10 Years, 10 Changes: Penn State’s Craziest Decade
As the decade comes to a close this month, it’s hard to not look back at Penn State’s last 10 years in utter awe.
This is a decade that’s included more than one ongoing national news story, the fall of the historic football team, its subsequent rise back to greatness, plenty of job turnover, and countless changes to the once-humble college town and now-emerging urban hub of State College.
Sanctions were imposed. And then they were lifted. What was once a bank and The Diner is now two different Pittsburgh-based restaurant chains. THON and Greek Life were forever changed. And almost all of this was, in some way, shape, or form, immortalized in THON’s annual line dance.
As the days of the 2010s dwindle, we decided to look back at some of those changes and how they’ve gotten us to where we are today. Below we’ve picked what we feel are 10 of the most impactful changes that have shaped the last decade. We’re aware that they are far from the only important ones and would love to hear what you feel have been being the biggest catalysts of a decade that brought turbulence, change, and plenty of excitement to Happy Valley.
Joe Paterno’s Firing & The Ensuing Fallout
After more than 60 years, Joe Paterno’s illustrious Penn State career came to a tarnishing end in November of 2011 when he was fired following the unearthing of child sexual assault allegations against Jerry Sandusky.
Shortly after Sandusky’s indictment, Paterno was unceremoniously fired by the Board of Trustees over the phone. The Board voted unanimously to remove Paterno even after he had announced his intent to retire after the end of the season. When the Nittany Lions played Nebraska in the first game after Paterno’s firing, it marked the first time since Harry Truman was in office that the legendary coach wasn’t on the sideline.
Paterno’s firing was only one of the ramifications brought on by the Sandusky scandal. The famed Joe Paterno statue was removed and Penn State incurred severe sanctions, including heavy fines, a ban on the football team playing in post-season bowl games, and reductions in the number of scholarships available for players.
In 2014, the NCAA announced it was lifting the postseason ban and would restore the stripped scholarships within the next two years, prompting a celebration in Beaver Canyon. Less than six months later, 112 of Paterno’s all-time-leading 409 wins that had been vacated were also restored.
Penn State redesigned its shield logo in 2015 after using the previous logo for more than 20 years. The new design was intended to modernize the university’s look, as the old one didn’t “translate well digitally.” At the time, Penn State praised its new representation’s versatility for uses on social media.
As it’s been phased in over the years and gained familiarity, the new logo has also gained favor. However, early on, many were hesitant to welcome the change, with some calling it a “zombie lion” and others saying it looks like the Lion “may have just pooped himself.” We just still don’t know what’s going with those eyes.
After nearly two years of construction, the HUB reopened in 2015 sporting the handsome new digs that students today have grown accustomed to while lounging on the High School Music steps and waiting in line for Chick-fil-A.
The expansion project cost more than $40 million and added an additional 54,800 square feet to the building while renovating an existing 52,000 square feet. Included in the addition were the open atrium on the parking garage side of the building, the university bookstore, the THON store, and those iconic steps where we definitely sing “Stick to the Status Quo” every day.
“For the 20,000 students that pass through it each day, the HUB is the pulse of this university,” then-UPUA President Anand Ganjam said when the new space opened. “From its vast array of eateries to the diverse range of programs and events hosted almost every day of the week, this building is by far the most utilized of spaces at this campus.”
Division I Hockey
Bringing Division I hockey to Happy Valley had been in the works for more than a decade before the Nittany Lions played their first game at Penn State Ice Arena in 2012. A feasibility study was conducted during the 1990s and a research proposal was submitted in 2004. However, things didn’t really take shape until 2010 when former Penn State Icers club hockey coach Joe Battista, Penn State alumnus and Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, and then-Penn State president Graham Spanier took tours of the hockey rinks at Miami (OH), Notre Dame, and Minnesota.
After touring Minnesota’s 3M Arena at Mariucci, Pegula verbally committed to donate the money to bring Division I hockey to Penn State. Later that year, he signed the agreement to donate $88 million to fund the construction of Pegula Ice Arena, which opened three years later.
Since joining the Division I ranks, the Nittany Lions have skyrocketed to prominence, winning the Big Ten in 2017 and making the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three seasons.
Franklin, Barron, Barbour
After the tumultuous fallout of the Sandusky scandal where the university president, athletic director, and head football coach were all removed, and a weird, two-year holding pattern, all three roles were filled permanently within seven months of each other in 2014. The arrivals of James Franklin, Eric Barron, and Sandy Barbour have brought somewhat of a calming presence and plenty of good fortune.
Franklin signed on with Penn State in January of 2014 following Bill O’Brien’s departure for the NFL after only two seasons in Happy Valley. Franklin took over a program that was under the leadership of an interim athletic director and not yet eligible for the postseason. After two mediocre 7-5 seasons, Franklin’s squad broke through in 2016, winning the Big Ten and earning a trip to the Rose Bowl — outcomes previously thought to be years away in a best-case scenario. Franklin is now 55-23 as head coach at Penn State. He recently accepted a contract extension through 2025.
One month after Franklin left Vanderbilt for Penn State, Barron also agreed to make the journey up north, leaving his post as president of Florida State to fill the same role at Penn State. During his five years, he’s excelled at managing the university budget by limiting tuition increases and lobbying for state appropriations. Barron’s recent work has focused on the “One Penn State 2025” initiative that’s intended to establish the university as a leader in lifelong learning and engagement.
In July of 2014, Barbour also signed on, leaving her role as athletic director at Cal. Under Barbour’s leadership, Penn State has won six NCAA team championships and 29 conference titles. She’s helped keep the athletic department financially self-sufficient during her tenure, even while it undergoes a major facilities overhaul. Barbour is under contract through 2023 after receiving an extension earlier this year.
Line dance lyrics (2014, 2015): Franklin’s back in his home state / He’s prepared to dominate and Barbour, Barron are on board / 409, wins restored!
Canning was gradually phased out throughout the mid-to-late part of the decade following the deaths of two students in separate car accidents on the way home from canning trips.
After student Courtney O’Bryan died in December 2011 and another group of canners was injured in a car accident the following February, THON did away with canning trips during the winter months.
In 2015, THON canceled all remaining canning trips leading up to THON 2016 after another student, Tally Sepot, passed away in a single-car accident. Initially, THON said it was committed to preserving canning, but in “a careful way in working with the university to find ways to mitigate any risk involved.” However, two months later, it was announced that the fundraising practice would be phased out by 2019.
The final canning weekend ever took place in 2017. Alternative means of fundraising like canvassing and “ribboning” replaced canning in the interim. However, earlier this year, THON banned all forms of fundraising that require traveling after multiple relatively minor car accidents during the fall. Moving forward, fundraising will now primarily be through THON Nation, DonorDrive, and corporate solicitation.
Line dance lyric (2018): Cans retire, Dash is here / Hundred days, far and near
Much of State College’s landscape has changed during the course of the last 10 years — from the closure of iconic local businesses like Grillers, The Diner, and Fraser Street Deli to the arrivals of several high rises around town in their shadows.
Instead of the folksy charm of old State College, we now have a growing borough that’s home to a collection of tall, swanky apartment buildings with floor-to-ceiling windows and debonair names like the Edge, the Rise, and the Met.
One of the more demonstrative changes downtown of this decade is Canyon Pizza moving across Beaver Avenue. The popular drunk-food spot left its sticky, blue picnic tables when it relocated to the former site of Canyon Wings a few steps away, while its old building was knocked down. In its place, the Edge, an apartment building that seems more like a luxurious Airbnb than student housing, was built. Where students once lined up on their way home from frats for dollar slices, they now eat greens, grains, and acai at Roots and Frutta Bowls in what has become our new State College.
Although skyscrapers might seem like a foreign sight in State College, not everything has come at the expense of the town’s charm or history. For instance, the Fraser Centre, which includes a Target, a Hyatt, condos, and Federal Taphouse, was built in the place of a parking lot. Additionally, a new apartment building on Garner Street is also being built on what was formerly a parking lot.
Line dance lyric (2019): High rise here, new dorms there / Renovations everywhere
Greek Life Regulations
The spring of 2017 brought sweeping changes to Greek life at Penn State after Tim Piazza died during a fraternity hazing event at Beta Theta Pi. After Piazza’s death, the university took significant action to “impose new aggressive measures on these groups in exchange for recognition.”
Regulations introduced less than two months after Piazza’s death included requiring students to have at least 12 full-time credits completed before rushing (effectively delaying freshmen from rushing until the spring semester), banning liquor and kegs from social events, mandating beer and wine be served at parties by certified bartenders, and reducing the number of sanctioned socials per semester from 45 to 10.
“We no longer believe that vesting so much responsibility in the self-governance of these groups will produce positive outcomes,” Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims said in a press release at the time. “Today, Penn State is drawing a line and imposing critical changes. Enough is enough.”
Student Fee & Universal Gym Memberships
The Student Fee Board was created in 2016 as a way to make the process of setting fees more streamlined, transparent, and student-run. Previously, students paid separate activities, technology, and facilities fees that totaled nearly $1,000 per year.
Under the current structure, 12 students meet on a weekly basis to listen to representatives from different offices and organizations on campus requesting funding. At the end of the year, they vote on what they want to recommend to the Office of the President to propose to the Board of Trustees as the following year’s student fee, covering activities, facilities, and recreation.
The Campus Recreation allocation of the fee was a topic of concern during the first year of the Fee Board. The board voted to make campus gyms open to all students by allocating $57 of the per-semester fee to Campus Recreation. In years past, students could buy a gym membership for $110 a year. Now, anyone with a valid student ID can swipe into any of the gyms on campus to use the facilities. One of the facilities available to them is the IM Building, which reopened in 2014 after receiving a MAJOR facelift.
Line dance lyric (2018): Climb with us, new rock wall / Working out is free for all
Gender-Neutral Homecoming Court
Homecoming 2018 brought the first gender-neutral Homecoming court in Penn State history. In years past, five male students and five female students would be named to the court and a king and queen would be crowned at halftime of the Homecoming football game. Under the new system, any 10 students could be appointed to the court and two would be honored with the “Guide State Forward” award.
“We’re striving to open up Homecoming so that all Penn State students can feel like they are welcome and able to participate. Our goal is to identify the best students to represent Penn State without regard to their gender, gender identity, or gender expression,” Homecoming 2018 Executive Director Ally Berdan said in a release at the time. “This change is not only in line with our organization’s desire to be accepting of all students, but also the University’s values of diversity and inclusion, as reflected in the All In initiative.”
Although this change affected only two Homecomings this decade, it’s representative of the progress we’ve made as a society during the last 10 years.
Much work remains to be done on behalf of equality for the LGBTQ community, but looking back on this decade, you can see several instances where our society introduced changes that made us more inclusive and welcoming to people of different sexual orientations and gender identities. The Homecoming change was a start, and subsequent efforts to make Penn State an inclusive home to all students remain to be seen.
Line dance lyric (2019): Homecoming guiding State / Save the bees with garden gate!
Change is inevitable, especially over the course of 10 years. These 10 changes are only a handful of the countless tweaks, projects, scandals, and renovations that have defined Penn State over the last decade. However, State College and Penn State are far from unrecognizable. Certain things are constant, and our community’s character and universal camaraderie remain — as they always will, regardless of what happens during the next decade or any after that.
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About the Author
“We believe that laughter will help us all get through this current situation and help us make sense of it.”
Whether it was a high-flying dunk from Lamar Stevens, a deep touchdown from Sean Clifford to KJ Hamler, or an electric pin by Mark Hall, many student-athletes made their marks on Happy Valley over the last eight months.
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