Beaver Stadium now more than a field

May 7—Beaver Stadium is an interesting place.

Just a conglomeration of criss-crossed steel beams surrounding 100 yards of well-manicured grass. A state-of-the-art locker room any college football team would dream to play in, just a few feet away from the same cramped concession stand where your grandfather bought chicken fingers in 1982. Fancy luxury suites a field away from a press box that feels like it very well could collapse to the cow pastures that surround the place every time Penn State scores a touchdown on fall Saturday afternoons.

It's often called the Big Ten's erector set, because it looks like it could be picked up, moved across campus and reassembled. Which, at one point, it was.

It's a monument to college football excess and tradition and the relatively limited pocketbooks of a public institution. There's one road in and one road out, which causes a bit of a problem the seven times every year the university is able to make a dime on it. It's the fourth-largest stadium in the world, ranking in capacity only behind India's national cricket stadium, Korea's soccer stadium and Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Its annual White Out game has been trendsetting in athletics. Not just college athletics. But, athletics as a whole.

It's also, in more ways than not, antiquated. An estimated $200 million in backlogged maintenance is what is preventing it from being used for more than what amounts to a week's worth of events per year.

On Friday, Penn State's Board of Trustees took the first steps toward making Beaver Stadium more than just a football facility when it voted to approve the first phase of a $700 million renovation project that will change the face of the facility over the next four years.

It begins this summer, with a design firm starting plans for what by the 2027 season is expected to be a complete renovation of the stands on the press box side of the facility. In front of the board, Penn State athletic director Patrick Kraft touted how the build would improve fan circulation throughout the stands and create updated press facilities too. But the reality is, Penn State has long felt this is a necessary investment.

The $700 million question: Is it?

There's no question Penn State needs to pump at least the $200 million in to catch up on the maintenance issues, because the current need to winterize the place every December would make it extremely difficult to host potential first-round playoff games when the College Football Playoff expands to 12 teams after the 2024 season.

But the rest of the investment will have to be backed up by the administration's hope that there is a much greater demand than it can currently provide for meetings, conferences, weddings and the types of other ceremonies and events that are currently held only in the stadium's east-side luxury areas.

Beaver Stadium will have to be a true year-round-use facility, and while that's Kraft's hope and the desire of the board, it is difficult to turn a facility that size — in the location it's in — into a consistent revenue generator for the athletic department and the university.

Penn State is fortunate it has a need seven times every year for a 106,000-plus stadium that it often crams 107,000 or more into, of course. But it will now be able to make a more legitimate push for professional sporting events like the NHL Winter Classic, a game for which Penn State is oft-rumored to be pushing. It will also have a much more comfortable venue for hosting larger concerts.

It's going to be a lot of work to get a lot of reward, though. And, in an age when it seems as if a large part of James Franklin's job is devoted to pounding the table for more NIL money to help keep his talented roster together year after year and for a constant eye on updating training facilities to help keep up with investments being made in Columbus and Ann Arbor, it is worth wondering if some of the money the athletic department is devoting to Beaver Stadium would be better spent elsewhere.

What's certain, though, is that decades of pumping funds into amenities at Beaver Stadium and ignoring the blood and guts at the old place finally put Kraft and the new administration at a crossroads when it came to the future.

They're going big in Happy Valley.

But with big costs better come bigger, more innovative designs on how to make that money back.

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