team off to the side gym sends.
It’s a message that surely rings in the ears of the players currently wearing Penn State uniforms and has the power to reverberate to players who might considering wearing Penn State uniforms in the future.
It’s loud, it’s clear and it’s painfully obvious beneath the shadows of Beaver Stadium, the Lasch Building (the football-only building that includes a 13,000 square-foot weight room) and Holuba Hall (the team’s indoor practice facility):
Only one team matters here.
And fellas, you’re not on it.