Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said he's willing to look at all aspects of Beaver Stadium's seating program and will consider any and all possible changes, including lowering prices for some seats.
Joyner didn't give any firm answers about the Seat Transfer & Equity Plan (STEP) on Friday at Big Ten media days in Chicago, but he repeatedly said he's open to all possibilities. Any potential changes would not take place this year, but instead for the 2013 season or beyond.
Joyner was asked first if Penn State would consider revoking the STEP program in light of the NCAA sanctions.
"Let's say this: We've actually talked to some alums and supporters that have some ideas about it," he said of the program. "We're listening to them, and it was our intention to take a very strong look at the STEP program. We didn't have enough time this year because of the way things unfolded. ... But it's been my intention to relook at the STEP program anyway for the next season.
"Now we'll relook at the STEP program based on what we know the world is right now. So I don't know what we'll do, if anything, but we're going to relook at it."
Prior to 2011, season-ticket holders had to pay a $100 donation to the Nittany Lion Club in order to purchase any seat in the stadium. But with the implementation of the STEP program last year, most of the best seats increased to $400 apiece, and some premium seats around midfield increased to $600.
Joyner said he thinks PSU "should have more pieces of the STEP program."
"You've got, what, $600 and then you've got a $400, and then you go [to $100], and maybe it's better to have more sections," he said. "Some other schools have more opportunities, different contribution areas financially to do that, so that's something I think we need to look at."
Joyner went on to address how more seating options would "narrow down the [price] ranges some and maybe offer more opportunities for people. It would seem to be a little more equitable, maybe."
Joyner also was asked if the school would go so far as suspend the STEP program altogether for a year.
"We'll look at everything," he said. "I'm not opposed to looking at any alternatives. We'll do what we think that may be the best for everybody, meaning the university plus our fans."
Since Penn State is ineligible to play in a bowl game for four years, one big aspect of new coach Bill O'Brien's plan going forward is to sell recruits on the possibility of playing six to eight home games a year in front of 108,000 people. The stadium seats 106,572 and can hold much more standing-room only.
Last year, however, in the first season of the STEP program, Beaver Stadium had its smallest average attendance since it expanded in 2001 (see fact box). The week four game against Eastern Michigan (95,636) and the opener against Indiana State (96,461) were the two smallest crowds since the stadium expansion, and there were actually only about 85,000 people in the stands for both games.
While most programs in the country would be overjoyed to have 85,000 fans at a game, at PSU that means 20,000 empty seats.
Associate athletic director Greg Myford told the Mirror last week that about 85,000 season tickets have been sold for the upcoming season.
O'Brien was asked last week about his message to fans after the scandal.
"I would tell them to renew their season tickets," he said. "I would tell them to move forward. I would tell them to turn the page and get on board with a new era of Penn State football."
The question becomes whether Penn State can sell out the stadium in future years - in light of the scandal, in the post-Joe Paterno era and with the team likely to struggle - if so many seats in the STEP program remain at the $400 and $600 levels.
"I think so," Joyner said. "I think it really is [possible] because I'm getting a lot of emails from people that say we're going to really stimulate, we're going to buy a lot of tickets to come to these games."
The message those fans have sent Joyner is that they plan to show support for the players on the current team who have been caught in the middle of the scandal when they had nothing to do with it.
"Time will tell, but I can tell you there's a lot of excitement out there, a lot of energy," Joyner said. "It's like waking up a sleeping fan base."