Economically, We Need Penn State Football
In recent weeks, I have heard many sportswriters call for Penn State to receive the death penalty, or imply that PSU should cancel next season. I do agree with their premise that those associated with the crimes should be punished and the culture at Penn State needs to be altered. In time, I do believe that both will happen. What they don’t realize, however, is that Penn State football means so much more than just blue and white Nike jerseys on the Beaver Stadium grass.
Yes, the administrative culture at Penn State enabled the unimaginable atrocities that have occurred to several young boys. But to assume that all of Centre County is a guilty community is just wrong. Penn State football is an ecosystem deeply interwoven between two zip codes. We feed it, and it feeds us.
Simply stated, Penn State football provides athletes from every sport with scholarships, students with internships, and hundreds of people — both young and old — with jobs and careers.
Penn State has 790 varsity athletes. These 790 student-athletes likely won’t be able to compete in their respective sport if Penn State football were to shut down. As an auxiliary unit of Penn State, the entire Athletic Department is considered self-sufficient. Football is the obvious motor that allows the Athletic Department to roar. In 2010-2011, Penn State Football — yes, just football — profited over $53 million. However, the Athletic Department distributes a majority of that cash to 27 other teams, that without football’s financial assistance, wouldn’t be able to operate. Without Beaver Stadium Saturdays, there are no Women’s Volleyball Fridays or Cael Sanderson Sundays.
Furthermore, a death penalty would result in a loss of scholarships not only within the football program, but for 27 other Nittany Lion squads. Yes, Penn State football financially enables both the education and operation of all other teams. The NCAA often boasts the term “student-athlete”. If they were to end football, the NCAA would obstruct the opportunity for hundreds to become either.
By all means, punish the men responsible in this mess. But do we want to possibly strip Penn State degrees from hundreds of young men and women who were not even around at the time of the criminal activities?
On fall football Saturdays, thousands of students pack Beaver Stadium. They do this not only to watch their classmates compete on the battlefield, but in hundreds of cases, to usher in patrons, direct traffic, and serve food.
A good friend of mine sells ice cream at every home game as a fundraiser for his fraternity. It’s a method that allows his fraternity to thrive without having to constantly empty his pockets. He told me that if the season were to be cancelled, his fraternity would struggle to find the funds to be put on various membership and community events throughout the school year.
Penn State football also provides several career advancement opportunities. Many marketing and media major students gain experience working directly with the team and the athletic department. This may be the only opportunity they have to work with a big name program before graduation. The absence of football would mean no broadcast tapes for radio and television majors — for some, the highlight of their college careers. Hell, #BuckleUp could even be out of a job.
State College began to sprout up at the end of the 1800s, long after Penn State was established as a University. The town and the University are truly essential to each other. As the football program rose to prominence during the Joe Paterno era, the school and the town mutually expanded.
We’re dealing with simple pre-algebra here: The State College economy is dependent on Penn State. Penn State football is the primary force behind Penn State brand, hence State College is, was, and will always be economically reliant on Penn State football.
Last week, I took a taxi with a few friends in downtown State College. We were casually discussing the possibility of the death penalty when the cab driver interrupted, “Oh no, there goes half of my income!”
Local cabbies aren’t the only ones who feed off of the football beast. Bars, restaurants, and merchandise stores are all impacted. But football is only played during the fall, right? Yes, however, the presence of Penn State football always looms over Centre County, emotionally and financially. State College might survive without football, but it wouldn’t thrive. Fact is, without Penn State football, hotel rooms would be vacant, jobs would be lost, and the State College community would economically wilt until the Nittany Lions return on Saturdays.
Now that I’ve outlined the potential economic impact that would hang over Centre County if a Death Penalty were administered, here’s an idea on what Penn State could do going forward.
Make the entire Athletic Department virtually non-profit for the next three years.
During 2010-2011, the Athletic Department profited over $30 million. Let’s split that lump sum up between five child abuse awareness organizations (say RAINN, PCAR, and three others) for the next three fiscal years. If Penn State athletics just maintains the same kind of financial success that they’ve enjoyed in recent years, that would result in at least $90 million being donated to various sexual abuse organizations by 2015.
Penn Staters want to help. We really do. We’re actively trying to atone for the failings of our once-trusted higher-ups. However, it seems like no one knows where to start.
With this system in place, when an alum purchases season tickets, a portion of it would effectively go directly towards child abuse awareness. When a life-long fan buys a jersey for his son, he supports the victims. When a student attends a PSU baseball game, part of that revenue goes to abuse awareness.
Contrary to popular belief, Penn Staters can support their institution and child abuse awareness at the same time.
In summary, the proposed scenario allows athletes to keep scholarships, students to keep jobs and internships, and State College to stay economically sustainable — a much better solution than the death penalty in my eyes.
So go ahead. All the folks wanting to eliminate Penn State football can keep clamoring for the death penalty. Because, if by some wild chance that Penn State is hit with the death penalty, the enormous, economic trickle down effect will take thousands of innocent people as collateral.
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About the Author
ESPN’s signature pregame show will return to the iconic Old Main Lawn on Saturday morning.
Gene Rockey — an employee in Copy Services for the past 26 years — will retire this week after more than 30 years of service to Penn State.
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