Last November, I wrote this:
While it's not an easy decision, I do have to be cognizant of the fact that this is a Penn State hockey blog, not a Penn State football or athletics blog, and generally, everything that appears here has a tie with the hockey programs. If there turn out to be ramifications of the situation that touch hockey in other ways, you can be sure they'll be addressed here as appropriate.I think I've done a decent job of sticking to that, in light of everything that's gone on. Hey, this blog is a distraction for me (distracting myself from Penn State with Penn State...that makes a ton of sense, I know), which played into the editorial decision cited above. Unfortunately, I think it's time to at least think about the potential impacts of The Scandal on hockey. This post won't be able to answer many questions - nobody can at this point - but hopefully it at least puts some of the considerations on your radar.
First, the good news. So far, hockey has largely chugged along as if nothing happened. In the aftermath of the November bombshells, both Guy Gadowsky and Josh Brandwene re-affirmed their commitment to the school, as did Terry Pegula. Recruiting hasn't been affected much, if at all (I'm sure someone, somewhere has had doubts, but PSU didn't lose a single commit when the issue first exploded). The arena is under construction and looks as good as a collection of I-beams in a dirt hole can possibly look. There's really no reason to think any of these things will be affected more than they have, or haven't, been already.
Furthermore, in 2001, Joe Battista was coaching the Icers and was only loosely connected to the athletic department. Billy Downey was playing for Battista. Mo Stroemel was coaching the Ice Lions. Nobody else with any major role specific to the NCAA hockey programs, which removes general athletic department staff from consideration, was associated with the university at the time. The likeliness that the upcoming Louis Freeh report, or anything else for that matter, will implicate a "hockey" person is zero, despite the ridiculous "Battista had to know" argument I had on Twitter a while back (yeah, "Jerry Sandusky is a perv" is right after the mission statement in the athletic department employee handbook...because the first thing you do in a cover-up is tell as many people as possible).
So what might happen?
I think you have to start with dollars and cents as related to football, because it pays so many of the sports-related bills. The athletic department folks say that donations are fine, ticket sales are fine, everything is great. In other areas, the university says application volume is good, as is alumni association membership. I'm skeptical. Before November, I didn't have a sufficient number of Nittany Lion Club points for football season tickets. Now, they're pitched to me every time I contact the athletic department, as no points are necessary to purchase tickets. Something about that doesn't line up with the official accounts. Obviously, they have the data and I don't, but the situation smells a little funny to me.
Financial impact could also come from possible NCAA sanctions. I sincerely don't believe that the NCAA has jurisdiction and do believe that any action would set an extremely dangerous precedent with respect to criminal offenses that have no bearing on the competitive product. Then again, it's not as if rationality reigns supreme right now among the public at large or the media pandering to it, so who knows whether the NCAA gets caught up in the lynch mob mentality. The "positive" side (from a hockey perspective, that's why we're here) is that sanctions would likely only directly affect football and not the entire athletic department. But the potential for indirect effects exists, particularly if football is harmed financially in any significant way.
Of course, there are also the coming civil suits from Sandusky's victims. Since Penn State treats its athletics department as an entirely separate entity from other areas of the university (football money isn't used to subsidize the English department, for example), it's uncertain whether legal expenses would affect the athletic budget as opposed to general funds. This qualifies as a unique situation though, and the issue did involve then-current and former athletics employees, so who knows how it will be handled. Just as a point of reference, here's a list of some of the settlements and awards from the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandals that seems to indicate that a couple million dollars per victim is a reasonable expectation.
Supposedly, men's and women's hockey, taken together, will be self supporting on a year-to-year basis. File that one under "we'll see." Of the three current Big Ten programs with women's teams, only Minnesota profits on hockey as a whole, and the Gophers are in an entirely different category revenue-wise than any reasonable projection for PSU. We're starting with a good number of endowed scholarships, and that will definitely help in that regard, and some believe that hockey is a great untapped resource for the Big Ten Network...but again, we'll see. Even if hockey does break even, losing some of the beef on the football cash cow might create belt tightening throughout the athletic department. If hockey can indeed break even, maybe they'll be asked to try to kick a couple hundred thousand back into the pot to help other sports.
The athletic department as a whole presently does operate in the black - by roughly $15 million in 2010-2011, according to the just-released Nittany Lion Club Annual Report (see above). Conventional wisdom says that budget surpluses, aided by things like football's Seat Transfer and Equity Program instituted a couple years ago (essentially raising minimum per-seat donations), amounted to planning for a hit in a post-Joe Paterno world. It's great news if that's the case and it's better news if that money buffers most or all of what's coming, although I'm not sure the bean counters were anticipating anything like what has transpired.
Hockey does have one ace in the hole in the form of a certain hydrofracking billionaire. Paying for both men's and women's hockey's entire operating budget for a couple years while things settle down would be a tiny fraction of what he's given so far. For $7 million, or less than two Ville Leinos, Penn State would have two very well-funded hockey teams for two years, and in emergency "we're just trying to survive" mode, $5 million would probably suffice (the median DI men's budget is about $1.5 million per year, add a million to that for the average Big Ten school). Obviously, he won't have to do that - I'm assuming literally zero revenue with those numbers - but it is nice knowing that the potential for such a last resort exists.
I realize that a lot of what I've thrown out there is speculative, but that's sort of the point, because nobody really knows how things are going to play out right now. Given the seriousness and number of underlying crimes, and given the administration's knowledge of them for literally a decade, this is more or less an unprecedented situation in college athletics. It's not like I can say "well, when this happened at Michigan, here's how it hurt hockey, and here's how they dealt with it." So yeah, it's a giant unknown right now, likely even for the people who have the information I don't. But I felt that I would be remiss in not at least acknowledging some of the possibilities and how they may impact hockey. I'm just glad I can make it a one-off, as opposed to the football bloggers who have to talk about this all the time.
There is one other thing dangling out there that I haven't addressed, though: the Big Ten.
In December, the conference issued a sort of warning shot, saying that...
It will reserve the right to impose sanctions, corrective or other disciplinary measures in the event that adverse findings are made in the areas of institutional control, ethical conduct and/or other Conference related matters.ESPN chimed in with this...
The big question is, of course, what type of sanctions the Big Ten is willing to impose on Penn State if it doesn't like the results of these investigations. Rumors have circulated that at least a few league schools were so angry and disgusted by the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal that they lobbied to kick Penn State out of the Big Ten altogether, and the Nittany Lions don't have the kind of history with the league that would make that impossible.The conference's move struck me as public relations - I mean, they couldn't say nothing, I suppose - and I didn't even bring it up on TYT until now. Rumors of "a few" schools wanting PSU out are obviously concerning, though.
All of that is old news, sure, but here's the issue: the situation hasn't exactly ameliorated since then. Sandusky has been convicted by a jury of his peers. Information leaks since then make the non-incarcerated individuals involved look pretty awful. The upcoming Freeh report and civil suits might add more to it. We don't know even a significant fraction of the facts of the situation yet related to PSU administration's involvement, so I'll be at the front of the line urging caution in the face of the braying idiots in the national media filling in the blanks with conjecture and reporting it as fact. Still, it would be foolish to ignore the possibility that the university comes out of this looking much, much worse than it did in December.
The recent email leaks drew at least one writer into re-opening the issues of Penn State's Big Ten membership:
For at least 74 percent of the time that Penn State has been in the Big Ten Conference, four of the most powerful figures on campus allegedly chose to focus on protecting their institution and positions of authority at the expense of children already abused — with more victims to come because of their inaction.Thanks for that, Mr. Barfknecht (yes, that's his name). Now go back to writing about...whatever it is that happens in Omaha besides USHL and UNO hockey and the College World Series. Unfortunately, though, he's probably not the only person out there with those thoughts.
Is that how the Big Ten does business? And is that the kind of operation the Big Ten wants to associate itself with?
Those are brutally hard questions. But the discussion needs to happen, and at a level far beyond athletics.
The conference still might want to stay out of it beyond the PR side of things. The conference could also, independent of any NCAA action, impose sanctions of financial impact. And there's the looming specter of going full Big East/Temple, 2004 (and all Temple did was suck at football). Given that the Big Ten has the most lucrative television arrangement of any conference, this last outcome would be the closest thing imaginable to a doomsday scenario. The likely two backup plan primary conferences, the ACC and the Big East - assuming they want anything to do with Penn State - can't come anywhere close to replacing the Big Ten's revenue. We'd instantly go from possible belt-tightening (or maybe even not, because again, I really don't know how well prepared PSU is to absorb this) to possibly placing sports on the chopping block. Hockey, again largely thanks to the guy with the single largest private donation in Penn State history, would probably not be one of them. In a parallel universe where PSU attempts to go varsity out of the Greenberg while raising money for the arena and scholarships because nobody paid for the whole thing straight away? Probably a different outcome.
In the hockey world, Big Ten ejection has drastic consequences, and not just for Penn State. Unless another league school is prepared to add hockey (or Notre Dame is somehow finally lured in), the Big Ten would be down to five hockey schools, insufficient for an autobid to the NCAA tournament, and likely leading to its breakup. We're too far down the road to just reset the conference landscape to where it is right now, so it's easy to imagine the rest of the Big Ten running off to the NCHC. And where does Penn State go? Excellent question. Let's just hope it never needs to be answered.