Chapter 8 Case Study - Penn State The intercollegiate football world

Question # 00850231 Posted By: wildcraft Updated on: 02/02/2024 12:54 AM Due on: 02/02/2024
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Sports Leadership in the 21st Century, Second Edition Laura J. Burton, PhD, Gregory M. Kane, PhD, and John F. Borland, PhD


Penn State The intercollegiate football world was rocked in 2012 when long-time Penn State University football defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, was convicted of molesting 10 boys (Orso, 2014). In the wake of this scandal, legendary late coach of 46 seasons, Joe Paterno, was fired, along with athletic director Tim Curley, while the president of the university, Graham Spanier, was forced to resign. Many thought that the Penn State football program, and the university more broadly, would never recover due to crippling National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sanctions and negative publicity, and because of the Freeh report, which implicated three administrators as well as Paterno in a cover-up of Sandusky’s acts (Orso, 2014; Tolley, 2014).

However, not only have the university and football program recovered from this horrific scandal but they are thriving. The university had its largest endowment ever at around $2 billion in 2013, and it set a record in 2013–2014 season for freshman class applications. Funding for research grants has grown, and the university retained some of its top donors throughout the aftermath of the scandal (Orso, 2014). In 2014, President Eric J. Barron, Athletic Director Sandy Barbour, and Head Football Coach James Franklin were all hired to revitalize the institution.

Penn State football is again recruiting the best caliber players from around the nation, a class ranked number three nationally headed into the 2017 season. Franklin won a Big 10 Championship and led Penn State to its first 10-win season (11–3) since 2009 in 2016, in addition to being named Big 10 coach of the year (Simmons, 2017). As of this writing, the 2017 football team is 6-0 and ranked number 4 nationally. Thus, the trajectory appears to be positive both from an institutional and program perspective.

How did this transformational change happen? Which factors were involved? At the institutional level, widespread changes in leadership and governance policies were instituted, as described by Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education:

Penn State had to replace its leadership team, and it had a lot of people stabilize the institution and continue to move it forward. The other thing Penn State had going for it is that it took hard steps to improve governance, ethics, and compliance (Orso, 2014, para. 12)

Responding to this catalytic event and crisis, Penn State implemented institution-wide leadership and policy changes recommended in the Freeh report, and it has become a leader in studying child abuse prevention and treatment. The Center for Child Protection was launched in 2011, and it spearheaded the formation of The Network on Child Protection and Well Being. It also implemented employee training to recognize and report child abuse (Orso, 2014).

For the football program, Coach Franklin focused his efforts on changing the culture in order to improve results. His predecessor, Bill O’Brien, had more of an NFL style culture, according to players, where everything was about the business of winning. O’Brien treated the players as if they were professionals and already playing in the NFL, and they were expected to buy into this philosophy. Coach Franklin, on the other hand, came in and implemented a family-style culture much more focused on building a team, on the players and their needs, and on creating support structures and solid relationships between the players and the coaching staff (Simmons, 2017). Franklin expended great effort to build this positive, family-oriented culture and create a new vision for the program, and then enact that vision and communicate it effectively to internal and external stakeholders. Clear and consistent communication with stakeholders was and is a priority for Franklin, as is designing a change plan and being sure that there is buy-in for the plan throughout the program (Moses, 2016). All of these strategies have helped to turn around a program that many thought would never recover.

However, leading change was not a smooth process, and there were challenges to overcome. One of the biggest hurdles to change was overcoming resistance of stakeholders due to the long and storied tradition associated with Penn State football. Many did not want to lose sight of these traditions, even in the wake of the scandal. This created a challenge and tension for Franklin:

I think that is the ultimate challenge here. How do you balance the history, the traditions, all the wonderful things that are deep rooted here and have been here forever, (while) also making moves that you need to be progressive and to be moving towards a healthy present and a healthy future (Russo, 2016, para. 4).

University and athletic department officials also have the complex task of trying to convey to some stakeholders, for whom Paterno will never be redeemed, that the values of Penn State are not tied directly to one individual (Russo, 2016). In addition, there are many notable, distinguished alumni, such as Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris, who are trying to redeem the coach (Russo, 2016).



Sports Leadership in the 21st Century, Second Edition Laura J. Burton, PhD, Gregory M. Kane, PhD, and John F. Borland, PhD

Copyright © 2019 by Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC, an Ascend Learning Company

This presents many challenges for new university and athletic department leadership as they navigate through how best to honor and recognize both the past and the successes of the football program, with the changes needed to move the program forward.

Administrators and athletic officials at Penn State recognize that changing the culture and redeeming the program will take time, and that it will not be a quick fix. They realize that garnering full support and buy-in from constituents will not come quickly, for according to new Athletic Director Sandy Barbour, “I think we are still going through a healing process” (Russo, 2016, para. 20). Recent events have been a learning process for the institution, and it remains committed to being better than it was, according to Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones: “We learned a great deal about ourselves, and I think moving forward, we are absolutely committed to being better than we were” (Orso, 2014, para. 72). The revitalization of Penn State is an example of successful transformational change, but while positive steps have been taken, only time will tell if the university and football program truly move beyond the taint of the Sandusky events.

Questions for Discussion 1. What forms of resistance do you think Penn State leaders encountered when trying to lead transformational

change? Which strategies are they using to try and mitigate resistance from stakeholder groups? Would you recommend any additional strategies? Support your answer by connecting the details from the chapter to the details in the case study.

2. Reading ahead in the chapter, the authors talk about four environmental constraints for change agents. Which constraints can be applied to the Penn State case study?

3. Which type of leader—transformational, transactional, or servant—is best suited to initiate the change discussed in the case study? Support your answer by connecting the details from the chapter to the details in the case study.


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