Blue White Illustrated

September 2023

Penn State Sports Magazine

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S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 3 51 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M E D I T O R I A L MATT HERB MATT.HERB@ON3.COM S omebody's gonna need to give James Franklin a hug when he sees what his new conference rival Oregon is getting set to build in the next couple of years. Coming on the heels of a $270 million track and field palace and a state-of-the-art softball stadium, the indoor practice facility that the Ducks are planning to add to their sprawl- ing football complex promises to be everything Penn State's aging Holuba Hall is not. The new facility will be sleek, postmodern, dazzling. It will have glass walls and a swooping, cur- vilinear roof with a translucent sec- tion directly above the practice field. Recruits are going to love it. The lavish spending on facilities is one reason why I felt all along that Or- egon was destined to come out ahead in the latest wave of conference realign- ment. The Ducks didn't pour that kind of money into their athletics programs only to see their games air on a streaming service whose most successful piece of sports programing to date has been "Ted Lasso." One way or another, Oregon was going to land on its feet. That financial considerations proved decisive in the Big Ten's move to absorb Oregon and Washington is not much of a revelation. Once it became clear that the Pac-12's best media-rights option was a streaming deal with Apple TV, the league's disintegration was probably an inevitability. The only real question was how it was going to get carved up. Even so, the sudden demise of a long- standing college football institution leaves a bad taste. Colleges aren't supposed to engage in vulture capitalism. They aren't strictly business entities, with shareholders to appease and earnings forecasts they need to hit. Their ultimate responsibility is to the states that established them, to the public good. Yes, the books need to bal- ance, but is the public good being served when one school's success comes at the expense of longstanding regional rivals that have made their own significant in- vestments in athletics? Oregon State athletics director Scott Barnes left no doubt where he stands on that question, telling The Oregonian that he was "furious" about the apparent end of the Pac-12. "Conference realignment just doesn't make any sense anymore," Barnes fumed. "What this enterprise was built on was regionality and rivalries. That is gone. That is leaving the Pac-12. Some of the most special pieces about our model are regionality of competition and rivalries. Those things are forgot- ten." You can understand Barnes' anger. Oregon State was one of the big losers in this round of realignment, with the Pac- 12's dissolution potentially relegating the Beavers to a place in an expanded Moun- tain West Conference. But even the winners seem to have mixed feelings about what has hap- pened. At Penn State's football media day on Aug. 6, Franklin didn't offer a full-throated endorsement of the move. "With what you see going on in college football right now, it's not shocking that these things are hap- pening," he told reporters. "It's some- what sad — not that these people are being added to our conference, because I think there's a lot of strat- egy that goes into that, but I do think there are some challenges that come along with it. "It's just very different for most of the people in this room. It's very different than the college athletics that we all grew up with, where at least most of the year, it was pretty regional." There's an argument to be made that Penn State started that trend by abandoning its regional rivals three decades ago in favor of the financial security the Big Ten offered. The most distant of its Eastern indepen- dent rivals had been Boston College, which was 430 miles from Penn State's campus. In 1993, its closest conference rival, Ohio State, was 325 miles away. With the Big Ten now set to expand all the way to the Pacific Ocean, those con- cerns about geographic cohesion seem quaint. Washington's campus is 2,600 miles from State College. Oregon's campus is 2,700 miles away, and unlike the other three West Coast additions, the Ducks don't have a major airport in their home- town. That might not be a huge problem for the football team, which will take charter flights, but there are inevitably going to be travel snafus for others, especially in the winter months, regardless of whether they connect through Denver and fly straight to Eugene, or fly into Portland and drive the rest of the way. None of those concerns factored into the decision that was ultimately made. Or, if they did, they were considered an acceptable tradeoff for the media-rights windfall that the league and its 18 mem- bers are going to reap in the years ahead. Those state-of-the-art facilities aren't going to pay for themselves. ■ Penn State has never played in Autzen Stadium, the 54,000-seat home of Oregon's football team. PHOTO BY MATT HERB For An Expanded Big Ten, Money Changes Everything VARSITY VIEWS

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