(Updated at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Clarification: A story on Page A1 in Monday's Mirror reported some Penn State officials expressed concerns about the lyrics in the song "Sweet Caroline," following the Jerry Sandusky scandal. According to Greg Myford, PSU associate athletic director for business relations and communications, no song changes to the Beaver Stadium playlist this year have been made based on lyrics. Myford said "Sweet Caroline" has been brought up at other times in recent years because it is played in many other collegiate and professional venues and "has no real origination at Penn State." While wholesale changes to what happens on game day are not in store, Myford said some "updating" will occur, and "'Sweet Caroline' was one of the songs we decided to switch out." Myford added, "That happens each year for both recorded music and the Blue Band."
UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State fans will notice some significant differences Saturday when the Nittany Lions open the 2012 college football season against Ohio University.
Some will be obvious - such as the presence of new head coach Bill O'Brien, hired in January to replace the late Joe Paterno, and the fact that the players will have their names on the back of their jerseys for the first time in Penn State history.
Mirror file photo by Patrick Waksmunski
The arrival of Penn State’s football team at Beaver Stadium is among the changes fans can expect at Saturday’s opener.
Other changes will be more subtle as Penn State attempts to move forward after the Jerry Sandusky trial and harsh NCAA sanctions.
"The thing our fans have come to expect is a great gameday experience. On a national level, we know we are very highly regarded for the Penn State gameday experience," Greg Myford, associate athletic director for business relations and communications, said. "We are not making any wholesale changes to that."
The first change will come in the team's arrival. Previously, the blue buses arrived 90 minutes before kickoff with the players already in their uniforms, and fans gathered outside the entrance to greet them.
Coaches and players will arrive at Beaver Stadium on blue buses as they have for years, but they'll do so much earlier than in the past. And they will not be in uniform when they exit the buses.
For the season opener, a noon start, the buses should pull up outside the south end of the stadium around 9:15 a.m.
Players will then exit the buses and change into their uniforms inside the stadium.
"How they arrive is not changing. Fans along Porter Road and Curtin Road will still be able to cheer and show their support as the buses move to the stadium," Myford said. "Instead of changing at Lasch Building, riding over and carrying their helmets and shoulder pads, they'll simply arrive and change at the stadium. So they need to be there a little earlier."
Once the team and fans enter the stadium, the gameday presentation kicks into gear as usual. Under the direction of Altoona native Guido D'Elia, the former director of branding for football who was dismissed earlier this year, Beaver Stadium built a reputation (after lean years in terms of success for the Nittany Lions in the early 2000s) for its atmosphere and annual "whiteouts."
Aside from D'Elia, virtually all of the same personnel return to their production roles for the stadium show this season. Myford said their focus in preparation for the season has been more about the final product and less about what to call it.
"We haven't spent a lot of talking about it as the 'Greatest Show' or something else," he said. "We want to have a good approach and good reason for what we do. We want it to be an enjoyable experience for the fans. What we call it, if we call it anything, is of secondary importance."
About three dozen people (a combination of athletic department employees, partners from Learfield Sports, production personnel and students) play a role in the show at the stadium on gameday. Counting a team of students outside the stadium, as well as the Blue Band, dance team and others, that number balloons to more than 500 people having a role in shaping what fans experience on the way to the stadium or see from their seats.
Taking D'Elia's role as coordinator of all the activity inside the stadium will be longtime athletic department employee Jim Nachtman.
From a booth in the press box on the west side of the stadium, he'll be wearing a set of headphones and have the ability to connect with the Blue Band, public address announcer, production crew (which operates out of the Bryce Jordan Center) and others.
Nachtman has a experience for the job, having helped with the show in the past. He also coordinates the athletic department's broadcasting and production efforts in venues across campus (Jordan Center, Rec Hall and soon Pegula Arena), leads a team of full-time employees and students who handle those productions and coordinates with broadcast networks on other projects throughout the year.
His right-hand man on gameday will be John Foreman, who has been in a similar role for several seasons and who works for the Altoona Curve as director of creative services. In that position, Foreman controls what happens on the scoreboard and field throughout the game and between innings for the team that has crafted a reputation as presenting one of the better gameday experiences in minor league baseball.
"There are probably not going to be any major changes in terms of what people see at Beaver Stadium," Foreman said. "We'll see what works."
The Blue Band's traditional pregame show will remain intact. That means the "Floating Lions," alma mater, drum major flip and everything associated with it starting with the drumline's cadence to lead the band onto the field.
After O'Brien attended the band's banquet earlier this year and said he enjoyed that part of the college football atmosphere, it might not be a surprise for music from the band to pop up a little more regularly during the game itself. That will take coordination, though.
"Obviously it's easier to press a button and get some music we have cued up playing than to get the band at the exact-right moment, but there might be a little more band at times," Foreman said. "There will also be some different music and videos that we'll try."
The non-band-related music will feature mostly what has been part of the mix inside the stadium the past few years. And while the Boston Red Sox, Pitt football and others have elevated "Sweet Caroline" to a staple for their games, that popular PSU tradition may be interrupted or discontinued.
Some concerns by university officials about its lyrics - "touching you touching me" - and the perception of people singing along to them in light of the recent scandal have been expressed.
A final decision will be made this week.
(Editor's note: See clarification at top of story.)
New strength coach Craig Fitzgerald will select pregame music for the football team's stretching exercises. A separate field-level sound system will be used to play that music.
Also, the annual pre-game video used to excite the crowd will be unveiled Friday at Football Eve - the preseason pep really at Beaver Stadium that will be expanded this year to include representatives from every possible varsity sports team at the university in order to emphasize the "One Team" approach that really has become more than a motto for coaches and teams.
Myford said the production crew has worked hard on coordination and planning. They begin each week with a planned, minute-by-minute rundown for what should happen in terms of their production during the game. But he said consideration of contingencies and what-ifs is a must-and that a smooth-as-possible performance on gameday represents a best-case scenario.
"Like any live event, there's only so much practice you can do," he said. "When the red light goes on, and you're live, you do the best you can."
Myford said improvements have also been made to the quality and quantity of the scoreboard video productions.
Walt Frank is at 946-7467. Steve Sampsell covers the broadcast end of Penn State football for the Mirror's weekly Gameday publication.