Does Penn State really even care about the Basketball program?
This has been a topic of discussion amongst Penn State Basketball fans for multiple decades now, though it ramped up during the Pat Chambers coaching era.
When will the Penn State Athletic Department start to care about the basketball program?
The Nittany Lions basketball team has been overshadowed by football for decades, and rightfully so when comparing the success of each of the programs. The Penn State Football program has 2 national championships, is 9th all time in wins, and generally considered a Top 10 program in all of college football. Football is also the main source of revenue for the entire athletic department, so it makes sense why so much emphasis is put toward the sport.
But, where does Penn State Basketball stand?
History of Penn State Basketball
Basketball on the other end has not had similar success with just 9 NCAA tournament appearances since its inception in 1939. That means that the team has only made the NCAA tournament in just 11% (9/82) of its eligible seasons.
Excluding, of course, the 2020 tournament which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Nittany Lions were projected to enter as a No. 6 seed that season.
Penn State Basketball’s 9 NCAA Tournament appearances have left much to be desired.
The Nittany Lions have one Final Four appearance, and that was in 1954, when the field was only 24 teams. The Lions have made the Sweet 16 four times in their history in 1952, 1954, 1955, and 2001. Again in ‘52 there were only 16 teams and ’55 there were 24 participating.
Since the tournament expanded to its modern format in 1985, Penn State Basketball has made the dance just 4 times (’91,’96,’01,’11). The 2001 team was the farthest they advanced reaching the Sweet 16 by upsetting #2 seed North Carolina in the 2nd round.
While Penn State has not been in the NCAA Tournament often, they have appeared in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) 11 times posting a 27-9 record and winning the title in both 2009 and 2018.
While the NIT can be a fun tournament to participate in occasionally, it should be a consolation prize rather than the goal of this program. Since the turn of the century, the NIT has sort of shifted into the goal for this program every season. Penn State fans accepted the thought “well maybe we can at least finish above .500 and reach the NIT”. That is what 1 NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 20 years will do to a fanbase.
Why the lack of success?
This is a complex question, and one that many have tried to find a solution to over the past 3 decades since joining the Big Ten.
Some would argue that geography plays a role, as trying to get city basketball players from major metro areas of Philadelphia, New York, and DC to the farmlands of Happy Valley isn’t possible.
Another reason is that the Bryce Jordan Center simply isn’t a good venue for basketball and the low energy environment isn’t exactly enticing for recruits. That is where the money side of the story of this really starts to come into play.
Former Head Coach Pat Chambers tried to get the program into the modern era more by updating the practice facility, film room and weight room. All the criticisms that Nittany Lion fans gave to Chambers, he was dealt a bad hand from the moment he stepped foot on campus with where this program was at.
It is time to treat Basketball like a revenue sport
Now is the time to stop treating Men’s Basketball like it is just another Olympic sport on campus.
That means putting more money into facilities and making sure money is coming in from NIL collectives for basketball recruits.
The Basketball team is the only other sport at Penn State besides Football that brings in a net income every single season. Most of that is from the TV revenue but the team has the most upside out of any of the other programs.
Penn State’s 2022 expense report puts them at No. 8 in the Big Ten, and No. 41 Nationally at about $7.5 million.
Now that might not sound too terrible, but it is important to remember that those expenses include travel which is high for Penn State, due to having to fly charter to many away conference games.
There is one thing that Pat Kraft and the athletic department can do in the short term and that is give head coach Micah Shrewsberry an extension.
Shrewsberry in just his second season has Penn State on the NCAA tournament bubble, and is already being rumored as a possible candidate for the Notre Dame job. If Penn State wants to have a stable and successful basketball program it starts with hiring and retaining a head coach.
Pat Chambers had an up and down 9-year coaching career at Penn State finishing with a 148-150 record and an NIT championship, but the foundation is there for Shrewsberry to build off and get Penn State back to the NCAA tournament consistently.
There isn’t any reason why an athletic department that brings in the type of revenue that Penn State does can’t pay its coaches the salaries that they need to stick around.
Students and Alumni have shown in the past the ability to fill the Bryce Jordan Center when the team is good.
That starts with having a good head coach who continually has the team competing for an NCAA Tournament bid. The trickle-down effect is more ticket/parking revenue, concession revenue, and television exposure. All of these increase the revenue basketball brings in and allow for more money to go towards renovations and possibly a new arena down the road.
None of that will be possible until Shrewsberry is given the money and support that he needs to run a competitive program from Penn State.