Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour looked up at a horde of reporters Thursday afternoon and smiled.
“We appreciate the opportunity to come to Arizona,” Barbour said grinning, “and get out of Pennsylvania this time of year.”
Pleased with the weather and excited for Penn State’s appearance in the Fiesta Bowl, Barbour held court for 20 minutes — discussing everything from outside interest in James Franklin to the College Football Playoff’s “mixed signals.”
Here are five takeaways from Barbour’s media sit-down:
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Barbour said she sat down with Pittsburgh athletic director Heather Lyke about the football series when the Panthers came to State College in September, but nothing came of the meeting.
“There has been no progress at this point in time,” Barbour said.
Penn State and Pitt’s four-year home-and-home series is set to expire in 2019. The Nittany Lions travel to Heinz Field in 2018 and host the Panthers at Beaver Stadium the following season.
Barbour did, however, sound slightly more optimistic about scheduling a different opponent.
After visiting Virginia in 2012, there is still a floating agreement for the Cavaliers to play in Happy Valley. While that hasn’t been scheduled yet, Barbour said she has had “direct conversations” with Virginia.
“I think we are closer to solving it,” the athletic director noted. “But I couldn’t tell you where that’s going to end up at this point.”
College Football Playoff thoughts
When asked about how the playoff has been selected the past couple years, Barbour said she believes the committee has sent “mixed signals.”
“What guidance is the College Football Playoff giving us from a nonconference scheduling standpoint?” Barbour said. “Because obviously what we want to do is put ourselves in the best position to be selected every year, to be in the conversation. There have been mixed signals, and I think that it does make it difficult.”
Barbour doesn’t believe an eight-team playoff would alter anything. She said turnover within the committee creates issues not solvable by a change in the format.
“I think the first couple years, the signal was around strength of schedule,” she added. “I think these last two years they have looked at it differently.”
Winter Classic talk
Hockey fans in State College have clamored for a Winter Classic hockey game at Beaver Stadium — and Barbour is interested, too.
The athletic director said Penn State has been in talks with the NHL about hosting the event.
The only thing holding it up? The “winterization” of Beaver Stadium — preparing it for use in the winter season — which likely wouldn’t happen for several years when the structure is addressed in the Facilities Master Plan.
“They’d love us to host it, and we’d love to host it,” Barbour said. “But that winterization would need to take place, and that would happen around the major renovations of the stadium.”
Following a 2-2 start to the 2016 season, not many believed Penn State would be where it is now — a national power that has contended for a spot in the College Football Playoff two years in a row.
The Nittany Lions posted back-to-back double-digit win seasons for the first time since 2008 and 2009, and now James Franklin’s crew is set to play in another New Year’s Six bowl game.
Although some fans wavered on Franklin after a pair of seven-win seasons, Barbour maintains that she was a believer all along.
“A year ago, in September of 2016, I believed this was where we were headed,” Barbour said. “Did I think it was going to come later that year and be followed up by a year like this? If I were honest with you, I wouldn’t say that I thought it would come at that point in time. But this is where we’ve been headed all along.”
Interest in Franklin
With success comes other teams calling, and Barbour is taking outside interest in Franklin as a compliment.
In October, Texas A&M was reportedly interested in making Franklin its next head coach, and Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel recently named Franklin as one of 10 college coaches primed for an NFL jump.
Barbour said she would “certainly hope that others would recognize what we know in terms of Coach Franklin’s talents.”
“With that is going to come attention from both the NFL and other colleges,” Barbour said. “It’s beholden upon me and upon Penn State to make sure that we’re in constant conversation with Coach Franklin, how we feel about him, how much we want him, and that this is a place that he can stay for a long time.”