Sunday, December 20, 2009

Penn State Athletes Convey Life Lessons

On Saturday, at university-wide graduation ceremonies, Penn State University released yet another pride of Nittany Lions into the wilderness, including many of the students in my senior marketing classes. They will be forced to find their own path through the jungle of a recovering but still bad economy. Some of them were lucky enough (or good enough, or both) to land jobs this fall. Others are still looking, or waiting to hear the results of job interviews held this fall. Still others are applying to graduate school in order to wait out the dearth of jobs. They are graduating, though, with a major advantage: the Penn State brand name on their degree, and a phenomenal network of Penn State alumni who are always willing to help fellow Penn Staters.

In any case, during the last two weeks or so all my efforts went to end-of-semester grading. Had to get the grades done so that these students would get their diplomas on time. Done, finally, as of 3 p.m. Friday.

What does this have to do with football? Nothing. I just wanted to explain why this blog has taken a back seat to my full-time job over the past two weeks. Then, just as I was about to post this blog on Saturday morning, I lost all telephone service – including Internet access. The explanation by Verizon is that there’s an area-wide outage, some sort of major cable failure. They promised me that it would be restored by WEDNESDAY at midnight, five full days after the outage occurred! Unbelievable. For someone like me, not having Internet access is worse than no coffee in the morning. It’s worse than withdrawal from nicotine. It’s just hugely bad.

Today, I drove to work just to access the Internet, check email, and post this blog. But I digress…back to my main topic.

My work as a professor and my interest in football – and other Penn State sports - are not totally separated. Every once in a while, something happens that reminds you that athletic sports at a collegiate level are different from those at a professional level. What Penn State Athletics translates to ultimately is the development of young people into the best that they can be, both on and off the field.

Three incidents reminded me of that in the past few weeks. The first was a student-athlete who came to my office hours this week. The grade this athlete received was not as high as it could have been, although it wasn’t bad. But instead of complaining about the grade, as so many students tend to do during finals week, the athlete came to my office hours to apologize for not doing better, to ask my advice on how to do better in the future, and to thank me for a great class. It was a very rewarding – and fun – developmental conversation.

This athlete applied an important principle of social influence: the ability to be likable. That’s one life lesson that I believe has to do with the way student-athletes are coached at Penn State to pay attention to academics and to have positive communication with their professors. The conversation didn’t change that athlete’s grade, but I developed a sense of respect for this athlete as a person who is serious about improving and making the most of a Penn State education.

Another incident occurred while watching the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Semi-Finals on TV the other night. In the opening introductions of the team, each player discussed their relationship with “The Widget”, Cathy Quilico, a junior defensive specialist. That brought a smile to my face. Cathy was in one of my classes last year. When she approached me at the beginning of the semester with her volleyball schedule, I looked at her and said, “You’re too short to play volleyball!” She’s 5’1” tall, basically tiny for a volleyball player. “I’m a dig specialist,” she responded.

So it was rewarding to see her play such a prominent role on the team in the wins against Hawaii and Texas, and to see the respect she had earned from her other teammates as conveyed by the good-humored introductions. It was clear to me just from watching the matches that not only is she competent at her specialized role, she is also an emotional leader of the team who is maximizing her potential.

Cathy has learned a life lesson about various paths to leadership. In a sport that is dominated by tall females, she has found a way to make a difference by focusing on what she can do, not on what she can’t, in a game she obviously loves.

Congratulations to the entire volleyball team for achieving an unprecedented third National Championship! We weren’t sure at all last night that Penn State would come back from being two sets down against Texas. They had not faced that sort of adversity in two years. But they did it. They found a way to win. What a game! Congratulations also to Russ Rose for achieving his 1000th win plus.

The final incident occurred at the Senior Banquet sponsored by the State College Quarterback Club on December 6th. In addition to numerous speeches and awards that lauded several graduating seniors, the Quarterback Club presented Brandon Short , former linebacker for both Penn State and the NFL, with its Distinguished Alumnus Award. While Brandon Short was not enrolled in any of my marketing classes, he did graduate from the Smeal College of Business with a marketing degree.

So I was very proud when he gave a speech about what he learned in his time at Penn State. It brought a standing ovation by the people who were present to hear it, and it caused Coach Joe Paterno to be overcome with emotion in his closing remarks. But rather than summarize the speech, I’ll just provide the link to the Penn State Football page on Facebook (you don’t have to join Facebook) so you can view excerpts from his speech and judge for yourself!

All for now. But since it may be Wednesday or possibly later before I get Internet access back, I would also like to wish you a very Happy Holiday season and a great New Year!
Carolyn Todd

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Travel Choices Are Plentiful for Capital One Bowl

Pardon me for being a bit slow in sharing my thoughts about the upcoming January 1 matchup with LSU. Sometimes, other priorities take over. This weekend was an intense period of grading team projects for one of my marketing classes. There were lots of marketing plans to read and lots to comment upon. A deadline looms for me this week: it’s the last week of classes. So it’s always good to return my comments on major projects before students scatter for finals week. Got more to do, but as I always tell myself this time of the year, “this too will pass…”

We did take the time for three things on Sunday. The first was the Senior Football Banquet sponsored by the State College Quarterback Club. The second was the bowl announcement show on Sunday night. The final was making travel arrangements to Orlando immediately after the bowl announcements.

I’ll talk about travel arrangements first in this post. Later this week look for some thoughts on the senior banquet and the bowl game itself. Terry and I had been hoping for a BCS bid to the Fiesta in Arizona, but we more or less expected to be in Orlando. And we’re reasonably happy about that. Iowa did really deserve a BCS bowl more than Penn State did, because they were ranked higher than us and because they beat us head-to-head. Besides, it looks like a matchup with LSU will be a very good one for us.

Whenever Penn State is chosen for a bowl game, we have two basic choices: sign up with a tour group, or travel on our own. For the possibilities this year, we had decided that for Arizona or Orlando, we would travel on our own. If we had wound up in the Orange Bowl, we would have traveled with a tour group so we could stay in a hotel on South Beach, secure tickets, and let a tour shuttle us to the stadium.

There are practical reasons for choosing a tour, and much of it has to do with ticket and hotel availability. Tickets are included, you receive bus transfers to the game and other pre-game events, and you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the experience with a bunch of other rabid Penn State fans. The tour groups that we have traveled with do a good job. It’s a hassle free way to go to a bowl game. We’ve traveled with both Collegiate Athletic Travel and Centre for Travel, local State College businesses with lots of experience and competent staff. The Penn State Alumni Association bowl tour is also well done. But if we were planning to go on a bowl tour, we’d just as soon support one of the local businesses in town, if their tour packages look good.

As mentioned before, we decided to travel on our own for this trip. When it comes to the Capital One bowl, we expect that there will be no problems acquiring two tickets directly from Penn State. Our Nittany Lion Club points are high enough to ensure that. Also, there are plenty of hotels in and around the Orlando area. We’ve also traveled on our own before in Orlando, and we’ve done it with a tour a couple of times. Either way works. It’s a matter of preference.

Our favorite Capital One Bowls (or Citrus Bowls) have been the ones where we have stayed at Disney World. Why? Disney does the holidays right. New Year’s Eve fireworks at any of their theme parks are spectacular. And if you stay at Disney, getting around the Disney complex is very easy through their system of monorails and busses and even boats. Even on New Year’s Eve after the fireworks it took a mere 20 minutes to get back to our hotel. We were very impressed with their transportation logistics on one of the most crowded nights of the year. Disney also has a plethora of great restaurant choices for New Year’s Eve, and I have already made reservations for a dining spot that night.

We went to a Penn State New Year’s Eve party in Orlando once, at the Peabody Hotel. We found it to be a strange affair. We sat next to some people who kept asking me about teaching at Smeal College, and I felt like I was working the entire time. I’d rather be anonymous on New Year’s Eve, and just enjoy myself. So Disney it will be for us. It’s much more fun to be a kid again than it is to play the role of college professor when you’re on vacation!

Within fifteen minutes of the bowl announcement, we looked at the choices for hotels at Disney. Tentatively reserved a vacation package for 12/28-1/3. Then looked at airlines. Wow. There were very expensive and lousy choices of flights from State College or Harrisburg to Orlando. Then it occurred to me. We were trying to return home on the Sunday of New Year’s weekend. I don’t have to be back to classes until 1/11. Looked at 12/29-1/4 instead. Much better choices, more reasonable airfares in and out of State College. The Disney package was also slightly less expensive. So, we booked airfare and hotel package through Disney. Then went online to ask for two tickets at the Penn State Athletics ticket site. Done by 9:30 p.m. on Sunday.

By the way, if you’re interested in both a bowl tour and Disney, there are some options available. Centre for Travel and Collegiate Athletic Travel for instance, both have tour packages that include a stay at a Disney resort, tickets to the game and bus transfers to the game, and other events/gifts. You can buy a land package and arrange your own flights, or buy an air package that includes flights. If you want to stay longer at Disney than the tour, I’m confident that either tour group can make arrangements for you.

The Penn State Alumni Association tour’s deluxe package is based at the Peabody Hotel in Orlando, the Big Ten headquarters where the team is staying, while its standard package is at the Rosen Plaza in Orlando. The Peabody Orlando is a beautiful luxury hotel and features the unique Peabody Ducks, who march through the hotel lobby on a red carpet each afternoon. It’s worth seeing at least once, there’s a lot of fanfare surrounding these ducks.

Another option, for those of you who would prefer to plan your own travel and find more inexpensive hotel choices in the Orlando area, is to book a game day package through the Penn State Alumni Association website. This package includes bus transfers to and from the Peabody Orlando to the game, a pre-game BBQ lunch, and a game ticket. The package is $274 per person.

Or if you want to park yourself at the game, and have your own game tickets, but want to attend the Alumni Association’s pre-game luncheon at the stadium, that’s $65 per person and you can register for that on-line at the Alumni Association’s web-site.

So we will spend six nights at Disney World. A pretty good vacation over the holidays, and we will have enough time to enjoy all of Disney at a slower pace that works for us. And now that the bowl trip is in place, and the end of football season frees up our weekends, we can move on to other things, like winding up the semester and planning for Christmas holidays…

For now, it’s back to grading…

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Waiting Game for A Bowl Choice: Almost Over!

Yesterday…grading papers while watching football games on TV. Penn State’s season is over, so all we have to do is wait for the bowl selections…

What a great comeback for Cincinnati to make the score 45-44 with 00:33 left in the Cincinnati – Pittsburgh game, clinching the Big East Championship. Congratulations to the entire team and its coaching staff led by Coach Brian Kelly for a 12-0 undefeated season.

So now that bowl piece is in place. Cincinnati is heading to a BCS bowl. Pittsburgh won’t be. So the Big Ten is one step closer to an at-large bid.

Then there’s the SEC Championship game. Congratulations to Alabama on a dominant win. That was not expected, and we were impressed. I felt for Tim Tebow at the end of the game. But he handled himself well through the tears. Class act. Alabama goes to Pasadena for the national championship, Florida will likely be chosen by the Sugar Bowl for that BCS game. No impact on the Big Ten at-large bids.

Watching the Texas-Nebraska game. A very sloppy game for Texas, their offense just didn’t look good at all. Colt McCoy had a bad day. Nebraska played a brilliant defensive game. But Texas found a way to win…kicking a field goal with 1 second left to win the game 13-12. What a game!!! It was an instant classic. Congratulations to Texas for pulling out a tight one!

One second away from BCS chaos…but all the teams I wanted to win won yesterday. Clears a possible path for Penn State in a BCS Bowl…hopefully the Fiesta! Maybe the Orange. If not, Orlando and Disney here we come.

We’ll finally know tonight!

In the meantime, today is the senior football banquet sponsored by the State College Quarterback Club. So we get to thank the players in person for a great season and thank the seniors for their contributions over the last 4-5 years to Penn State football. It’s always a good event.

Then, as soon as the bowl matchups are announced, lots of plans to make, starting tonight….but for now, back to that stack of papers…