There's still a lot that's unknown to Sandy Barbour about just how Penn State's athletic department will be impacted financially by the coronavirus pandemic.
But Penn State's Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics did clarify a few key points about the future when speaking to the media Tuesday.
In an effort to keep deficits low and mitigate some of the financial losses, Penn State's department of intercollegiate athletics will be tapping into its reserves. This means other projects, like the facilities master plan, may be halted or delayed.
"We've been looking at how we use our reserve funds to maybe help plug a gap to move a project along, and that's probably where the pandemic and the financial realities will cause us to take a step back," Barbour said. "The biggest impact will be those reserves that we were hoping maybe to seed some of these projects, those reserves will now go to keep our deficit low."
Barbour did note improvements to the Lasch Building, Panzer Stadium and the Penn State Field Hockey Complex as success stories. Still, other projects may lag behind.
From her perspective though, it's what's necessary to help make the financial losses less severe.
By tapping into these reserves, Barbour said the athletic department now only expects to lose a net of $20-$25 million as opposed to the $60-90 million Barbour had previously speculated.
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Barbour said a big part of that cost-saving came from furloughs, leaving positions unfilled and many members of ICA’s staff taking pay cuts.
As a result of the cost-saving measures, Barbour has been able to hold firm in her commitment to not cut any of Penn State's 31 teams.
"Some around us have elected to cut programs,” Barbour said. “That's not something I'm interested in. It's not something I'm looking at. We've got a very proud tradition and legacy of a large, robust program."
Also helping to keep the athletics department afloat now and in the future was simply having a football team that played at all this season.
"Long term financial stability and viability which for almost all of us is going to manifest itself as success in football," Barbour said. "We have some financial challenges because of COVID and it's still to be determined how long we might be dealing with those. But I also know that growing revenue is going to be a big part of any of the answers to any question or any way out of financial challenges, and certainly football sits at the top of that list."
So Barbour made clear that James Franklin's team taking the field, and being one of only a handful of teams to play all its games, helped from a revenue and monetary perspective.
But what about on the field impact and assessments of the season?
There, Barbour was equally as clear — Franklin's start wasn't necessarily at the level it needed to be, but by the end of the season, he righted the ship.
"Our start was challenging and disturbing. But we also have to remember the context of which it was in, in terms of the pandemic and, ultimately, everybody was going through that. So, certainly the start was concerning," Barbour said. "I think that James and his staff certainly found a lot of answers, and whether it was we found our footing in a pandemic, or we actually solved some things schematically or personnel wise, I think what we saw in the back half of that season is way more indicative of our program."
Even with the tough start, Barbour expressed confidence in Franklin to lead the program going forward.
She also said that she'd prefer Franklin's name be in the conversation for other jobs and be thrown out there, as it's an indication that other programs think highly of him and the program.
"I feel very confident about James's leadership, where our staff is and where our young men are right now and I'm looking forward to 2021," Barbour said. "I think it's very flattering. It's very flattering to James, and it's very flattering to Penn State, and I'd rather have somebody that lots of other people want than the other side of it."
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Barbour was also vocally supportive of how Franklin's program only had one positive coronavirus test result throughout the season and it's because of Franklin's diligence in following protocols and leading by example.
"I have such admiration and appreciation for James, because of the seriousness with which he took the COVID and the pandemic and then the mitigation measures," Barbour said. "It's no coincidence that we only had one positive in football during the season, and we know that that was contracted outside of football. It was because James led the way. James modeled the behavior, James held them accountable and the guys all bought in."
As for the immediate future of the program, Barbour didn't make an official announcement regarding the annual Blue-White game but did say the team plans on at least practicing in the spring.
Barbour also said the plan is to have fans in the stands in 2021, but that ultimately it's still too early to tell and said there may be mask wearing requirements or proof of vaccination or other safety measures.
But for now, she's focused on the present reality which is overseeing a spring season where a plethora of Penn State's teams are slated to compete. Barbour is hopeful many of those teams learn from how Franklin and Penn State football navigated the fall.
It's something that will ultimately prove beneficial, Barbour said.
"The fact that football was our only sport to compete in the fall, we've been trying to use those lessons…" Barbour said. "Thank goodness we got a football season. And thank goodness that we had an opportunity to learn a lot from our largest and most complex sport that could then be applied to others."
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