2010 record: 6-4 (3-3)
2009 record: 11-2 (6-2), beat LSU in Capital One Bowl
2009 Sagarin: 10
Coach: Joe Paterno (45th season,400-133-3 )
Series: Penn State leads 13-0.
TV: noon, Big Ten Network
IU's much maligned and long awaited trip to Landover, Maryland, for a home game that it sold to the Washington Redskins in a betrayal of competitive balance and competitive advantage. As it stands, it may not matter. IU just gave up 83 points, the most points in any Big Ten game in the last 60 years. This is a team that looks dead. Still, despite IU's 0-6 Big Ten record, IU is a ten point underdog, suggesting that IU would have been a touchdown underdog in Bloomington. That's a significant but not overwhelming spread. Here's what I said about the sale of the Penn State game on the morning that the news broke, just before the 2009 season began:
The only pro is money. I realize, of course, that $3 million is a lot of money, but it's only five percent of the IU athletic department's roughly $55 million budget. So yes, the money will be a bonus, but what are we giving up?
Competitive advantage. IU has had one winning season out of the last 15. We need every advantage that we can get. Instead, in 2009, we are the only Big Ten team playing six road games. In 2010, when that looked to be changing, IU now not only will play a reduced number of home games, but will play only three Big Ten home games. This isn't the first time that IU has moved a home game off campus. In 1984, IU played Illinois at the then-new Hoosier Dome, and IU played Penn State at the Dome in 2000. I didn't support the 2000 move, but at least that was a good faith effort to market the football program to fans and alumni in Indianapolis. This is different. Fedex Field is a) 650 miles from Bloomington; b) 72 miles from the Pennsylvania border; c) 130 miles from Philadelphia and d) just under 200 miles from Penn State's campus. This isn't a home-neutral game, it's a road-neutral game in which IU fans will be outnumbered 10 to 1, at least. I don't harbor any great illusions about IU's status compared to Penn State: Penn State is a much stronger program. But it's worth looking at the scores. We have played Penn State four times in the last six seasons. IU's average margin of defeat in State College: 36 points. IU's average margin of defeat in Bloomington: 4.5 points. In each of Penn State's last two trips to Bloomington, IU had the ball in the final minute of the game with a chance to win. Now, we won't be playing at home. Season ticket sales. I can't imagine that it will help season ticket sales to remove one of the most attractive games from the season ticket package.
Competitive balance. This isn't an original thought (hat-tip to DerrickC on the Rivals football board), but Ohio State fans, for instance, are going to absolutely lose their minds over this. Set aside the fact that IU will be playing only three Big Ten home games. Penn State, a perennial contender for the conference title, essentially will be playing five conference home games. Credibility. This moves strikes me as the equivalent of raiding one's 401(k) or digging into the principal of any similar investment. IU will receive a short term financial boost but will do long-term damage to the program. Even setting aside the near-term competitive disadvantage of IU playing a home game near Washington, DC, it will have longer term effects. This will lead to bad publicity. Haven't we all had enough of IU-football-as-punchline, both from rival fans and from IU fans? Well, Fred, get ready for a bunch of laughs this week and as the game approaches next year. The current marketing campaign tries to convince fans that IU is serious about winning football games. Unfortunately, actions speak louder than words. In 2010, at least, getting paid by Penn State fans has been judged more important than beating Penn State. Also, this will be wonderful recruiting fodder for our rivals: "why would you go to Indiana? Their attendance is so bad that they moved a home game to Washington, DC!"
So, how do my thoughts measure up today? The dollars, according to the H-T, will be in the neighborhood of $2 million net to IU. Okay, but not program-changing money. On "competitive advantage," I think that what I said still makes sense. IU is an underdog, as it has been every time IU and Penn State have played. But the Nittany Lions are having a down season and are only 3-3 in the Big Ten. They are better than IU, but aren't a powerhouse this season. Homefield advantage might have made a difference.
On "season ticket sales," well, attendance has been fine, thanks largely to discount promotions. I still tend to think it may have been better with PSU on the home slate.
On "competitive balance," it hasn't been much of an issue, because Penn State isn't in the Big Ten title hunt.
On "credibility," well, a week after IU gave up 83 points in a game, IU now plays a home game that was sold to the highest bidder. It couldn't be a worse sequence. It was an embarrassment then and is an embarrassment now.
As for the game, Penn State finds itself in a rebuilding year and struggling a bit, particularly on offense. On the other hand, other than their loss to now 5-5 Illinois, the Nittany Lions only defeats have come to very good teams: Alabama, Iowa, and Ohio State. On the positive side, Penn State's only win away from State College came at Minnesota. Robert Bolden, who started much of the early season before suffering a concussion, has been replaced as starting QB by Matt McGloin. Evan Royster has run for nearly 800 yards, but only 4 touchdowns. This is a below average team by Penn State standards, and while the Nittany Lions should win, it's a game I wish were in Bloomington. Clearly, IU didn't respond well to giving away the Iowa game. We will see if they have it in them to save the season. IU is 4-6, and therefore must win out for bowl eligibility.