Penn State maps out future, wipes out past

It's a free country, so there's no use complaining over Penn State's decision to join the Big Ten. But now Joe Paterno is asking for sympathy, and it's hard not to gag.

Paterno claims Penn State took this daring visionary step to benefit its entire athletic program, and ultimately he may be proven right.


Just hold off on his Nobel Prize, OK?

Congratulations are not in order for a school preaching reform in intercollegiate sports but aligning with a conference based in another part of the country.


Nor should one applaud a school dropping traditional football rivals like Maryland and Pittsburgh so it can play nondescript conference opponents like Wisconsin and Indiana.

That, of course, is the plan. Penn State starts playing for the Rose Bowl in 1993. Maryland disappears from its schedule after that season. Pitt, a century-long rival, gets dropped after '92.

Penn State athletic director Jim Tarman said he already is talking with officials at both schools about future games, but not on a yearly basis, not with the Big Ten commanding eight dates.

Map out the future.

Wipe out the past.

Sis, boom, bah.

"We're going to miss a lot of people we've enjoyed playing through the years," Paterno said heading into Saturday's Penn State-Maryland game at Memorial Stadium. "We've always enjoyed going down to Maryland to play. But time marches on. The Big Ten is a tremendous opportunity for our program.

"We're fighting all the time to keep playing Maryland a year or two here, other people in the East a year or two there, because there are a lot of people unhappy with us. I feel bad they're not more sympathetic."


Maryland isn't complaining, for it gets to replace No. 9 Penn State with No. 1 Florida State, the newest member of the ACC. But as AD Andy Geiger said, "We're border states. We should play."

Echoed Tarman: "We think Maryland-Penn State is a game that ought to happen, whenever it can. We have so many alumni and fans in the vicinity. They have so many in our vicinity. It's an easy trip for people in both schools."

Of course, Penn State also wants to continue other geographic rivalries it pursued as a football independent -- Temple, Rutgers, West Virginia, etc. -- but it simply won't be possible.

Hence, the question:

Why is this necessary?

Because Penn State sponsors 28 sports, and previously was a member of eight different conferences. The Big Ten means increased travel for certain non-revenue sports. But others simply will make one trip, to the conference championships.


In fairness, Penn State worked diligently to form a regional all-sports conference in the '80s. But its efforts collapsed due to the rise of an upstart basketball league called the Big East.

Ironically enough, the Big East added football in the frenzied realignment that followed Penn State's move to the Big Ten, the realignment that brought Miami to the Big East and Florida State to the ACC.

As usual, Penn State claimed the purest of motives -- a simple desire to affiliate with institutions of similar size, similar academic standing and similar athletic intent.

Never mind that the increased travel might force more of its student-athletes to miss class. Or that the majority of Penn State's 300,000 alumni live in the East.

Hate to say this, but maybe, just maybe, Penn State has interests other than swapping physics professors with Purdue and competing for the Big Ten wrestling championship. It was somehow fitting the Lions were slated to play in the first pay-per-view game vs. that other self-righteous superpower, Notre Dame,before ABC-TV axed that plan today.

Oh, the move to the Big Ten isn't about money, at least not in the short run. Penn State surely won't profit sending its women's volleyball team on trips to the Midwest.


"It probably will cost us money for a while," Tarman said. "People say, 'Money-hungry Penn State, they did it for money.' No way."

Still, Penn State wanted its men's basketball team in a better conference than the Atlantic 10. Now the program will grow, the tournament bids will follow and the cash registers will ring.

What's more, Penn State will share lucrative Big Ten revenues even if the football program falters after Paterno retires. Paterno, 64, talks of coaching until he is 70. The Big Ten might be a multi-national corporation by then.

Even in the pre-Big Ten era, Penn State wasn't exactly shy about such things. It did things like offering Syracuse a 10-year deal with six games in Happy Valley and four in the Carrier Dome. Don King writes fairer contracts.

Needless to say, Syracuse moved on to the Big East. This week its athletic director, Jake Crouthamel, said, "It really is interesting how people don't talk about Penn State up here anymore."

The same thing could happen at Maryland, but the tradition runs deep. The Terps might be 1-32-1 against Penn State entering Saturday's game at Memorial Stadium, but the showdown is always a highlight of their season.


It's not just a rivalry between the schools, but a rivalry between the states, a rivalry that transcends the endless backroom maneuvering pervading college sports.

Every year Maryland plays Pennsylvania in the Big 33 high school all-star game. Can't wait for someone to screw that up, too.