EDITORIAL: Penn State's athletic wish list over the top

York Dispatch
  • Penn State athletics has unveiled its Facilities Master Plan.
  • The plan details proposals to upgrade the school's athletic facilities over the next 20 years.
  • No estimated cost was revealed, but it could soar to the $1 billion range.

The Penn State athletics department unveiled its Facilities Master Plan last week.

That's a fancy way of saying that PSU is looking to seriously upgrade the buildings that house its sports teams.

The plan to renovate Penn State's Beaver Stadium could cost more than $485 million.

It would not be overstating it to call the plan ambitious.

In fact, it's probably too ambitious. Realistically, it's more of a pie-in-the-sky wish list.

It's hard to imagine the school will be able to afford all of the renovations, or the completely new buildings, included in the proposal.

Yes, the plan is scheduled to take place over a two-decade period, but even over 20 years, it will be very difficult to raise all the money needed.

The school did not reveal a total estimated cost for the overall proposal, but it's hard to imagine that it will come in at less than $1 billion.

That's right, $1 billion, with a “b.”

The most expensive and most significant part of the proposal is an extensive renovation of aging Beaver Stadium. It's modeled on a recent renovation of Texas A&M's Kyle Field, completed at a cost of $485 million.

The same firm that led the Kyle Field project also produced PSU's new proposal. So it's likely the Beaver Stadium renovation, alone, would come in well north of $500 million.

More than Beaver Stadium: The modernization plan, however, doesn't stop with Beaver Stadium. Far from it.

The proposal would create a distinct "athletics district" anchored by a new, 45,000-square-foot "Center of Excellence." It would also include new places for student-athletes to train, practice and play and would feature more than a dozen new venues. Renovations to the Bryce Jordan Center are also planned.

That's a mighty big nut to cover.

Now comes the hard part — how to pay for it.

Financing the project: Financing is expected to require a mix of fundraising, debt service, corporate sponsorship and likely some student fees.

It's that last source that raises concern. The self-funding athletics department normally avoids student fees, and rightfully so.

The vast majority of students don't compete in intercollegiate athletics and many of them don't even care about sports. They are there to get an education, period. They shouldn't be forced to pay for athletics.

The school counters by saying that student fees could be used for new venues, such as the natatorium and tennis center, which will be open for student use as well. That may, but it's still likely that the majority of students will not use either the natatorium or tennis center.

Over the top: We are not arguing that PSU's sports facilities aren't in need of improvement. They are, especially antiquated Beaver Stadium. We are arguing, however, that this new proposal is over the top, and that students shouldn't be forced to help pay for it.

Fortunately, PSU athletic director Sandy Barbour seems to realize that.

"We will ultimately build what we can afford," she said.

That should be the school's guiding principle over the next 20 years.

The university was hit hard financially in the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal, dealing with costly NCAA penalties and lawsuits.

In 2012, for instance, the athletic budget showed a deficit of nearly $6 million. That has turned around in recent years, with a surplus in the $3 million range in each of 2014 and 2015, the most recent years with available figures. That's still far below the $14 million surplus shown in 2010, the last year before the Sandusky scandal rocked Happy Valley.

Under a microscope: In addition, PSU athletic officials need to keep in mind that the school is still under a national microscope. Many critics, especially those from outside of Pennsylvania, will likely question the need for such an expensive and extensive athletics project. Those same critics say the school's fierce devotion to its sports teams, especially football, is one of the major reasons that the Sandusky scandal was allowed to happen in the first place. They will point to the new proposal as evidence that nothing has changed at PSU.

So Barbour and her colleagues must walk a fine line, satisfying the devoted members of Nittany Nation, while not drawing barbs from the university's many national critics.

Penn State problem: Athletic wish list will be costly

It's a difficult job, but PSU officials may be best served by reeling in its athletic wish list, at least a bit, and by taking student fees out of the equation.

It would seem the prudent thing to do.