A few weeks ago after the blow out loss to Michigan I asked “what is the answer for Penn State?” I did not call out any coaches or players, because I think it is a combination of things that everyone needs to improve on. Many of the responses and comments discussed getting rid of James Franklin, or the assistants, or even called out some players, but not one person called out athletic director Sandy Barbour. With the rumors of James Franklin leaving after this season, we have to start looking at the deeper issues. We must look past the surface and question; is Sandy Barbour’s time at Penn State limited?
What Barbour Did At Cal
When Barbour left Cal in 2014 after more than a decade at the helm of the athletic department she left behind many winnings sports programs, but also a large debt. In 2013 the balance of the debt on the improvement of Memorial Stadium and the Simpson Student-Athlete High Performance Center was up to an estimated $445 million. In January of this year it was reported that UC Berkeley decided to help the Cal Athletics Department and pay $238 million of the debt incurred. This is over 50% of the debt incurred from the project that Barbour headed.
Furthermore, the graduation rates for men’s football and basketball also declined rapidly. By the time Barbour left Cal, the graduation rates for these two sports were the worst in the PAC-12. Today, graduation rates have improved. Men’s basketball is up 18 percent to 56% and football is up 20 percent to 64%. In October of 2014, a few months before her departure, Barbour acknowledged and took the blame for the low graduation rates, stating, “Ultimately, it is my responsibility.” She was correct, as the leader of the athletic department it is all her responsibility.
Is Sandy Barbour’s Time At Penn State Limited?
Penn State does not have a graduation rate problem as Cal did during Barbour’s tenure. Academics has always been at the forefront at Penn State and that is unlikely to change. The similarities though are not lost. A stadium rebuild or renovation. Football team struggles, not of the same magnitude as Cal, but still struggles. These struggles have been linked by fans to coaching decisions, but maybe the focus should be on Sandy Barbour.
Beaver Stadium Renovation Or Rebuild?
When Sandy Barbour came to Penn State in 2014 her big plan was to either renovate or rebuild Beaver Stadium. Deja vu right? She had literally just left a school that was put into major debt over a renovation and thought it was a good idea to propose the same to one of the largest college football stadiums in the country. The last major improvements to Beaver Stadium came in 2001, so it is no secret that it needs some more work, but there was fear that she was being too ambitious. Several renovations have been decided, the biggest being of Beaver Stadium. This time though, the renovations will not start without funding.
Salaries Related To Struggles On The Field
Anytime there is turnover at an assistant coaching position there will be issues to work out. Penn State Football saw several assistants leave between the 2017 and 2018 seasons. If you think about it, the main reason for leaving was to go to a higher paying position. Sure, Joe Moorhead left to be a head coach, but what about the other guys? Specifically, wide receivers coach Josh Gattis left for Alabama and running backs coach Charles Huff followed Moorhead to Mississippi State. While the running backs did not see much of a production drop, the receiving group has. The solution to this issue is, allow James Franklin to pay his assistant coaches more.
Penn State does not publicize the amount assistant coaches make individually, but it is noted that the entire football salary budget is $11,426,104. That includes James Franklin’s $4.8 million a year, without incentives. Franklin’s salary ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 15th nationally. The football salary budget is third in the Big Ten behind Ohio State and Michigan. Further, the Big Ten is nowhere near the SEC when is comes to assistant coach salaries. With Penn State being ranked third in the Big Ten, they are even further behind.
Closing The Gap
In today’s college football landscape it is not enough to get a ‘dream job’ and stay there for ten or fifteen years. In the last ten years the salaries of college football coaches and their assistants have risen dramatically. This year at least three assistant coaches will make more than $2 million. While it is unknown how much coach Franklin’s assistants are actually making, we can be sure it isn’t close to $2 million. If it was we may not have lost some of the assistants that we did.
This off-season Franklin needs to retain Defensive Coordinator Brent Pry. Pry did very well with a young defense this season that was on the field a lot. With the amount of money offered to assistants in the SEC and even other school in the Big Ten, Penn State needs to close the gap. This starts with Sandy Barbour advocating for a higher budget, which according to reports she has not done. This could also be why Franklin did not automatically refute leaving rumors, to leverage higher salaries for his assistants.
Deputy Athletic Director Left
Finally, Penn State is now without Deputy Athletic Director, Phil Esten. He was also the Chief Operating Officer and oversaw the football program. He is leaving Penn State to take the Athletic Director position at his alma mater, The University of St. Thomas, which is a DIII institution. There has been speculation that Esten left because of Barbour, which would be interesting because he came to Penn State with her from Cal. This makes going from two large Division I universities to a DIII school even more interesting.
With the departure of Esten, Barbour has stated that she will take over his duties until a new hire is made. That is not something that is encouraging. If Penn State is going to close the assistant coach pay gap, the football program is going to need someone that has the same views as Franklin and Barbour has not shown that she has those views.
Will She Stay Or Will She Go?
This is the final year of Sandy Barbour’s contract and she has not done very much over the last five years to make her mark. There is not enough money raised to start renovations. The pay gap between Penn State football’s assistant coaches has grown, making the football team suffer. Finally, she could not retain an integral part of the football administrative staff. Based on everything she has, or has not done. Is Sandy Barbour’s time at Penn State limited?