Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour addressed the media ahead of the football team’s Citrus Bowl game against No. 14 Kentucky on Tuesday.
The biggest news to come out of Barbour’s press conference was about her agreeing to a new contract extension, which is subject to approval by the Board of Trustees. She also touched on a number of other topics, ranging from the state of both basketball programs to broader issues like the College Football Playoff.
Here are some of the highlights from her media availability:
On Saquon Barkley completing his degree
In addition to announcing her contract extension, Barbour said Saquon Barkley has already had discussions with academic counselors at Penn State to get closer to completing his degree. That’s definitely impressive to hear, considering Barkley just wrapped up an excellent rookie season with the New York Giants.
“There’s nothing I like better than hearing that Saquon is already talking to our academic counselors about advancing his degree,” Barbour said. “That’s just one story — I can sit here and talk for hours if you want to hear everything that’s special about Penn State.”
On retaining assistant football coaches
Barbour reflected on “mistiming” last year’s process of retaining assistant coaches, which ended up costing the team. Penn State lost offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and a pair of position coaches — Josh Gattis and Charles Huff — but that might not be a problem this year.
“We’ve already made some significant moves with our current [football coaching staff], and we’re in a very good position,” she said. “James and I together, as partners in this, have looked at where we need to be. He asked me for a number, and I gave it.”
On the parking situation surrounding Beaver Stadium
Parking was a huge problem during this football season, and that’s an understatement. All of the grass lots were closed by the end of the season due to seemingly endless wet weather. These problems caused by parking led to an overhaul of the parking system surrounding Beaver Stadium.
“Nobody wants more for our fans to continue to have the best gameday environment in the world,” Barbour said. “What we’re left to do is make as many adjustments as we possibly can. We’ve made arrangements for both alternate parking and transportation to the game. That’s not ideal, I totally understand, but in terms of the tools in our toolkit and our ability to take care of our fans, those are the things we can do.”
Barbour added that there’s a small portion of lots which can be improved slightly, but the athletic department will continue to explore ways to rectify the situation.
On facility renovations
Barbour provided an update on the ongoing renovations to the Lasch Building and Holuba Hall, saying that more than $30 million has been raised so far. She expects to raise and use another $30 million to complete the project.
“The pace has picked up there,” she said. “We’ve raised more in half a year for football than we have in any previous year in our history.”
As far as the master plan is concerned, Barbour said that upgrades to the soccer, swimming, and tennis facilities on top of the new Center of Excellence takes priority, but renovations to Beaver Stadium will “play in the background” throughout the first five years of the plan.
On Penn State men’s basketball
Barbour reaffirmed her commitment to Penn State men’s basketball head coach Pat Chambers after signing him to a contract extension earlier this year. Although the Nittany Lions are off to a 7-6 start this season, the athletic director is excited about Chambers’ young team.
“Are there some disappointments in there? Sure, absolutely,” she said. “But all in all, I’m excited about going into the core of Big Ten play this season and seeing what these guys can do. I’m not generally committed, I’m fully committed to Pat and his leadership of our program.”
On Penn State women’s basketball
Barbour expressed her disappointment in the current state of Penn State women’s basketball.
“Nobody’s asking the hard questions more fervently than Coquese [Washington],” she said. “There’s no doubt where that program has been for the last four, now into five years is not up to Penn State standards. It’s not Coquese’s standards, and it’s certainly not my standards.”
The Lady Lions are currently 7-5, but Barbour backed head coach Coquese Washington due to the success she’s had in the past. Washington has appeared in four NCAA tournaments and three WNITs in 11 seasons with the program, and she won the Big Ten’s coach of the year award in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
“We have to remember that [Washington] is someone who brought great success to Penn State women’s basketball,” she said. “It’s not like she doesn’t know how to do that.”
On an eight-team College Football Playoff
Barbour thinks that it’s time to explore expanding the College Football Playoff to eight teams after five years of the current format. With that being said, she doesn’t hold that belief just because the Big Ten has been left out of the equation in recent years.
“We all knew the math didn’t work — there are five power-five conference champions and four slots,” she said. “Our response is not strictly about [the Big Ten being left out]. It’s about what’s right for college football, what’s right for our student-athletes, and how you determine the champion on the field. I don’t know that an eight-team playoff is the answer to that.
Every game matters in college football now, and Barbour doesn’t want to lose sight of that. She also doesn’t want to lose the “specialness” of bowl games outside of the playoff like the Citrus Bowl, which her program will play in at 1 p.m. on New Year’s Day.
The athletic director hammered home the fact that strength of scheduling has to be a major factor when it comes to deciding who qualifies for a playoff, regardless of whether it’s a four- or eight-team tournament.
“Strength of scheduling 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 the winners, and our communities are the winners.”
Barbour said that the key to increasing strength of schedule is finding a “really powerful and consistent way” of motivating teams to schedule more games against power-five opponents. One idea she presented is that teams should be required to play against at least 10 power five opponents regardless of how many in-conference games they play.
On Friday night football games
Barbour’s stance on Friday night games hasn’t changed much: She still doesn’t want to play them at Beaver Stadium, but she would consider hosting an afternoon game on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
However, she provided some clarity as to why the Nittany Lions played a Friday night game this season and will open Big Ten play on a Friday night again in 2019. Essentially, she wanted to give other Big Ten programs an opportunity to play in prime time.
“To be good partners, we agreed to do one away Friday night game. This was about the totality of our conference, giving opportunities for our colleagues to have primetime games,” she said.
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