LANDOVER, Md. -- Joe Paterno wasn’t interested in the particulars. Like most people, the Penn State coach just shrugged when Indiana announced that today’s game would be played outside of Washington, D.C., instead of on the Hoosiers’ campus in Bloomington.
It will be just the second neutral site Big Ten game for Penn State since starting conference play in 1993. The first time also came against Indiana when the Lions edged Antwaan Randle El and the Hoosiers with a last-minute field goal at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis back in 2000. “I don’t like to comment on what the other fella does,” Paterno said this week. “I think that they have a reason for doing it. I don’t know exactly. I have not discussed it with them. I was told that they were going to move the game to Washington, D.C., and I said to myself, ‘Hey, I wonder why they’re doing it,’ but I have not bothered to ask them. ... If they want to play in Indiana, it’s their prerogative. And if they want to play in Washington, that’s their prerogative.”
The reason, quite simply, is money. And with athletic departments across the country facing a financial crunch, it’s the type of arrangement that figures to become more prevalent in college football.
The Washington Redskins paid the Hoosiers $3 million to move this home game against the Nittany Lions to FedEx Field. The program will net $2.2 million on the deal after having to schedule a replacement home game, according to The Herald-Times in Bloomington.
Of course, the trade-off is that today’s “home game” against the Lions will be in enemy territory, with the majority of the fans expected to be Penn State partisans. The Lions will take that edge, as they have a chance to secure a bid to a New Year’s Day bowl such as the Outback Bowl or Gator Bowl with a strong finish to the regular season against Indiana and Michigan State.
From a football perspective, it’s not an ideal situation for a Hoosiers squad that needs to win its last two games to become bowl-eligible. But Indiana coach Bill Lynch downplayed that angle this week.
“It’s a great opportunity for our kids to go into a new venue,” Lynch said this week. “It’s a different kind of trip and going to D.C., staying downtown, going out to the stadium, I know our guys are excited for it. It is a great opportunity playing Penn State, with the tradition of Penn State there in Washington.”
Thanks in part to a favorable weather forecast in the D.C. area -- sunny with a high near 60 -- the Redskins ticket office is expecting a strong walk-up crowd and a final attendance number around 75,000. The stadium’s official capacity is 91,704, the largest for a pro sports venue in the country.
Couple that with the fact that Penn State has recruited the Maryland/Virginia/D.C. area heavily in recent years, and the trip could be a boon for a program trying to increase its exposure there.
Many of the top players who helped revive the Lions since the 2005 season have hailed from the mid-Atlantic, including current NFL players Michael Robinson, Derrick Williams, Deon Butler, Navorro Bowman and Aaron Maybin. Penn State has 14 scholarship players on the roster this season who hail from the region, with nine from Maryland and five from Virginia. Five of those players -- tailback Evan Royster (Fairfax, Va.), right tackle Chima Okoli (Virginia Beach, Va.), defensive end Sean Stanley (Rockville, Md.), linebacker Bani Gbadyu (Gaithersburg, Md.) and safety Malcolm Willis (Marbury, Md.) -- are expected to start.
Two others, cornerback Stephon Morris (Greenbelt, Md.) and receiver Devon Smith (White Plains, Md.) will likely see the field.
“It means a lot to us,” Willis said of the game. “Kids like me, Devon Smith, and Stephon Morris, we’ve been dreaming about going back home and playing for our home crowd the whole year. We’re going to try to get that win. ... I grew up a Redskins fan and it has been a dream of mine to play in a professional stadium. For it to be this stadium makes it more worthwhile.”
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