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Penn State vote to improve Lasch Building produces ‘crack’

Penn State football went 1-0 last week with the Board of Trustees’ decision to approve a $48.3 million upgrade to the Lasch Football Building.

But while the 27-6 vote may appear to have been a three-touchdown victory, there was notable sideline disagreement that could linger and affect the Nittany Lions’ long-term picture.

One of the nay votes came from Jay Paterno, Joe’s son who has been a board member since 2017.

Paterno invoked his dad, saying, “My former boss used to say, ‘Football is here to serve the university, not the other way around.”’

Let’s not kid ourselves. That was only partially true as the football program, and certainly JoePa, often managed the university rather than vice versa.

At the same time, Jay’s reluctance to spend that much money — as part of a $69 million renovation — is understandable at this time given the pandemic and all the challenges it’s created.

Penn State doesn’t even know if Beaver Stadium will be permitted full capacity in the fall. Or if its patrons will want to fill it.

“We battle to make Penn State more affordable,” Paterno said. “We have a moral obligation to do that. How do we look the people we are asking to make sacrifices in the eye and then borrow and spend this money?”

The project had been put on hold in September and gained support from such notable trustees as Terry Pegula and former standout linebacker Brandon Short, who felt PSU should invest “much more.”

“Our competitors are making massive investments in their football programs,” Short said. “If we do not match or exceed these investments, we will be left behind. We need to invest in this project and much more if we want to be competitive.”

The plot thickened when LaVar Arrington got involved and tore into Jay, accusing him of trying to undermine James Franklin.

“It was a power play by Jay Paterno, and I didn’t like it,” Arrington said on his “Up on Game” radio show last weekend. “Because you know what? Right now, we have a coach who saved our program basically … and (by voting no) we’re saying we’re not giving him any more resources to be able to try to build the program.”

Speaking about Jay, Arrington added: “But if you were the head coach, which you tried to be the head coach, you would want all of the resources possible for you to have success so that you could build that program and keep your job and try to rebuild the brand and the legacy that was built there by your dad.”

Arrington also believes Paterno’s action “was the start of a campaign to create cracks to actually, possibly, get James Franklin out of coaching at Penn State.”

In addition to being one of the Nittany Lions’ most recognizable players over the last 25 years, Arrington trains young athletes and appears regularly on national platforms such as “Speak for Yourself,” a sports roundtable that often focuses on race relations. He’s an influential and important voice.

Just as Arrington spoke for himself, so, too, did Jay, who should be able to take a position that he believes — if he can be objective about a program his father built.

That’s a hard thing to do, but if Jay can’t do it, he should abstain from football-related issues. But, such as being the offensive team spokesman when he wasn’t the coordinator, that’s not been his style.

Arrington raised a question that goes deeper. Was Paterno trying to plant seeds for Franklin’s departure?

Surely by now, Paterno realizes he’s not going to be Penn State’s coach, but does he have somebody, a former Nittany Lion, in the back of his mind who will embrace the tradition and be more accepting of the facilities already in place? Somebody who might like him to call plays?

Can he get over that Franklin makes more annually than the entire staff made when he was on it?

Regardless of Jay’s latest vote, you do have to wonder how long Franklin will remain at Penn State.

During the pandemic, as a health precaution to protect his youngest daughter, who has sickle cell, Franklin’s family spent nearly an entire year at their southern home — they’re back in State College now — and his name gets circulated, presumably by his agent, almost every year for various jobs.

You don’t get the idea this is his last stop, and it’s certainly clear he won’t be Penn State’s coach for 46 years.

Because of the money coaches make these days — Franklin’s contract, through 2025, calls for $38 million — tenures will be shorter than years ago.

Further, the job has become much tougher due to the impending licensing opportunities, agents being legally allowed to talk to players (and their families) and the dreaded transfer portal, which practically makes a coach re-recruit his players every week.

“College football has changed dramatically over the last five years,” Franklin told the media last month, “and the reality is, whether you like it, whether you agree with it, whether it’s what you’re used to or not, you have to embrace it … It’s not going to go back to the way it was.”

Like Franklin, Florida coach Dan Mullen has had success at multiple programs — Mullen at Mississippi State and Florida, Franklin at Vanderbilt and Penn State. Franklin is 49. Mullen’s 48. And they’re both PA natives.

Mullen’s name was recently linked to NFL jobs. Asked about the possibility and the intrigue, he responded: “I’ll address it this way: I think a lot of people are trying to figure out what the future of college football is going to hold and what that’s going to look like going forward. I love being here at the University of Florida. I think we have a great program. We have a great fan base, great history, the opportunity to be a championship program every single year.

“I think there are concerns with coaches (regarding) what the future of college football is going to look like. … I think there’s a lot of uncertainty that we’re trying to figure out right now to see what our futures are going to hold.”

Reading those words made me think about James Franklin.

And that was before the son of Penn State’s coaching legend voted against renovating the practice facility.

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