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Barbour extension a good thing

ORLANDO, Fla. — It’s been a relatively quiet lead-up to today’s Citrus Bowl, so it was a perfect time for Penn State to spring some off-the-field news.

Sandy Barbour, PSU’s athletic director for the past five years, confirmed Monday morning that she will soon sign a new contract, keeping her in Happy Valley likely for the remainder of her career.

She called it “an honor.”

Consider this the Nittany Lions’ first win of the trip, and we’ll see if they can get a second against Kentucky.

Barbour, 59, has provided strong leadership and important stability since taking over for Dave Joyner in 2014.

Most of the school’s top programs — wrestling, football and hockey on the men’s side, volleyball and soccer on the women’s side — have kept up a national profile and, “academically,” she said, “we’ve never been better.”

She praised the school’s history of student-athletes and was pleased to note Saquon Barkley has made arrangements to take credits this spring to move closer to graduation.

“(Academics) have been a staple of Penn State for decades,” Barbour said. “We’re really proud of that.”

The Lasch Building has undergone $30 million in renovations, and approximately $70 million has recently been raised for football, with Holuba Hall improvements on the horizon.

Barbour said “major gifts” are on the rise with football’s half-year fundraising total surpassing any of the previous highest full-year figures.

“Financially, we’re in good shape,” she said. “There’s still lots of heavy lifting, but we’re up for that task.”

When someone with no local roots arrives, there’s a question on how long they’ll stay. Barbour’s second contract, pending Board of Trustees’ approval, will give her a chance to see through the master plan of facilities improvement, particularly Beaver Stadium, which has fallen behind many of the Nittany Lions’ peers.

Barbour doesn’t have a specific timetable for every aspect — such as an antiquated press box — but extending her into the next half-decade will help Penn State accomplish some of her vision for all sports.

“Football drives the train — drives it emotionally and financially, but we also want to win” and be competitive and have up-to-date facilities in all 31 sports, she said.

Barbour has been recognized nationally (by Forbes Magazine) as ranking among the most powerful women in sports, and she’s also shown a supportive side.

Notably, she didn’t hire any of Penn State’s highest profile coaches — James Franklin, Cael Sanderson, Russ Rose and Pat Chambers — but she’s forged enough of a positive relationship to keep them.

She stayed in Franklin’s corner when fans didn’t early in 2016, and that paid off, national giants Sanderson and Rose are still thankfully in place, and she rode it out with Chambers long enough to witness an NIT title.

How she handles Coquese Washington, whose program recently has not matched the Lady Lions’ proud past or even Washington’s early work at PSU, will be worth watching.

One of the hot-button issues among Power-5 conferences is expanding the four-team playoff.

Barbour thinks there’s been adequate data gathered over the past five years to logically debate the subject, but she’s not overly anxious for radical change.

“We all knew the math didn’t work,” she said. “There were five Power-5 conferences and four spots. (But) I don’t know that an eight-team or 16-team playoff is the answer. I love that every game matters, and I don’t want us to lose the bowl structure (for teams outside the playoff).”

It’s a concern that the Big Ten has been left out of the playoff field for two straight years and its conference champion for the past three.

Barbour thinks each Power-5 conference should mandate its teams play 10 Power-5 teams, which would take away an SEC advantage of eight conference games to the Big Ten’s nine.

“The piece I’m more insistent about is strength of schedule needs to matter,” she said. “There is no loser if we’re all motivated to up our strength of schedule. Our fans are the winners, our TV partners are winners, our communities are winners. I do think the committee has sent really mixed signals there.”

Barbour’s contract renewal gives her the ability to impact potential change on many fronts, and she adds to the athletic department’s voice when dealing with the university over what Joe Paterno used to call “hallowed ground” on some of the grass lots that desperately need to be paved for football parking.

It’s difficult to make across-the-board progress if you’re changing ADs every five years.

Ironically, it was 25 years ago Sunday — at the same site, the Citrus Bowl — that Tim Curley was introduced as Jim Tarman’s successor. And the Sandusky scandal aside — which is a big asterisk, granted — Curley was highly competent, well liked, well respected and someone who bled blue.

Ditto Penn State’s women administrators over the years such as Della Durant, Ellen Perry and Mary Jo Haverbeck.

As Barbour was sitting at the top of a semi-circle addressing 30-plus media members Monday, I could not help but think of them and how her predecessors would be proud of the job she is doing.

And pleased that her tenure — adding to Penn State’s stability, a valued tradition — will continue.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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