Sandy Barbour Welcomes Community Input In Public Town Hall Q&A
The final of three town hall-style discussions about the Athletic Department’s Strategic Planning Process and Facilities Master Plan was held last night and was the longest and most engaging session by far. Students were invited to the first town hall, faculty and staff were invited to the second, and alumni and the general public were invited to this one. Student media were invited to the first and third.
Sandy Barbour led the discussion, spending approximately an hour outlining her staff’s master plan for all of the undertakings they have slated moving forward. We outlined them after the first town hall, but here’s a basic rundown: since the process is just beginning, few tangible decisions have been made other than, essentially, how to plan to make said decisions. There is a five-point Strategic Plan Framework, and the points are “Comprehensive Excellence,” “We Are…,” “Key Partnerships and Relationships,” “Culture,” and “Financial Model.” The general idea is to create the nation’s best environment in every way for student-athletes and fans of all demographics at the lowest possible cost (though acknowledging that it will be far from an actual low cost).
The second half of the presentation focused on the Facilities Master Plan. We also wrote about it in more detail after the first town hall, but the idea was that athletic facilities are being evaluated top-to-bottom and lists of “wants” and “needs” are being written down with cost taken into consideration. At the first town hall, Barbour candidly said that there was an unofficial spectrum of facilities, with McCoy Natatorium at one end and Pegula Ice Arena at the other.
Last month’s student town hall had a decent question-and-answer session, but a predictably low turnout hindered the intelligent discussion that could’ve been had. That wasn’t an issue this time, as a section of bleachers at Rec Hall was relatively filled up with alumni and the general public who were full of questions for the new athletic director.
The session started off with a question about low football attendance and whether or not that’s a result of a weak football schedule. Barbour explained that Penn State will play nine conference games from now on, so the non-conference slate has little room to work with, and it will feature Pitt for the next four years.
Barbour had little to say when an attendee implied that Penn State should reconsider working with Pepsi and other “unhealthy sponsors” in between two questions about intramural sports. She first informed the crowd that intramural and club sports won’t directly be impacted by the plans, but some teams’ usage of facilities overlaps. If a club and varsity sport use the same facility, then they both benefit from potential renovations. The second question about intramurals pertained to cycling, and whether there are plans to grow the sport. Barbour responded by explaining cycling is not under her department’s purview.
The discussion continued into the hot topic of what to do with Beaver Stadium. Barbour was asked first about alternate ways to create revenue, and said she’s looking into ways to use the huge stadium “more than seven Saturdays a year.” She noted there “aren’t a lot of specifics at this point” and her staff is interested in what the community wants to see (that was a major point of emphasis through the presentation — make your voice heard). A suggestion came in later asking if Barbour had any interest in hosting high school football State Championships, and as with all things at this point, it’s under consideration.
Part two of the Beaver Stadium discussion was about the its features. The last town hall talked about the bathrooms, concessions, and merchandise, while this one focused on accessibility. “A lot of my friends are getting older,” one attendee said. “A lot of my friends are giving up their football tickets because there is nothing to hold on to going up and down the aisles.” Barbour said that’s on the list of improvements Beaver Stadium needs. The final part of the discussion, as you might expect, was about the decision to renovate vs. replace. “Those are obviously the two options,” Barbour said, explaining that she wouldn’t be fulfilling her responsibilities without considering every option. She said her “desire” is to renovate, but it’ll come down to costs and what will be the easier route to achieve her staff’s goals (one of which includes preserving the history of Beaver Stadium). It was easy to tell that everyone’s goal is to not tear down Beaver Stadium.
An interesting part of the Q&A’s first section was when a fan stood up to give a comment, not a question. He said he’s been a loyal fan for many years, and warned Barbour “not to screw it up.” He said Penn State has given the impression before that it cares more about money than its fans, and said “please, let’s not screw it up again as we move forward.” As he sat down, the crowd broke out in applause as Barbour agreed.
A question submitted through Twitter (“Who would’ve thought 15 years ago…” Barbour joked) asked, “What are the strategies to improve the damage that has been done to the Penn State brand?”
Barbour explained that her unique perspective, being an “outsider” who came to Penn State a few years after the referenced damage was done, and said that the key is telling Penn State’s great stories.
“We have a great history and stories that need to be told,” Barbour said. Later in the session, she shared one of those stories.
“I have spoken with literally hundreds of lettermen that played for Joe Paterno. Not one of them has led with, or had a significant part of their comments, contain Big Ten Championships, or National Championships, or winning, or getting to the NFL. They have led with, and the conversation became dominated by, the man that I believe pushed them. The one that got them to class, that made them graduate. The focus was on their development as a person. And that is his story. It’s that comprehensive excellence that I’ve talked about a number of times. That’s what Penn State has done for our students, and that’s what this strategic plan is about. Maintaining and enhancing. We just may have to do it differently because the world around us is changing.”
A common theme as the questions wound down was the Blue Band. The community let Barbour know two main points: Tailgreat should be reinstated while money is being moved around, and the Band should be heard more at games instead of that “god-awful” noise, which brought up the night’s second round of applause.
The last question of the night was about the university’s change of its academic logo, and whether or not there are any plans to change the athletic logo. Barbour said there are absolutely no plans to change the iconic Nittany Lion logo to the session’s final round of applause. She went on to explain the importance and meaning of the current logo, when honestly she could’ve just dropped the mic and walked off to the sound of the crowd’s resounding support.
After the session ended, it was clear that the town halls had worked as planned. The master plans aren’t finished yet, or at least aren’t ready to be publicized. They’re still in the stages where they need input from as many people as possible, and that’s what these sessions provided, though there was no time frame given for the release of the plans.
The most important lesson to come from the town hall was the very nature of the town hall — thousands of people will play a role in the future of Penn State’s athletic programs, so make your voice heard.