Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Incredible Hulk and Bruce Banner. Harvey Dent. A Teeter-Totter.
At first glance you’d be right to think that’s a hodgepodge list of non-connectable things.
I mean, come’on, what could a Marvel superhero, DC villain, a Robert Louis Stevenson character and a child’s plaything have to do with each other?
But when you dive a little deeper you’ll see that they all posses the ability to switch from good to bad or up and down at a moments notice.
They vacillate positions or personalities like damn champions. And you can never be too sure which version you’re going to get. Well, except for maybe with the Teeter-Totter, that one’s fairly straightforward.
After this past week, one that saw Penn State squander away a 4-point halftime lead in a winnable game at Maryland only to rebound three days later with a wire-to-wire victory over Northwestern, it’s more than fair to include the Nittany Lions in the aforementioned list.
This commitment to Newton’s Third Law, the one that says for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, is nothing new for Penn State hoops. Its M.O. for years has been to follow every moment of positive momentum with an almost immediate and head scratching step backwards.
Most years, however, this stagnation was met with either disinterest or ignorance. The men’s basketball team was an afterthought for most so the ups and downs of a program constantly searching for an identity skated by unnoticed.
But year seven of Patrick Chambers tenure was suppose to be different. The foundation was laid. The talent was here. The time was now.
That’s what makes weeks like this past one so frustrating. Things were supposed to be different. They’re not.
And that’s unfortunately forced the Penn State community to entertain a new question. What if a successful college basketball program in State College just isn’t in the cards?
Patrick Chambers has done almost everything off the court correctly. He seems like a good guy who really cares about building something at Penn State. He’s gone out and made huge recruiting inroads in places the Lions never had a presence in previously. He’s stacked the deck in a way not accustomed for this program.
Yet despite all the talent and the climbing and attitude and the strides being taken, the results on the court look unremarkably similar to the past few coaching regimes at Penn State.
If any casual fan or alumni were to flip on BTN on a given night, would they be able to spot any differences from this Pat Chambers team verses, say, some of the groups Ed DeChellis assembled? Will the inconsistent basketball played to a sea of black curtains and empty blue seats really look all that different?
Now to be clear, that’s not a knock on Pat Chambers. He’s done remarkable things considering his limited resources and support. Despite the results on the court being similar to the coaches of Penn State past, you’d have to tip your cap to the culture Chambers has attempted to build.
But winning programs are built from a commitment that starts with the athletic department and extends to the fans that fill the seats. Problem is that commitment from the athletic department and the Penn State community will only truly ever materialize if the basketball team starts winning.
So the Nittany Lions are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
It’s a real shame too considering that the men’s basketball program is the second largest revenue generating sport at Penn State, grossing $11.2 million during the 2015-’16 fiscal year. However, despite that they continue to be run like the Miami Marlins in the midst of a fire sale — earning big bucks with little being invested to increase the results on the court.
Even with football getting first billing in Happy Valley, you’d think the basketball program could have its own slice of the pie and moment in the sun.
Yet constantly news out of the program reads like the plot of a television sitcom.
“This week on Penn State basketball the team gets kicked out of its gym so Bon Jovi can rehearse a concert!”
“Tonight on Penn State hoops fans actually get turned away from attending a game!”
Load gun. Point at own foot. Pull trigger. And repeat.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, not all hope is lost. But one’s ability to keep beating that dead horse becomes much more challenging with each glancing blow delivered to a program that’s never really had solid footing to begin with.
Change for this program needs to start at the top. It needs to come from an actual place of wanting to see this team succeed. It can’t just be lip service intended to get the casual observer to move along. It can’t be symbolic in an attempt to tell people there’s nothing to see here.
The buy in has to come with a real vision and plan to turn this perpetually sinking ship around.
Like I said, not all hope is lost. But optimism and benefit of the doubt certainly are.
So I implore the athletic department to stop saying ‘WE ARE PENN STATE’ for a second and instead ponder “What is Penn State basketball?’ Only then can things truly start to turn around. Only then can hope truly be restored.