Monday, April 4, 2011

Follow the Money

It's probably fitting that Battista is turned in the opposite direction.

Did Terry Pegula unwittingly help set into motion a chain of events that is hurting the hockey program?

I'm placing the cart before the horse - let's start at the beginning of the thought train, with something Joe Battista said about the coaching search:
“A lot of these coaches don't understand, while we are going to be very competitive, we're not going to go out and break the market to get someone,” Battista said. “We're just not simply going to pay outrageous sums of money for coaches.”
When I first read that, I was admittedly a little disappointed. Probably the only college sports program in history to be jump-started with an $88 million donation is suddenly cheaping out on probably the single most important person within that program?

Penn State has long been a school noted for its frugality when it comes to its coaches. The best-known example, of course, is the greatest coach in college football history, who makes roughly 25 percent of what some of his peers are making these days. Basketball's Ed DeChellis is the lowest-salaried coach in the Big Ten.

JoePa's reaction to those who think he grows on trees.

But, as that last link notes, there had been some indication that this culture was changing.
The athletic department has gone out and taken big name coaches from powerhouse schools in other sports (wrestling and lacrosse most notably), presumably by offering significantly higher salaries than their current institutions. Why else would Jeff Tambroni have left Cornell, a perennial Top 5 (and National Runner-Up last year) in men’s lacrosse, to take over a team that went 2-11 last season?
Why else, indeed. While we don't know Tambroni's exact compensation or how it relates to other lacrosse coaches (or to hockey coaches for that matter), we do know that there was a bidding war with Maryland and that Penn State "substantially sweetened" their first offer.

It seems unlikely that Tambroni left a top program for an un-top one just because State College is a nice place to raise a family. Ithaca isn't exactly Camden, NJ.

I'd throw soccer's Bob Warming on that list as well - a highly-respected coach who had a job for life and fairly deep roots at Creighton (every bit PSU's equal - or better - in recent men's soccer history), yet left to come to Happy Valley. Sure, Cael Sanderson, now a national champion, was financed by wrestling boosters (read between the lines in that link), but what about the other two? The bottom line to me is that the three most recent openings in moderately high-profile sports were filled with successful, national-level candidates.

And then there's men's ice hockey, which has already seemingly eliminated George Gwozdecky and Mark Johnson due to financial considerations. Was Battista downplaying things? Negotiating through the media? This all but guarantees that he wasn't:
Penn State students will likely face dramatically higher tuition as Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget has appropriated $165 million to the university, less than half of the more than $360 million requested.

In a press release, Penn State administrators called the budget cut the “most severe” in Penn State’s 157-year history, stating it suggests a “redefinition of Penn State’s role as Pennsylvania’s land-grant institution."
The amount, suggested by Corbett for the 2011-12 fiscal budget, is significantly lower than the amount appropriated to the university in recent years, including last year’s appropriation which equaled about $330 million.
PSU president Graham Spanier is busy fighting the good fight on this issue and is presently lobbying in Harrisburg against passage of Corbett's budget. And when you go asking someone for money, what's the last thing you want? The person you're asking to know that you just bought a jet ski, of course.

Dr. Spanier's actual house. He's earned it, as well as my undying gratitude for protecting the value of my degree as well as for listening to the bleating of people who don't understand that spending is vital to keeping pace in a competitive environment.

Spanier's already taken some undeserved heat for the nice metaphorical house he just bought with someone else's money, so why add to that?
A hockey fan, Pegula also donated $88 million last year to Pennsylvania State University for the school to build an ice hockey arena and to create men's and women's Division I hockey teams.

The money donated by Pegula for a college sports arena is more than half the sum that Corbett proposes to cut from the university's overall state aid - about $150 million.
Speaking of potential heat on a splashy hire, there's also the matter of the university employees Spanier oversees, and their currently frozen salaries...wait, did that quote say "also?" What else did Pegula spend money on?
Gov. Corbett refuses to tax natural-gas drillers to help make up for proposed 50 percent cuts to higher education.

Corbett received more than $800,000 from drillers during his election campaign.

One of the companies, East Resources, was owned by Terrence Pegula, who with wife Kim gave $280,000 to Corbett's campaign.
Oh.

So Pegula donates a large sum of money to Corbett to protect a much larger sum of his money from the tax man (and no, he can't be blamed for looking out for himself). Corbett then can't balance the state budget without taking half of PSU's appropriation away. PSU lobbies against the budget proposal and doesn't want to appear able to hire a high-priced coach while doing so. In reality, the athletic department's finances are separate from the rest of the university and do not include any state money, so they aren't directly affected - yet the idiot squad in Harrisburg doesn't seem to grasp this, as there's always one slow-witted legislator with actual, real-life voting privileges who brings up football revenue at these hearings. Absent a link on that statement, here's a 60-plus year-old man who doesn't get it.

I'm not getting into the politics of the whole situation - while I'm not a hockeybot and do have opinions on things, sharing them alienates half of the audience, and leaves the other half upset that you ruined their escape from real life by talking about it at all. It's beyond the scope of this blog. But it's easy to see how, when you peel back a few layers, this coaching hire and the money we will or won't spend on it isn't happening in a vacuum.

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