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Penn State History Lesson: That Time Joe Paterno Was Athletic Director

Eight years after assuming the role of Penn State’s vice president of intercollegiate athletics, Sandy Barbour has announced her impending retirement. Soon, the Nittany Lions will find the next candidate to lead Penn State’s 31 varsity programs into the future.

Long before Penn State’s eighth athletic director took the helm, though, Joe Paterno assumed the role from 1980 to 1982. Yes, you read that right.

When Edward M. Czekaj, Penn State’s athletic director from 1969 to 1980, was reassigned within the department as a special assistant, Paterno assumed the role and changed the department in his two years. Mainly, he altered how it handled finances.

According to the Centre County Historical Society, the control of athletics’ budget was shifted from the College of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation to Penn State’s senior vice president for business and finance. This was a pivotal moment for Penn State, as it allowed Athletics to control its finances and operate as its own entity, similar to what we see today.

As athletic director, Paterno tried to form an All-Eastern football conference that would market its own TV deals. Eventually, it fell through when schools like Pitt and West Virginia left Penn State hanging, according to Bleacher Report.

Notably, in a 1987 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Paterno mentioned that he didn’t realize how many women wanted to play sports until he assumed the position in 1980. He then told a story of supporting a female coach that he hired.

“One woman coach who I hired came in and said, ‘I’m entitled to this under Title IX. Unless I get it, I’m going to bring up some action,” Paterno said. “I said, ‘Do me a favor. Go back outside. Forget you ever heard of Title IX. Then come back in and tell me what you need. She went outside, came back in, and said, ‘This is what I need.’ I said, ‘You’re going to get it. Not because of Title IX … but because you deserve it. Your kids deserve it.’”

At the end of his two-year stint in 1982, Paterno chose his associate athletic director, Jim Tarman, to serve as the new face of Penn State Athletics. It turned out to be a fantastic hire, as Tarman led Penn State into the Big Ten and pioneered massive projects, including the construction of the Bryce Jordan Center and the 10,033-seat expansion of Beaver Stadium.

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About the Author

Frankie Marzano

Frankie is a senior accounting and economics major from Long Island, NY. You can probably recognize him as the typical Italian-American with slicked back black hair. He is an avid fan of the New York Rangers and Mets, along with every Penn State Athletics team. Follow him on Twitter @frankiemarzano for obnoxious amounts of Rangers and Penn State content or email him at [email protected].

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