Jay Paterno speaks out against $48M renovation of Penn State football's Lasch Building

Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Jay Paterno

Current Penn State trustee Jay Paterno, son of coaching legend Joe Paterno, offered an impassioned plea Friday to the university's board of trustees — imploring them to vote against a proposal to commit $48.3 million toward renovating the Lasch Football Building.

He emphasized shared sacrificed, arguing the same university that furloughed employees and shrank academic budgets should not use borrowed money to invest in football during a time of financial uncertainty. Ultimately, however, the full board disagreed.

Penn State's board of trustees voted 27-6 Friday afternoon in favor of spending $48.3 million for an expanded weight room, improved lobby entrance and development of a "5th Quarter Program" to help student-athletes transition from high school to college, and college to the professional ranks, among other upgrades. The vote came a day after a board committee voted 10-1 to recommend the full board vote in favor of the proposal.

"People across this commonwealth have lost jobs, people are standing in lines at food banks and can't pay their rent," Paterno said. "So we must remind ourselves of this fact: 'We Are' does not end at our campus boundary. Our own television ad states this: 'Dear Pennsylvania, wherever you are, we are with you. Always. We Are ... Penn State.' Today's vote will signal to our students, faculty, staff and the people of Pennsylvania if we are truly with you — always."

Paterno was among the six trustees to vote no on the proposal. The others included Cynthia Dunn, Anthony Lubrano, Noe Ortega, Allison Pope and Laurie Stanell.

Former All-American linebacker Brandon Short, also a trustee, opened the discussion by sharing his opinion that the university should consider investing even more in football. He echoed the sentiment of other trustees, who felt the success of the program trickled down to other parts of the university.

"There's no other place where we can get a higher return on our investment than an investment in our football program," Short said.

Short referenced the late Joe Paterno, saying spending money on the program helps further Paterno's "Grand Experiment" because it's leveraging athletics into enhancing the entire university. Jay Paterno, who spoke several minutes later, briefly alluded to his father by mentioning his "former boss" — JayPa worked as a Penn State assistant coach for 16 years — but largely made his points without channeling the longtime coach with 409 career wins.

A transcript of Jay Paterno's full statement: 

This afternoon I will be voting against the resolution for the Lasch Building. This is not a decision that was made lightly. The next few paragraphs are to explain that vote.

My former boss used to say, "Football is here to serve the university, not the other way around. Football is a part of life, not life itself." Indeed, we are Penn State. "We" is the best of all pronouns.

For many years, "We Are ... Penn State" has identified us and drawn us together. Certainly Saturday afternoons, or Saturday football games, see us united in chanting "We Are." That cheer echoes far beyond the stadium confines and is part of the everyday lives for all who love this university. No one denies that. But in these challenging times, we must realize this: We must bind all elements of this university in common cause.

Over the past year, our administration and our board have asked our university to make difficult sacrifices. Employees have been furloughed. Academic budgets have been cut. Salaries have been frozen or slashed. Maintenance on buildings has been postponed. The proposed academic building projects have been put on hold. Now we are being asked to allocate $48 million — borrowed money — to make additions to a football building that has already undergone $36 million in renovations that included the desired recruiting updates, a new lobby, locker room, player lounge and academic support center. And by the time the next phase is done, we will have spent $105 million. Some have advocated spending even more.

At the same time, we have students sleeping in the HUB at night. We have students who are hungry. We vow to make Penn State more affordable. We have a moral obligation to do that.

How do we look to people we are asking to make sacrifices in the eye and then borrow and spend this money? Yes, borrowing money is cheap right now — but it is not free. Yes, we can characterize this as an investment in the future. Yes, other schools are spending. But "We Are" has always meant we lead on our own better path.

Around the country, there's universal agreement that the future foundation of the amateur college athletics model is at best uncertain. Others would argue that it is ending. Yes, borrowing money is an investment. But, right now, we lack the certainty of what our revenues will be in the next 10 months, let alone what we face with potential changes in college athletics across the country. The future revenue model to repay this money is shrouded in a very uncertain fog.

We also have investments to make in Beaver Stadium that will likely involve more staggering numbers. Many of us objected to spending on other nonstudent-centered projects in the past like the proposed art museum, or the eight-figure price tag for the private elevator for the president's football suite.

When times are tough, we should remind ourselves that we all must be patient, we must all pay a price in the short term to benefit all of us over the long term. A year from now, we can emerge from both COVID and the daunting changes in college athletics — standing better able to see the far horizon. The actions we've taken this past year for this university have been difficult; more difficult challenges await us.

As members of this board, we have an obligation to this university that lasts long beyond our lifetimes. There will be a time when our eyes will no longer be open to see the next day's dawn, but there will be future students and faculty and staff whose destiny will be shaped by what we do now. With that as our guidance, we would do well to postpone this project, to gauge the entire scope of needs we have in athletics and, more importantly, the scope of needs across the academic and research mission that is the very reason for our existence as an institution.

And to end on one last point, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is our home, it is our partner, and it is where we draw our strength. People across this Commonwealth have lost jobs, people are standing in lines at food banks and can't pay their rent. So we must remind ourselves of this fact: "We are" does not end at our campus boundary. Our own television ad states this: "Dear Pennsylvania, wherever you are, we are with you. Always. We Are ... Penn State." Today's vote will signal to our students, faculty, staff and the people of Pennsylvania if we are truly with you — always. Thank you.