Penn State covered plenty of ground at last week’s Big Ten media days in Chicago, where the conference kicked off the 2019 season with two days of football talk.
Here’s a roundup of the more interesting stories involving the Lions.
Naming rights: Could Penn State sell naming rights to Beaver Stadium?
“It’s absolutely something we would consider,” Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said, a statement that represented an evolving position at Penn State.
In 2014, prior to Penn State’s appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl, Barbour said this about the possibility of alcohol sales or naming rights at Beaver Stadium.
“Certainly I reserve the right to change my mind, but my initial evaluation is that neither of those is a great fit for Penn State,” Barbour said in December 2014, about five months after becoming athletic director.
The first part changed in 2016, when Penn State approved limited sales of beer and wine at its athletics facilities. The university has been selling both in the suites and club seats at Beaver Stadium.
As for naming rights, Penn State is fundraising for a 20-year overhaul of its athletics facilities that will include a renovation of Beaver Stadium. Sponsorship could help offset annual operations costs. Rutgers recently signed a new stadium-rights deal worth more than $10 million over seven years, according to NJ.com.
“It’s not something we would consider for all of our facilities. It’s more appropriate at some than others,” Barbour said. “Some corporate sponsors, or namings of any sort, are more appropriate than others. But we’d take a look at it, absolutely. And that’s athletics holistically, not talking about any particular facility.”
Capital gains: Barbour also said that Penn State has made significant fundraising gains this year, generating more than $46 million through its Nittany Lion Club and other donations. The total includes two large anonymous gifts that have not been announced.
“Our community is really starting to respond,” Barbour said.
Much of that money is marked for athletics facilities. Penn State’s Board of Trustees recently approved an architect to design the final phase of renovations to the Lasch Football Building, a project estimated to cost $69 million once completed. Barbour said that Penn State has spent about $30 million so far on renovations to Lasch.
“That has certainly contributed to coach [James] Franklin and his staff and the program being able to attract the kinds of recruits that they have over the course of the last three-plus years," Barbour said.
Cam Brown suspension: Starting linebacker Cam Brown intends to spend the beginning of his season in the locker room watching film and holding his focus. Brown is suspended for the first half of the Aug. 31 opener against Idaho after being called for targeting in January’s Citrus Bowl.
Though he’s not happy the punishment for targeting in one season carried into the next, Brown said he gets it.
“I paid the price [then], but I completely understand,” the senior said. “It’s the rule. I got the targeting call at the beginning of the second half [against Kentucky], so I have to miss the first half [of the next game], and I’m fine with that. The guys are going to carry the torch. … It’s getting more guys more time to play.”
Bill Carollo, Big Ten director of officials, said that the carryover punishment is meant as a deterrent.
“Think about this: It’s my last game of the year, it’s a bowl game, I’m ticked off, it’s the last play of the game, we’re going to lose, so I’m going to come in with my helmet and blow you up,” Carollo said. “… There has to be some ramifications for your actions.”
Carollo also said that targeting suspensions could go down 10 percent this year because of a change to how they’re evaluated. If officials aren’t sure a targeting penalty occurred after replay review, players will remain in the game. In addition, players called for three targeting penalties in one season will be suspended for a game.
"It’s a very important play as far as health and safety, but it’s also our largest penalty,” Carollo said. "So we want to make sure that we get that correct, and if we aren’t sure, the player will stay in the game.”
Micah Parsons, kick-returner? Sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons fielded kickoffs on the first day of spring practice, prompting an assistant coach to joke about having some fun for the cameras. Turns out the idea isn’t far-fetched.
Joe Lorig, Penn State’s new special teams coach, said this spring that Parsons is a candidate to return kickoffs with receiver KJ Hamler. Franklin echoed that in Chicago, suggesting Parsons could play just about anywhere.
“I think Micah could legitimately play running back, defensive end, linebacker, kickoff-return guy,” Franklin said.
Penn State moved slowly with Parsons last year, playing him more and more as the season went on. Despite starting one game, Parsons led Penn State’s defense in tackles and is a preseason candidate for the Bednarik Award.
Parsons certainly is athletic enough to return kicks. He was timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.41 seconds and, at 245 pounds, can deliver a punch. Franklin said that it’s a matter of mastering another unique skillset.
“If you put Micah back there as a freshman, every kick was designed to go to him, in his mind. That’s just how he’s wired,” Franklin said. “It’s getting him to understand that you’re there to be the No. 2 [returner] and be the lead blocker. … But I could see us doing that down the road at some point, whether it’s this year or next year.”
Dave Wannstedt scouts Penn State: Dave Wannstedt, the former Pitt coach who now works for Fox Sports, made a pitch to Penn State and Pitt to continue their long-running series after this year. He also offered an evaluation of Penn State, which he called a “mystery team.”
“They’ve had two or three great recruiting classes, that’s not a secret,” Wannstedt said. “But I don’t care if you’re Vince Lombardi, when you have a new starting quarterback and you lose a running back like [Miles] Sanders, the big question is, ‘How long is it going to take for these young kids to play at the level where you can beat Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Pitt and everybody else?'
“I think they’re going to have a good team, but what’s good for Penn State? Seven wins, eight wins, or their goal, which is obviously to win a championship? That’s where it’s at. So it’s a little bit of a mystery team to me.”