PSU acting AD Joyner optimistic for future

Dave Joyner’s first hire as Penn State acting athletic director

has worked out well so far.

Nearly a year after taking over athletics in the fallout from

the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal, Joyner expressed optimism about

the direction of athletics and the football program saddled with

strict NCAA sanctions.

”I would give him an A-plus,” Joyner said this week when asked

to grade first-year coach Bill O’Brien’s performance. ”In this

environment, and with what he and his players have had to face, I

give them all an A-plus.”

Joyner spoke to The Associated Press during a break at a campus

conference on child sex abuse impact and prevention. Sandusky’s

arrest last Nov. 5 sparked the scandal that plunged the school into

turmoil and cost Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno his job.

In any other season, a 5-3 record entering November would cause

panic among the Nittany Lions fan base. Penn State plays at Purdue

this weekend.

Of course, this is no normal year.

”We’ve had some very positive things happen on and off the

field, relative to the football program. I also think the

university as a whole is regrouping and moving forward,” Joyner

said. ”But you’re always reverent … I think this conference

today is an example of the university moving forward, with

reverence and respect for a lot of issues that go on outside

athletics.”

The NCAA sanctions for the scandal included a four-year

postseason ban, significant scholarship cuts and a $60 million fine

to be paid over five years.

Some fans wondered whether other sports would suffer because of

the scandal. The NCAA agreement mandates that not be the case, and

Joyner said Penn State remained committed to keeping all its

sports.

On the field, other athletic teams beside football are enjoying

success this fall. At one point, all five fall teams were in sole

possession or tied for first in their respective sports. In the

classroom, NCAA data released recently showed Penn State athletes

with a Graduation Success Rate of 88 percent, 8 points higher than

the Division I average.

”My message to fans is that Penn State athletics is here to

stay and here to deliver the product with integrity, academics and

championships the way they’ve been used to,” Joyner said. ”We

intend to continue with that great tradition.”

Joyner has encountered challenges in his first year on the job

that no other athletic director has faced.

He was on the Board of Trustees that ousted Paterno last

November, days after Sandusky’s arrest. Athletic director Tim

Curley went on leave after being charged with perjury and failing

to report an abuse allegation, counts on which Curley is scheduled

to stand trial in January.

University leaders turned to Joyner, a physician, standout

college wrestler and former offensive tackle under Paterno, in

mid-November. President Rodney Erickson, who also assumed office a

year ago, cited Joyner’s integrity and resume of service, including

his work as the head physician to U.S. teams at the 1992 Winter

Olympics, and chairman of the sports medicine committee and vice

chair of the anti-doping committee.

But Joyner never had to make such an important hire such as

finding Paterno’s replacement, especially under such intense

scrutiny.

Initially, some former players and fans were skeptical when

O’Brien, the former offensive coordinator of the New England

Patriots, was hired in January. O’Brien quickly won them over with

a no-nonsense but open attitude that also embraced the school’s

football tradition.

A 35-23 loss to Ohio State last week ended a five-game winning

streak that had the Nittany Lions surprisingly in the hunt for the

Leaders Division title. Still, after losing about 10 players

following the NCAA sanctions, the team is in better shape than many

college football observers had expected.

”If you look at the on-field accomplishments, being 5-3 at this

point is a very, very solid performance,” Joyner said. ”They play

with a lot of guts and enthusiasm, and I think the fans embrace

it.”

While the Ohio State game was a sellout of more than 107,000,

average attendance is down. Athletic department officials have

instituted changes in season ticket guidelines to boost attendance,

two years after introducing new guidelines that left some fans

unhappy.

Officials acknowledge the scandal may also play a part in

attendance, though they say it’s hard to quantify. Joyner said he’s

also optimistic about donations.

Projected revenue this year from the Nittany Lion Club donations

have been estimated to reach $17.5 million, a record but up

slightly – about $100,000, from the previous year.

Where Penn State could get a boost starting next year is hockey.

The school upgraded its men’s and women’s programs from club status

to Division I, and a new hockey arena is also under

construction.

It’s the result of a record $108 million donation from energy

company executive Terry Pegula, who also owns the NHL’s Buffalo

Sabres.

”It fits in really well. If you’re filling that stadium, that

hockey arena, then you’re having a positive impact on revenue,”

Joyner said.

Judging from the fan reaction so far, hockey could be a new,

important revenue stream especially when the men’s program joins

the Big Ten for its inaugural hockey season next year.

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Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP