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Sandy Barbour Discusses Athletics’ Facility Renovations, James Franklin’s Contract Negotiations, And More At Pre-Cotton Bowl Press Conference

Penn State vice president for intercollegiate athletics Sandy Barbour addressed the media at the Omni Hotel in downtown Dallas on Friday morning.

Barbour fielded questions about a number of topics ranging from Penn State football’s upcoming facility renovations to James Franklin’s contract negotiations and the current excitement surrounding No. 20 Penn State men’s basketball and its early-season success. Last year, Barbour announced her agreement to a new contract extension at a pre-Citrus Bowl press conference, but no news as groundbreaking as that came out of her media session this year.

With that in mind, Penn State’s athletic director definitely made plenty of newsworthy comments on Friday. Here are some of the highlights of her 25-minute press conference:

On facility upgrades

One of the main topics of conversation with Barbour and the media was about the upcoming facility upgrades that’ll boost Penn State athletics’ presence and profile on campus.

“Obviously, it’s a journey,” Barbour said of the upgrades. “We continue to raise funds for that and look at how we can fund different facilities. We’re working on LEAD donors that would really kick those projects off.”

The athletic director expects basketball and field hockey’s facility upgrades to begin this spring. She clarified that the Board of Trustees approved the hiring of an architect to design approximately $70 million worth of upgrades and renovations to the Lasch building, which have a timeline of “way less” than 5-10 years.

“We’re about halfway through that,” Barbour said of the Lasch renovations. “We’re hoping to see something late summer, early fall on that before we decide what’s next. We’re committed to finishing the Lasch master plan — as well as practice fields and Holuba. We need to finish design so we can understand how to phase it — or not phase it — so we avoid any major disruption to our competitive ability.”

Another interesting wrinkle to the upcoming renovations project is a second indoor athletic facility, which would primarily be used by non-football programs and, therefore, leave Holuba Hall for James Franklin’s program.

Meanwhile, the planned renovations to Beaver Stadium’s exterior “continue to operate in the background.” Since that’s such a large project, work on Penn State’s 107,000-seat football stadium won’t kick off for “years,” according to Barbour.

On James Franklin’s contract negotiations

Head football coach James Franklin agreed to a six-year contract extension that was approved by the Board of Trustees’ Committee on Compensation on December 6. The exact details of Franklin’s new contract won’t be released until the early part of 2020, but Barbour is definitely excited to have an agreement in place.

“We’re certainly very pleased to extend James’ contract. He’s an exceptional leader and a tremendous fit for Penn State,” she said. “Obviously, the statistics around the wins and the success we’ve had speak very loudly and could probably stand on their own — but not at Penn State. It’s an understatement to say that we’re headed in the right direction.”

Franklin’s buyout clause included in the contract will be released along with the full details of the deal, but his assistant coach budget won’t be shared publicly. As Barbour noted, the head coach’s contract and his budget for hiring assistants are two separate entities that “obviously conflate at some point.”

The athletic director said that she has conversations about assistant coaching budgets and facility upgrades “almost daily, and certainly weekly” with Franklin. However, Barbour doesn’t think those factors figured into the head coach’s contract negotiations all that much.

“Those commitments were made by us long ago,” Barbour said. “We made a commitment several years ago to upgrading our assistant coaching pool, and James and I have sat down and determined a number. He’s asked for a number and that’s what he’s been getting. This year was no different.”

Penn State football’s most recent coaching hire, of course, took place on Thursday. The team brought on Minnesota offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kirk Ciarrocca to the same positions in Happy Valley after he helped the Gophers’ offense lead the team into the Big Ten and national title conversations before a late-season collapse this year.

Barbour was also asked about Franklin being linked to other head coaching jobs. Surprisingly, she used words like “awesome” and “fantastic” to describe how she feels about teams like Florida State, USC, and Texas A&M wanting to poach James Franklin from Happy Valley — and she expects that to continue despite his extension.

“I love that Penn State has a head coach that other people want,” Barbour said. “This contract, any contract is not going to stop that, and I don’t really want it to. I want us to continue to have the success that draws other people to James, but he’s a Penn Stater. He’s our coach, and it’s going to remain that way.”

On Penn State football’s #RunYourRoute parking and traffic campaign

Penn State football rolled out a new parking system and one-way traffic pattern at Beaver Stadium in 2019. The team debuted its #RunYourRoute social media campaign as a direct avenue for fans to send in feedback, questions, and concerns about the new parking and traffic systems.

All the parking lots outside of Beaver Stadium have been divided into four zones — North, South, East, and West — and you can only access each zone from a specific route. The North zone, for example, is only accessible from Fox Hollow Road, and the West zone is only accessible from Park Ave. You can only get to the South zone via University Drive or Porter Road from College Ave., and the East zone can only be reached from US-322/I-99. If, for example, your space is in the East zone and you try to get to it from Park Ave., you’ll be re-routed across town.

According to Barbour, around a half-dozen “changes and tweaks” to the system will be unveiled once the team releases its season ticket renewal information early this year. It isn’t quite perfect yet, but the athletic director is pleased with how the project panned out — especially considering the scale of the changes made.

“We certainly knew it was a big change,” Barbour said. “We knew that early on, there would be some challenges that maybe wouldn’t exist later in the season. I think that’s the way it played out, and I’m really pleased with the cooperative effort between Penn State Police, the municipalities, traffic and transportation on campus, and intercollegiate athletics.

“Each and every week — even sometimes during games — there were on-the-spot observations. That same process has taken place has taken place in kind of a postmortem of the entire season.”

On Penn State men’s basketball and the Bryce Jordan Center

No. 20 Penn State men’s basketball is off to a flying 10-2 start to the 2019-20 season. The Nittany Lions have been ranked in the AP Top 25 poll for the past two weeks — which is the first time the team’s been ranked since the mid-1990s.

Sandy Barbour caught some flak for standing by head coach Pat Chambers after he followed up an NIT title run with a dismal 14-18 record in 2018-19, but her faith in the ninth-year head coach is finally getting repaid by the Nittany Lions.

“I feel great for Pat. I’ve been a huge supporter of Pat Chambers and felt that the signs were there,” she said. “We have a long way to go in 2020, but I feel really good about this squad and the confidence they have. I love this for Pat, but I love it even more for our kids and our community — to be able to add basketball to the list of programs that are getting it done on the national scene.”

On the Pitt football series

Barbour’s annual pre-bowl press conference came to a close with a question about the possibility of Penn State football renewing its series with in-state foe Pitt.

The Nittany Lions and Panthers just wrapped up a four-game set that began in 2016 with a 42-39 victory for Pitt at Heinz Field. James Franklin’s team bounced back to win the next three games of the series by a combined final score of 101-30 — including a 51-6 shellacking back in Pittsburgh in 2018 and a 17-10 win at Beaver Stadium in week three of this past season.

Penn State’s three-game non-conference slates until 2023 are currently full — and the team has scheduled the minimum requirement of one Power Five opponent through the 2025 season. With that in mind, is the Penn State-Pitt football series officially dead?

“No,” Barbour said. “I’ve said it 100 times before: With us playing a nine-game [conference] schedule and them playing an eight-game schedule, it’s a different proposition for them than it is for us. I wouldn’t say it’s dead, but it’s not something we’re talking about right now.”

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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