Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour addressed a group of reporters and editors at the APSE Regional Conference on Monday afternoon, highlighting points like the student-athlete experience, the ongoing Facilities Master Plan and the NCAA’s recent ruling banning satellite camps.
Barbour also mentioned last weekend’s Blue-White game, and the fact that keeping admission free is about a $500,000 cost absorbed by the athletic department. Penn State Athletics is also striving to further individualize and diversify the nutritional, physical and academic support of its student athletes, including career development and financial literacy. She added that a big goal of the department is to increase more opportunities for athletes to experience trips abroad, as the baseball team did with its historic trip to Cuba over the winter.
Question: You mentioned with 800 student-athletes across the board, obviously nutrition and workout plans are very individualized. I was wondering how individualized counseling, mental health outreach and also academics have become at this university?
Answer: “I would say that the approach is very similar. There’s hardly anything that’s one-size-fits-all. Mental health is certainly something that I think is of grave concern across our entire population of student bodies on every part of campus. We are really fortunate in that we have a very active mental health task force that works with us from an athletic standpoint. They’ve been tremendous. But not unlike for the entire student body, we don’t have enough resources. So athletics certainly is in discussion with campus and with university health services. ... Directly to your question, it’s very individualized — which also makes it resource-intensive.
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Q: Do you have anything in line per concussion testing and task forces?
A: “Yeah, that’s been well under way for several years. We have some great research going on on our own campus as well as some partnerships with both other universities and some industry folks in terms of measurement and those kinds of things. And obviously we were full proponents of what the Big Ten did a year ago in terms of the independent spotting.”
Q: Switching gears a little bit, how is the Facilities Master Plan coming along and is it still on schedule to be released this summer?
A: “I think it’s going really, really well in a lot of input from a lot of difference stakeholders. You’re really talking about two different looks that we have to take at it. First, you look at the facilities from the standpoint of the student athletes and competition and training facilities. Where are our gaps? Those are first on the list. The second part of the approach would be our fans. What are our fans looking for? What motivates fans to come (to our facilities)? What value do you find, what things do you want to see....and what price points are you willing to pay? Those are all things we’re collecting. I think we’re looking at late summer for maybe some initial look at what the future might hold. Look, the Facilities Master Plan, we’re talking about a 15 or 20-year look at that.”
Q: With regards to Beaver Stadium, has a decision been made about renovating or rebuilding? And what kind of time frame there might be for that?
A: “I would say that a decision has not been made. But it’s very, very clear to me from the analysis that’s been done, which is what I promised from the outset, that renovation is the direction that we need to head in. I think it’s premature for us to understand what kind of a time frame we’re talking about until we understand what it is that we need to do, what will be the extent of the renovations and what will be the cost.
Q: You do funnel a lot into the athletic programs and facilities — and coaches. At what point, as an athletic director, are you not getting that return on investment? Because obviously a winning football program at Penn State helps drive the bottom line, but one game over .500 the last few years ... at what point, from where you stand, do you have to start thinking about a change?
A: “Well, that’s one of the reasons I hesitate to use the term ‘return on investment’ because I don’t think it’s strictly a pen-and-paper calculation. ...We measure that in a lot of different ways. Obviously your question was around football. I think that from a football standpoint, people need to understand the impact of the scholarship limitations and what that impact was and is and will continue to be for some time. Having said that, I am really, really excited about where we’re going. Obviously (Penn State football head coach James) Franklin and his staff have recruited very, very well. They’ve done a lot of really good things in the classroom and in the community, and with these young men and I couldn’t be more excited about what we’re doing.”
Q: How do you feel about the NCAA ruling on satellite camps?
A: “I think it’s a shame on a number of different levels. One is that there’s no doubt that the ACC and the SEC, their opposition is around trying to protect an inherent advantage that they have. And that’s fine, I get that. I do think that probably the thing that, prior to the vote, got undersold was the FCS or the non-Power 5 schools, what benefits they were reaping in terms of seeing student athletes. I think we completely undersold what we are now hearing from students about their opportunities. I don’t think that was on anybody’s radar that was trying to shut it down. We’ll see what’s going to happen. Obviously a rule is a rule, we’ll abide by it. Penn State is well-known enough that there’s not going to be any significant harm to us.”