I tuned into James Franklin’s press conference and the first journalist asked, “What would you say to the fans based on the product that’s been put out there this year?” I could not get past that word choice. Product?
I have always preferred college sports over professional. The life lessons in amateur sports at all levels are innumerous. A good coach and program can prepare student athletes for success in life after college; Penn State Football has done that for decades. Let’s not succumb to the pressures of what other programs value because we’re having an abysmal season.
All this talk of “elite” and Big Ten Championships and high rankings and recruiting classes. All this talk of overpaid, underperforming coaches. When did a championship football team become our only goal? Why has it been so hard for most of our fanbase to enjoy our team? Why isn’t any winning season something to be happy about? Are we a product or are we a family? Do you really want to be miserable if your team doesn’t produce a season to your liking?
I don’t. I want the game to be fun. I would like to win, sure, but I want to do it the right way. I want to keep the big picture in perspective, always. I want to strive for those lofty Penn State ideals, in which we were steeped as students.
The reason we are proud to say We Are Penn State is because of our rich history of… football wins? No. It’s because we strive to embody the spirit of that Grand Experiment. We try to play this game of football in a way that reflects higher ideals. We don’t let our players slouch in class in exchange for a win on the field. We expect an ethic of hard work. We understand that this experience is all about becoming great people, not just great players. We know that when we’re part of a team we’re all equally important to its success. The reason We Are great has never really been about football.
At the end of the day, I’m just as disappointed and frustrated with this football season as you are. I would always prefer to win out and enjoy the glory of a successful season. The reality is that in the last five years we’ve had five winning seasons (three with eleven wins), we’ve been to five bowl games, we’ve won the Big Ten Championship, we’ve finished in the top 12 four times, and we have a graduation rate of 86%.
Even if it doesn’t show it in the win column, I’m hopeful this season can still be a success. If this year is about anything at all, it’s about remembering what is truly important in life. For those of us who forgot that this football program is ultimately about preparing student athletes for life, and for those of us who rely too much on wins and rankings to show our greatness, this season is a slice of humble pie. We’re not as good as we thought we were. That’s how it goes sometimes.
“You’re never as good as you think you are when you win, you’re never as bad as you think you are when you lose.”
Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Eat your pie and keep hustling because something good will happen.