O’Brien, staff optimistic as caravan ends
DuBOIS – Penn State is hitting the football recruiting trail hard with coaches visiting close to 200 schools in the first two weeks of the May recruiting period.
Coach Bill O’Brien gave the update Thursday at Penn State’s branch campus in DuBois. It was the first stop of the last day of the school’s two-week coaches caravan.
O’Brien feels good about recruiting, even with limited scholarship spots. The Nittany Lions also are recruiting for the expanded walk-on program to help fill depth.
O’Brien and other coaches have also been appreciative of fan support. The intent of the caravan was to thank the alumni and other loyal backers, as well as help ticket sales.
Attendance at Penn State football was down last season. Football revenue helps support the other sports at the school.
Athletic director Dave Joyner told The Associated Press on Thursday that he was optimistic though it was too early to measure the caravan’s impact. Overall, he estimated that ticket sales were running about even or slightly ahead of the pace at this point last year.
“I believe [the caravan] was productive. Hopefully, we’ll see a full Beaver Stadium in the fall, because that was one of the goals,” O’Brien said at a news conference before the luncheon in DuBois. Pittsburgh was the last stop in the evening.
“But I know that it was productive in that we thanked people for their support, and they knew how much we appreciated their support, and how much we need it now more than ever.”
Beaver Stadium is the second-largest venue in the country, behind Michigan Stadium, with a capacity of more than 106,000. It was about 91 percent full last year – a healthy amount for most other schools, but not the kind of crowds Penn State has been used to seeing.
The landmark NCAA sanctions for the Jerry Sandusky scandal weren’t specifically referenced in the caravan program, though there are clear inferences in what O’Brien and other coaches often refer to as the “situation” experienced by the athletic department. A $60 million fine is among the sanctions.
School officials have said it’s unclear what impact, if any, the scandal had on ticket sales. They do know that some fans have been unhappy by changes in season ticket guidelines and donation levels that took effect in the 2011 season.
Penn State’s athletic department is self-supporting, meaning it does not draw from tuition or state funding.
Joyner said he thought fans attending the caravan understood the circumstances. The attendance decline is part of a pattern seen at many other schools across the country, he said, with more games available to watch on television, such as the Big Ten Network.
“The coaches are just painting a nice picture of what things are important, and how they can help the program and really to put bodies in seats for enthusiastic support, not just in football but other sports as well,” Joyner said.
Joyner and coaches boasted about Penn State’s success academically and on the field across many sports this year. The latest milestone arrives this weekend, when the men’s and women’s lacrosse programs host NCAA tournament games for the first time in school history.
Responding during a question-and-answer session with luncheon attendees, Joyner also revealed that the school is looking into moving one high-profile wrestling meet next season from its usual home at Rec Hall to the Jordan Center basketball arena. Rec Hall has a capacity of 6,800, while the Jordan Center has a capacity of more than 15,000.
The wrestling team, coached by Olympian Cael Sanderson, has a loyal fan base but has gained more popularity after winning three straight national titles.