Penn State Football: Why are we still listening to Jay Paterno?

Last week Penn State’s Board of Trustees approved a $48.3 million project that will upgrade and expand the Lasch Building, the home of Penn State Football 

College athletics is big business, and has become one giant arms race to see who can have the nicest locker room, the most up to date weight room, or everyone’s favorite players lounge, where the kids can play video games or ping pong in the team’s facility.

With recruiting being the lifeblood of any college football program, anything that can give you a leg up on the competition, or in Penn State Football’s case right now, keep up with the competition, must be done.

Penn State Football, along with the rest of the Big Ten has an Ohio State problem at the moment. Fresh off an appearance in the National Title game, all be it, a blowout loss to Alabama, the Buckeyes just pieced together their second consecutive top five recruiting class, while their 2022 class currently sits at no. 1 and on track to break composite ranking records.

There is no hiding from Ohio State, they will loom over every season of Penn State Football as they share the Big Ten East. The only way to catch up and stay at that level is to spend money.

However, for some reason, former Penn State Football assistant, and son of legendary head coach Joe Paterno, Jay Paterno hasn’t gotten that memo.

But the question really is, why does he get a say? And why does anyone care for his input in the first place?

At this point, your are probably wondering (or at least should be) why am I even wasting words on Jay Paterno?

Paterno voted no to the proposed upgrades and expansion to Penn State Football’s Lasch Building, he was one of six trustees to vote no. The final count was 27-6 in favor of the project.

“My former boss used to say, ‘Football is here to serve the university, not the other way around,'” Jay Paterno told the board, referencing his late father Joe Paterno. “Football is a part of life, not life itself.”

He is right in that football is not, and should not, be life itself.

However, as his “former boss” Joe Paterno used to also say, Penn State Football pays for a lot of field hockey sticks and balls.

There is no clearer indicator of this than while this country was in the midst of  a pandemic, facing real questions of whether or not we would have a college football season in 2020, we pondered what a season with no football would do financially to the school and other non revenue generating sports, not to mention the economic impact on the lost gate and television revenue on the University at large.

We saw at major universities like Stanford, that were forced to cut all Olympic sports, including wrestling and weightlifting. Had the PAC 12 not reversed course and decided to play a season, who knows what other sports would have been at risk.

Beyond funding non-revenue generating sports, the financial benefit of a major college football program’s success is the marketing value in attracting prospective students, a stage to showcase the University, and an incentive for students to apply to be part of the atmosphere. The television contracts for Power-5 football also figure substantially into major universities, such as Penn State’s, general fund and endowment.

Brandon Short, a former All-American linebacker for Penn State Football, also believes the school should be investing even more in the football program. Even quoting Jay Paterno’s “former boss”.

“Joe use to say you either get better or you get worse, you don’t stay the same,” Short said. “… Our competitors are making massive investments in their football programs. If we do not match or exceed these investments, we will be left behind. We need to invest in this project and much more if we want to be competitive.”

To Short’s point, a 247report from February showed Penn State Football was ninth in the nation in money spent on recruiting. Ironically enough, Ohio State is not featured in the top 10, however a quick glance at the schools at the top of the list, shows there is no coincidence in the connection between spending and winning.

College Football has changed, and it is now about keeping up with the Joneses, and as the program enters what head coach James Franklin calls a ‘critical’ offseason, the fans, recruits, staff and players deserve to know that the school is behind this program, making sure 4-5, and an 0-5 start is not to be accepted.

Paterno is stuck in the 1980’s, when his “former boss” had the program winning national championships, however it is probably time he gets with the times or gets out.

He has been a beacon of the cult like behavior Penn State is widely negatively associated with, defending a past, and a man, who won a lot of football games but may have done so at a major cost.

If it not for his former boss being his father, would we even know or care who Jay Paterno is?

Probably not.

Penn State Football now has a figurehead in James Franklin leading the program into a new future, out of it’s darkest days and into the light.

The New Year’s Six Bowl victories are nice, but look to his leadership when a fan sent safety Jonathan Sutherland hate mail due to his dreadlocks, his leadership this summer when the country was going through a monumental cultural movement.

Franklin is the antithesis of what the Paterno name now stands for to many outside Happy Valley, like it or not.

So Jay, please, for the sake of keeping what dignity is left, sit this one out.