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Patrick Kraft’s No. 1 Task: Stop Penn State’s Freefall to No. 42 in the Learfield Cup Rankings

Patrick Kraft takes over as Penn State’s new athletic director at 12:01 a.m., next Friday, July 1.

Though he has not officially started yet – he’s already on campus, meeting with dozens of ICA employees and Penn State stakeholders – the job continues to get tougher.

Take last week. Please.

In the penultimate Learfield Directors’ Cup rankings released on Thursday – only the results from the College Baseball World Series remain – Penn State intercollegiate athletics continued its unprecedented freefall.

As an overall athletics program, Penn State ranks No. 42 in Division I for 2021-22 – its worst ranking in the fall, winter, spring or final rankings in what are seen as the gold standard of college athletic program ratings, established back in the 1990s.

That No. 42 ranking comes on the heels of Penn State placing 39th in the 2020-21 final rankings, its worst finish. By far. Until now.

It gets worse:

For 2021-22, Penn State ranks No. 7 in the Big Ten Conference behind Michigan (3), Ohio State (4), Wisconsin (22), Minnesota (27), Northwestern (32) and Michigan State (40). Penn State was No. 9 in the Big Ten last year, its worst finish in at least the past 20 years. Over the previous two decades, Penn State had never been lower than No. 5 in the Big Ten.

To repeat: Michigan is No. 3 nationally and Ohio State is No. 4.

In the 16 years of rankings from 2003-2019, Penn State finished second in the Big Ten rankings six times and third five times, with an average finish of 2.8.

Penn State no longer lives in that neighborhood. Now, sadly, it is more on par nationally with such Big Ten second-tier programs as Michigan State (40th), Rutgers (45th), Nebraska (46th), Illinois (48), Maryland (52), Purdue (52) and Iowa (54).

NIL, which just became legal last July 1, and the ensuing collectives have had nothing to do with it. At least to date. Moving forward? Maybe.

As it stands for 2021-22, with only points for baseball to be added, Penn State can only fall in the standings (the Big Ten’s Michigan and Maryland will gain points for their postseason baseball success).

The Learfield Cup has long been a measure of a college sports program’s overall success. Final national finishes are computed for a maximum of 19 sports, and four sports must be included: baseball, men’s basketball, women’s basketball and women’s volleyball. The next 15 sports (maximum) are scored for each institution, regardless of gender, and are included in the standings.

Dating back to 2002-03, as far back as complete national rankings are available online, Penn State’s average finish has been 13th. Until 2020-21, its worst finish ever was 21st, in 2006-07. Its highest national rank was No. 5 in both 2002-03 and 2013-14.

In the 2021-22 Learfield standings, Cal — current Penn State AD Sandy Barbour’s former employer — ranks No. 24. Louisville, from whence new Penn State president Neeli Bendapudi just came, ranks No. 27 – and should climb in the final standings, based on Louisville’s baseball team making the NCAA’s final 16 this month.

Kraft spent the past two seasons as AD at Boston College, which ranks No. 107 in the latest Learfield Cup standings. BC’s points came from its women’s lacrosse team, which lost the national title game 12-11 to North Carolina a few weeks ago, for which it received 90 points; fencing (38); and skiing (32). In 2020-21, BC finished No. 74 nationally on the strength of the women’s lax team’s national title. At Temple, when Kraft was AD from 2015-2020, the Owls’ best finish as a program nationally was No. 152 overall, with other rankings of 169, 162 and 174.

LEARFIELD CUP RANKINGS UNDER BARBOUR

Barbour started her stint as Penn State’s AD on Aug. 18, 2014, and will end her reign next week, on June 30. Until COVID hit, Penn State had fared fairly well under her guidance in the final Learfield standings after she took over a program that had been fighting the after-shocks of the Sandusky scandal — yet still was No. 5 in the year (2013-14) before her arrival. PSU’s Learfield rankings under Barbour:

2014-15: 8th

2015-16: 20th

2016-17: 8th

2017-18: 12th

2018-19: 13th

2019-20: no Learfield Cup standings due to COVID

2020-21: 39th

2021-22: 42nd

Kraft has stated a major goal of his while at Penn State is to win Big Ten titles and national championships.

During Barbour’s reign, Penn State won 28 regular season and postseason tournament Big Ten championships and seven national championships. Five of those national titles were won by Cael Sanderson’s iconic wrestling program, while women’s volleyball under now-retired head coach Russ Rose won the 2014 national title and women’s soccer under current head coach Erica Dambach won the 2015 national championship.

The past three seasons have been a bit sparse for Penn State when it comes to Big Ten titles: wrestling and women’s soccer have won two each, while men’s soccer under Jeff Cook won the regular season and postseason B10 titles in 2021 and Guy Gadowsky’s men’s ice hockey team won the 2020 regular season conference title.

2021-22 LEARFIELD CUP POINT-SCORERS

Here are the point scorers, by team, for Penn State in the 2021-22 Learfield Cup standings. National champions receive 100 points:

Wrestling – 100

Fencing – 72

Women’s soccer – 64

Field hockey – 53

Men’s soccer – 50

Women’s volleyball – 50

Men’s gymnastics – 32.5

Men’s outdoor track & field – 32.5

Men’s cross-country – 29

Women’s cross-country – 27

Football – 25 (FBS teams that lose in a bowl game and are not ranked in the USA Today’s final Top 25 receive 25 points)

Here is the breakdown of Learfield Cup points earned by each Penn State team during Barbour’s tenure:

Ranked 1st to 10th — 1.) Wrestling, 663.5. 2.) Fencing, 563. 3.) Women’s volleyball, 498. 4.) Women’s soccer, 497. 5.) Men’s gymnastics, 383.5. 6.) Football, 294.5. 7.) Women’s cross-country, 279.5. 8.) Women’s gymnastics, 279.5. 9.) Men’s outdoor track & field, 265.25. 10.) Field hockey, 261.

Ranked 11th to 23th — 11.) Women’s lacrosse, 236. 12.) Women’s swimming, 231.5. 13.) Men’s indoor track & field, 211.75. 14.) Men’s swimming, 210.5. 15.) Women’s indoor track & field, 201.25. 16.) Men’s cross-country, 168.5. 17.) Men’s soccer, 164. 18.) Women’s outdoor track & field, 132. 19.) Men’s golf, 120.5. 20.) Men’s lacrosse, 106. 21.) Men’s tennis, 100. 22.) Men’s volleyball, 95. 23.) Men’s ice hockey, 85.

Zero Learfield Cup points — Baseball, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, women’s golf, women’s ice hockey, softball and women’s tennis.

Kraft certainly has his work cut out for him.

And what about Penn State football, with its 14-13 record in its past 27 games, James Franklin’s controversial 10-year, $85-million deal engineered by Barbour and the madhouse that is NIL? That’s a whole different cup for Kraft to drink from.