No sport is more financially costly at Penn State than women’s basketball.
The Lady Lions operated at a deficit of about $4,000,000 in 2017-18, according to the university’s latest financial report.
It’s a number that is sure to change after Penn State parted ways with former coach Coquese Washington. But the fact remains — that’s a huge price tag for a program that hasn’t won very much lately.
But, in hiring Carolyn Kieger as the sixth coach in program history Wednesday, Vice President of Athletics Sandy Barbour made a selection capable of generating a return on that sizable investment — maybe not in a dollars and cents fashion, but certainly in wins.
In her most high-profile hire since taking over the reins of the athletic department, Barbour hit an absolute home run.
Penn State fans could not ask for better than Kieger, who led Marquette to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last three seasons. The Lady Lions have not been to the Big Dance since 2014.
And while Kieger has proven she can win in a power conference — Marquette won two Big East regular season titles under her direction — she also offers the kind of unique upside you get when you hire someone with room to grow.
Kieger has just five years of head coaching experience. She’s only 35 years old.
But it doesn’t feel like this is a risky move. There’s sustained winning on her resume.
Marquette’s SB Nation Blog Anonymous Eagle might have summed up Wednesday’s events best from the Golden Eagles side of things, running the subheadline “Welp, this sucks” with a story about Kieger’s departure.
For Lady Lions fans, it most certainly does not suck.
But, extending beyond those diehards, this is a hire that has to potential to reel in some attention from the casual Penn Stater who maybe hadn’t been super dialed in on the program.
Kieger won at a relatively small school in Marquette where she completely reset a struggling program.
Now she has significant financial resources at a Big Ten school with a history of winning.
She might do more than just elevate the Lady Lions back to their status as NCAA Tournament contenders on a year-to-year basis.
Don’t be surprised if Kieger turns the Lady Lions from an overlooked part of the sports scene on Penn State’s campus — averaging just 3,118 fans per home game in 2017-18 — into a must-see event.
Fans of the Lady Lions will support a winner. Penn State drew over 5,400 fans per game when it last made the NCAA Tournament back in 2013-14.
With one of the rising stars in women’s basketball coaching in the fold, the Lady Lions will be back in the tourney soon. But don’t be surprised if the standards are upped before long.
Because Kieger doesn’t have the resume of a coach who intends to return Penn State to its days of past success. She’s the kind of coach who can set a new bar.
Now that’s an investment worth undertaking.