Thursday, December 8, 2022
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An Open Letter to Penn State AD Patrick Kraft

An open letter to Dr. Patrick Kraft, Penn State Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics.

Dear Pat,

Welcome to Happy Valley. You’ve been in your job for three months now, and in the workforce I’m familiar with that would mean you’ve passed your 90-day probationary period and are here to stay. Congratulations!

The primary purpose of your job is to lead the Intercollegiate Athletics Department, but the real work- portion of your job is fundraising. Your biography on Penn State’s website touts your fundraising successes at Boston College and Temple, leading those who read it to expect that you might have similar successes here at Penn State (perhaps raise the money to pay for the recent Lasch upgrades). 

And you seem to have hit the ground running on an operational basis. In only three short months you’ve already served beer in Beaver Stadium, and the promotional video played on the stadium screens before football games now includes an increased presence of Joe Paterno.

You also seem to be continuing the Penn State tradition of touting the academic success of Penn State’s student-athletes. Keep publishing those numbers, just be aware they cannot go backward for any length of time or the fans will become unruly!

You also seem to be getting out around campus, which is wonderful. From a personal perspective, here are a few do’s and don’ts that might be helpful to you:

  • Do get out and attend every athletic contest you possibly can. And DON’T spend your time in a box, or special seats, or some other inaccessible location where you can look down on your minions. Get out and walk around. Watch the play from many vantage points. Use the regular restrooms. Pay for a concession item. Most of all, meet the fans! And while you are out-and-about, put your phone away (that’s why you have, or should have, an assistant or two with you at all times).
  • Do improve Penn State’s performance in the Learfield Directors’ Cup. The Cup is a joint effort between your organization — the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics – and USA Today that honors colleges for maintaining a broad-based athletics program and achieving success in many sports. Each school is awarded points based on how they do in NCAA championships and the winner is the one that records the highest number of points. Traditionally, Penn State has finished in the Top 20. In 2021-22, Penn State finished 43rd. FORTY-THIRD!!! That was Penn State’s worst performance ever. Top 20 is the minimally-accepted standard. Top 10 is good. Top five is great and, as you already know, finishing No. 1 gets you an extra $50,000.
  • Do give Cael Sanderson anything he wants. In fact, watch him and use him as a role model. 
  • Do be careful with social media. And if you’re going to use social media, make sure your information is accurate before sending.
  • Do bring back the Nittany Lion Club calendar. Do distribute the football media guide to the appropriate Nittany Lion Club donors. Don’t print any more “Football Yearbooks.”
  • Do make sure if you run promotions to increase attendance at Penn State sporting events that you have seats available so you don’t turn parents and kids away angry.

Hopefully something in that list is useful to you, but now I’ll get to the real reason for my letter today. When Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi introduced you as the new leader of the Nittany Lions, she said, “Pat is an exceptional and inspiring leader with the vision, experience and drive…” It’s the “vision” portion of that accolade that caught my attention.

A number of years ago I wrote a column suggesting if the Big Ten conference was going to expand, they should add the University of Florida. At the time I knew it was highly unlikely, but here we are seven years later and the Big Ten has agreed to add USC and UCLA. So maybe my thinking wasn’t as far outside the box as it appeared. And maybe you should set up a meeting with University of Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin.

Aside from that though, as rumors of additional Big Ten expansion continue, the question is this: who else does the conference add? As you know, the easy answer to the question is only add schools who bring as much value to the Big Ten TV contract as they’ll get out. In other words, the Big Ten distributed over $50 million to each school in the most recent non-COVID fiscal year. If you add a school, their value to the TV contract must be at least that much, or every school gets less money. Which is why USC and UCLA, along with the Los Angeles TV market, make sense to add. 

But there are a very limited number of schools out there that will bring a value in excess of $50 million to a TV contract (and that number gets higher with the signing of the new Big Ten TV contract that goes into effect next year). And those very few schools are on every conference’s expansion wish list. 

This is where your vision comes in.

Why not support going in  the other direction? Why not bring in a school that doesn’t initially add anywhere near the value necessary, but that has the long-term potential? The conference can offer them a very reduced rate for the first 10 years of their membership, allow them to build their brand, facilities, sports, etc. and create the proverbial diamond in the rough. 

And I have that diamond: the University at Buffalo. 

Here are the selling points: 

  • They are an AAU (Association of American Universities) school, an unwritten but likely requirement for admission to the Big Ten.
  • With over 32,000 total students Buffalo has a larger enrollment than Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern. And it has the space to get as big as the Big Ten’s flagship state universities.
  • It is a public university,  the same as 13 of the current 14 Big Ten schools.
  • It’s in the second-largest city in the fourth-largest state in the country. A state with only one other D-1 FBS school in a major conference – a big opportunity. Texas has five such teams, California has four and Florida has three.   
  • Buffalo is a sports town — they have both NFL (Bills) and NHL (Sabres) teams.
  • They are a D-1 FBS football program that was ranked in the AP top 25 as recently as two seasons ago. 

To add an extra potential incentive, the NFL and NHL teams in Buffalo are owned by Terry Pegula, who obviously has ties to Penn State and should by now be a good friend of yours. I’m guessing that anything that adds to the culture of big-time sports in Buffalo would be something that would be warmly received by Terry – and most Buffalonians. Perhaps he’d be interested in this endeavor?

Again, initially the value that the University at Buffalo brings to the Big Ten TV contract is significantly less than the current per-school payout. So, as I said, you give them a significantly reduced amount of money for the first ten years they are in the conference. And at the end of that time are you willing to bet that the value of having a Big Ten team in the fourth largest populated state in the country, in a sports-crazy city, won’t be worth the average payout at the time? I’m betting it would, and you’ll be the visionary who created it.

Now I know what you’re saying. It would be an extremely difficult, nigh impossible sell. But here’s the thing: if it were easy anyone would do it. That’s why you’re the visionary and get paid the big bucks.

Thanks for your time.

My regards,

John