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News & Notes From Patrick Kraft’s Introductory Press Conference

Penn State President-elect Neeli Bendapudi introduced the university’s ninth athletic director, Boston College’s Patrick Kraft, at a press conference Friday morning.

The hire serves as Bendapudi’s highest-profile personnel move since being named President Eric Barron’s successor in December. Kraft will step into the role left open by Sandy Barbour’s impending retirement starting on July 1.

Earlier in April, Bendapudi organized a search committee to comb through candidates nationwide for Penn State’s athletic director, before eventually landing on Kraft, who brings a wealth of experience, despite his relative youth at age 44. Bendapudi ultimately said her team took 35 days to land on Kraft — just shy of their one-month goal.

“I wanted someone who understood the legacy of Penn State and understood that we are in a place where the student-athlete truly comes first,” Bendapudi said, in her introduction. “We knew we must have someone with high integrity. Talk is cheap. Everyone says the right words. So we wanted a demonstrated record of someone who acts with the highest integrity experience.”

“Penn State is one of the biggest jobs bids for a president or founding team. It’s a destination job,” Bendapudi continued. “We knew that we needed an experienced leader, financial and strategy…that’s going to be critical as we grow all 31 of our programs and of course, someone who is deeply competitive.”

After Bendapudi’s remarks, she gave the floor to Kraft. Here are highlights and takeaways from Kraft’s emotional, first press conference as a member of the Penn State community:

On The Diversity Of An Athletic Director’s Role

After initially thanking Boston College and his family for their support throughout the years, Kraft moved to discuss his prepared philosophy as athletic director.

“The athletic department here is a part of an institution at Penn State that represents academic excellence,” Kraft said. “It’s a top-25 research institution. It’s an institution that is steeped in traditions.”

Kraft continued, highlighting student support as of the utmost importance.

“My passion is for the student-athlete,” Kraft said. “Everything will start and stop with the student-athlete and their experience at Penn State.”

“We will focus on the total mind, body, and spirit,” Kraft continued. “We will focus on the mental health piece, which is a paramount issue in the world.”

Kraft, who earned three degrees from Indiana, made sure to also emphasize the importance of the academic experience for student-athletes.

“You can only play for so long,” Kraft said. “We will not waver on academic success.”

At Temple, Kraft’s student-athletes achieved nine consecutive semesters of a combined GPA above 3.10. His first two semesters at Boston College brought similar results, with 70% of student-athletes reaching higher than a 3.0.

On Winning…Everywhere

Naturally, Kraft was quick to assert himself as a competitive leader.

“We’re going to add to the 80 national championships and 303 conference championships,” Kraft said.

In the past year alone, Penn State has come away with conference championships in men’s soccer and wrestling, as well as a team national championship in wrestling, among multiple individual national titles.

“I need to talk to Cael [Sanderson, wrestling head coach] and see how he’s done it so consistently,” Kraft quipped. “He’s the GOAT.”

On Name, Image, & Likeness

The NCAA’s NIL guidelines have created new challenges for athletic departments across the country, leading Bendapudi to consider NIL as a key factor in the search for Barbour’s replacement. Though Bendapudi and Kraft alike vowed to modernize Penn State’s approach to the rapidly changing college athletics landscape, Penn State’s new athletic director also expressed caution about the situation.

“What I’ve learned in the past few years [is]: there’s a lot of sharks in the water and they’re attacking,” Kraft said. “We have to protect our athletes because there’s a lot of things happening that candidly I don’t really agree with.”

“I think athletes should absolutely have the opportunity to monetize their name, image, and likeness,” Kraft continued. “I do have an issue with people just calling others on rosters, offering them money, and they go in the [transfer] portal. That’s what’s happening, and we have to find a way to fix that.”

In addition to comments about NIL at the legislative level, Kraft spoke about the importance of helping student-athletes develop their own business and ethical strategies.

“Putting your name on something is putting your name on a brand,” Kraft said. “What do you represent? And who do you represent? Not just the Penn State brand, who is who you are? Does that represent you?”

“I do think the market will self-correct in the next 24 months,” Kraft continued. “But, it is one of the things we’re going to have to dive into right away.”

On Beaver Stadium Renovations

Outgoing athletic director Sandy Barbour’s biggest project was the Facilities Master Plan, which was a 20-year plan to renovate over 20 athletic facilities – most notably including Beaver Stadium. Much of Barbour’s plan did not materialize, but questions still swirl around potential upgrades and changes to the football team’s home.

When asked about the status of Beaver Stadium’s improvements, Kraft acknowledged there have been conversations going on and there are short-term things that can be done, but nothing is set in stone as of yet. However, Kraft did note that he hopes the visitors’ side of Beaver Stadium will not be changed.

“I hated it…as a visitor, but I love it now,” Kraft said, drawing laughs from the media room. “That thing is tight…and I will keep that roar. That roar is awful, as a visitor.”

Kraft’s excitement was palpable throughout the entire press conference, but it was perhaps most epitomized by his attempt at mimicking the famous Nittany Lion roar sound effect. We give his impression a solid 7/10.

On Men’s Basketball

When asked about turning men’s basketball into a staple of the athletic department, Kraft immediately described head coach Micah Shrewsberry’s hiring as a “home run.”

“We have to change what people think of Penn State basketball,” Kraft said. “This is the place to come and you can be successful here. That’s the first thing.”

“Micah has to have…the resources and the ability to change that perception,” Kraft continued. “He’s the real deal. I got lucky with that one.”

In Shrewsberry’s first year as head coach of the men’s basketball program, the Nittany Lions finished with a 14-17 record but oftentimes looked competitive in defeat. Kraft acknowledged shifts like this take time, but he also expressed confidence in the ability of Penn State to continue the positive trend.

On The College Football Playoff

When asked about the possibility of the NCAA expanding the College Football Playoff, Kraft predicted it was down the pipeline. However, Penn State’s new athletic director also noted his goal was for James Franklin’s squad to become a top-four program so as not to need expanded openings in the playoff.

“My approach here is: control your own destiny,” Kraft said. “Go win games.”

On Meeting Joe Paterno

When asked about his personal athletic journey, Kraft used the opportunity to discuss his experiences playing at Penn State.

Kraft began his collegiate career as a walk-on linebacker at Indiana before earning his way onto a scholarship. His time at Indiana brought him to Beaver Stadium, in competition against Joe Paterno’s Penn State team. Kraft described Paterno as his “biggest takeaway” from his experiences playing against the Nittany Lions.

“Every time you played Penn State, you didn’t know if it was the last time you’d meet Joe Paterno,” Kraft said. “No matter how upset we were that we lost, there was a line to shake Joe’s hand. I was one of them.”

Kraft described meeting him again 12 hours later when the Hoosiers’ plane was stranded on the tarmac.

“This is the power of State College…every hotel was taken,” Kraft said. “So, the entire football team was in the conference room, sleeping overnight, sleeping on chairs. It was miserable. We did get ice cream from the Creamery, so that was the first time I experienced that, which was a win. But, at about six in the morning, Coach [Paterno] came in and talked to us.”

Paterno apologized for the situation the Indiana team found itself in and spoke with the players for a period of time. Kraft mentioned that he and his teammates still reminisce about the moment to this day, as they felt it was wholly unique.

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About the Author

Sam Fremin

Sam is a senior from Ashburn, Virginia, majoring in journalism and political science & minoring in German and creative writing. He is a Dallas Cowboys fan who relishes the misery of Eagles fans. All hate messages can be sent to sam@onwardstate.com or @SamFremin on Twitter.

He may or may not read every single comment he gets.

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