Joyner and O'Brien Discuss 2014 Croke Park Classic in Ireland
July 19, 2013
For complete information on travel packages to the historic 2014 game in Ireland, visit psu.crokeparkclassic.com
Penn State Director of Athletics Dave Joyner
Q: Can you talk us through how the matchup with UCF came to pass? How you coordinated the game with Central Florida and how you coordinated it with the officials over there?
A: Sure, we were generally thinking about how it would be nice to do an overseas game or maybe a game in Hawaii as a destination. We saw the Notre Dame-Navy game last year in Ireland and it looked interesting and we heard a lot of good things about the destination and the people over there. Then we had a home-and-home with UCF that we announced. Of course, (UCF coach) George O'Leary and Bill O'Brien, their Irish heritage notwithstanding, were chatting about how it would be neat to do a game in Ireland as the second end, the bookend of this home-and-home. So that started the conversation, because of our travels we had run into people that had done things in Ireland and arranged things in Ireland before. John Anthony from Anthony Travel and then one thing got hooked up to another when Patrick Steenberge, who had organized overseas trips and did the Notre Dame game last year and who had done the fantasy football camp here at Penn State. So everything just started to mix together with people who were connected for normal reasons anyways. It got more legs, so we finally began collaborating with the people in Ireland with the people that have done it before, and then with UCF in just negotiating that this would be UCF's home game in the home-and-home arrangement...it's just going to be played at Croke Park on August 30, 2014.
Q: Can you mention what you think the biggest advantage of this is? How is this going to help Penn State football?
A: I think number one, it is going to give Penn State a lot of national exposure, which I think it already has with all the talk about it. The Irish are very excited about this. It will get a lot of play from Ireland. George O'Leary and I were on the Irish "Today" show over there. So we are getting broadcast. It's not the U.S. media, but I think the excitement of playing this game with the O'Leary-O'Brien component to it and the fact that UCF is a very good football program. I think our fans are excited about it and I think it's just a great way to give our football team and University a marquee place to play and a focus on us.
Q: What will the travel plans be like and how much time will the kids actually be able to spend in Ireland since they have a game to prepare for? A: The way the travel looks right now is they would probably go to Ireland mid-week and would have several days there. It would likely not be a full week since they will have classes (starting Aug. 25). Unlike a postseason game where classes are not an issue, this is an in-season game so we are going to be very cognizant of missed class time. Although the football team is very good in (its) missed class time because most of the time they are leaving on a Friday for a game after countable class hours are over. They will have a good period of time there but it won't be a full week and the tours will be planning alumni events over the three to four day period as well.
Q: Were there any other destinations that you seriously looked into or was this the one that just made the most sense all the way around?
A: We didn't get into any serious discussions with anybody; let's say Hawaii. Hawaii and California were interesting to us whether we did a non-conference game with a California school that just would be a nice place to travel to for a nice destination and perhaps Hawaii. We chatted about those things but we never got into any detail because Ireland kept accelerating and getting more and more legs so really the main focus became Ireland and UCF.
Q: The last couple days the trustees have been saying some public things about the NCAA sanctions and Joe Biden met with them last week. Is the athletic department planning on trying to propose anything to the NCAA about reducing the sanctions? A: We are focused on dealing with the sanctions as they are right now. So whatever may or may not happen down the line is always contingent. We are not planning on anything happening, so we are paying attention to doing what we have to do with what we have been given to do and doing it very well. We continue to do that and we continue to get good marks for what we have done and how we are paying attention to things and we are going to continue to be focused on that.
Q: Can you describe how detailed it is to put together a trip like this and how long did it take prior to the announcement and how much work remains?
A: Prior to the announcement, much of it was contractual and just getting the details to the relationship with UCF getting ironed out. We had an existing contract for a home-and-home so there had to be some modifications based on the relationship and the contractual relationship with the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) along with other partners that would have pieces and parts of this. Also then working with our Alumni Association to work out how we collaborate with them, but that came further down the line. All the contractual relationships are in place. UCF had a visit (to Ireland) a few weeks before we went over with our delegation last week to do the preliminary before we signed up for anything and we depended on them to look at the facilities in the early part. They came back with very favorable opinions of the Irish and how well they do these things at Croke Park. They (Ireland) have done a number of these over the years, so their tourism office and everything else is involved. There was a lot of work lining those things up but its been done before so it was basically making us fit within the structures they have in place to facilitate this. Our trip over there was very busy. We did some press things. We inspected facilities and practice sites at the University College of Dublin. We inspected a hotel for where the teams would stay. Much of that work is now done. Now there are some specifics of how we will send another contingent of how we will lay out the equipment rooms. Croke Park has plenty of space. How will we layout our locker rooms and lay everything out. Things are pretty far down the line. Obviously there is always work in modifications as you go, but those are ongoing right now. Making plans with the travel partners, etc. It's very well along but there are a number of things yet to do.
Q: It's been almost a year now since the sanctions have been handed down. How do you feel the university and football program have responded to these sanctions?
A: I think the University has done an outstanding job. I think that we have gotten good marks from Senator (George) Mitchell and I am very hopeful and expectant that we will continue in that vein. So I think the University is on very solid ground not only with dealing with the things that have been given to us to do but also in maintaining our normal business. You saw the year our athletic teams and department had (record 11 conference championships in 2012-13). How our student-athletes and coaches performed, it's one of the best, if not the best year we have had at Penn State. And then how great the football program did given the heavy weight it had to carry and how Bill (O'Brien) did with that is right in line with the rest of Intercollegiate Athletics. All that comes from the support of the University and community as well. I think if you lump it all into a ball, we have done as well as anyone could expect us to do and that is because of all the people working very hard here to do that, as well as the student-athletes and coaches.
Q: Did the NCAA have any special role in this? Was there any special permission that was needed outside of what normally has to go do down for a game like this or was it pretty par for the course?
A: It was pretty par for the course; we made the Big Ten aware and made sure there were not any trip wires that we were going to fall over before we finalized this. I have been talking with the Big Ten and letting them know for some time now that we were working on this. Not that they officially have to bless this because the NCAA allows you to play one international game every four years. In our case this is a regular season game, not a post-season game, but one of our 12 normal games allowed under the NCAA consent decree. We are in line with the normal NCAA policy and did not have to ask for any exceptions. That being said, we made the Big Ten aware and kept them abreast as we moved along in this process.
Q: How much more difficult is it to plan for a trip like this rather than for a bowl game or regular season road game?
A: I would say it's a little more difficult because it's international. You deal with customs and bringing equipment in. If you are in the (United) States, be it a post-season or regular season game, you aren't dealing with customs or transporting a lot of equipment and people. Having said that, after being in Ireland, they are so helpful at facilitating those things. For instance, it's like going to Canada. Your customs coming back, you go through U.S. Customs in Dublin, which is a huge advantage. They are very fluid in the airport, which works extremely well. You have to have passports and I am sure many of the players do not have passports. You have to institute that so you are ready to go, but we have a year, which is good. Some of those kinds of details are more difficult than stateside but they are very manageable, particularly with the Irish people. Not only are the organizers invested in this, but the Irish government, the Office of Tourism and Sport and the Lord Mayor of Dublin are all very much invested and helpful in this process.
Q: Do you know why the game is being played so early as opposed to playing it later in Ireland, having a later time here in the U.S.?
A: ESPN is going to be the carrier and that has been part of the negotiation in the process. It's 1:30 p.m. over there (8:30 a.m. ET) and with Croke Park that was in the negotiated time frame.
Q: I know bowl games have been such a large part of Penn State's history. When the sanctions came down was there more urgency on your part to do something that resembled a bowl game during this period?
A: We, number one, wanted to do something to do something fun for alumni and fans. Even if we were allowed in the post-season we might have been looking at doing this kind of thing because I think it's a really good idea from time-to-time to do it for our program, University and student-athletes. It's not bad that it falls in the middle of everything we need to get done in the four-year period. It's a shot in the arm of something exciting. It gives our players a chance to experience some things. These young men that came and stayed here, the most important thing to them was to stay here and play at Penn State and come here and play at Penn State because they all came knowing the situation. I think at the outset that makes them very special. Having said that, it's not like they came because we are going to Ireland. I think that going to Ireland is something exciting for those that chose to come here anyway.
Penn State Head Football Coach Bill O'Brien
Q: How did the team react to the trip when it became official? And did it help with recruiting to dangle that trip out there even before it was official?
A: Our players are really excited about it. We don't have a lot of interaction with them in the summertime based on the NCAA rules where we really can't meet with them at all about football. But what from what I hear, our players are very excited about going over to Ireland and to get that experience while also playing a great opponent in UCF. Again, you know, it's a year away so the guys are really thinking about the Syracuse game (August 31), that's the priority.
Q: Were you disappointed that some of that got out about your presentation to the Board of Trustees?
A: No. I was invited down to the Board of Trustees to present to them the sanctions and my thoughts on the sanctions. I have been asked many, many questions over the last 19 months about the sanctions so I accepted the invitation and I went down there. I don't have anything to hide; I just want to do what's right for these kids and this football program. So no, I am not upset about anything, I'm just really excited about starting training camp.
Q: Do you have an active interest in wanting to propose to the NCAA a reduction of the sanctions?
A: I would defer that question to my bosses. I think that's the proper way to do that. I know what my thoughts are on it but I think that's a question more for President (Rodney) Erickson and Dave Joyner.
Q: What are your thoughts on it?
A: Well, I'm not going to get into the specifics of it but I believe that this football program is being run the right way and I believe that we have great kids here. I think we've worked very, very diligently to stay in compliance, just like every other program around the country. There are a lot of rules to follow and, again, we make our mistakes but we admit them right away, whether it's a text message or something that we shouldn't have sent. I think we are in compliance and hopefully at some point the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics, hopefully they look at that, and they can meet us halfway.
Q: What do you think the biggest non-football aspect will be about Ireland?
A: Well, of course, from a personal aspect, I'm very excited about going there. My dad (John) is an O'Brien, my mom (Anne) is a Murphy. My mom's family comes from Sligo and my dad's comes from Clare and Cork, so I was over there when I was about 15 or 16 with my dad and it was a great trip. Most importantly, I'm looking forward to the experience for the kids. Hopefully we get one day where we can practice in the morning and then take the kids around and show them the history of Dublin and the surrounding area.
Q: Do you have an update on Tyler Ferguson? Is he back at school?
A: I'm not sure what the big deal is with that and, no, he's not back at school. Summer is voluntary so Tyler has gone home. His mom is sick, he's got a great mom and he's gone home and he'll be back for training camp.
Q: You've called on the university community to unite and, I'm just wondering since we've reached the year mark since the sanctions came down, do you feel that the community has been united and do you feel that it's better to work with the NCAA rather than antagonizing them?
A: I really believe in the Penn State community and I have a strong belief in our student body. We have a fantastic student body that really roots for the football program, and all of the athletic programs, and I have a belief in our administration. When I go out in the community, whether it's a speaking engagement or simply going out to dinner, I receive a lot of positive feedback. So, I think we're pulling in the same direction. I respect everybody's opinions. I'm asked questions over and over again about this football program and I just try to make sure people know what I think is best for the football program.
Q: How much did your relationship with UCF coach George O'Leary have to do with getting this game scheduled, and even getting this game to Ireland? Was that kind of the basis for the whole thing?
A: Sure, I think that was a big part of it. We had been in contact with a few opponents and a lot of them just couldn't schedule it. Central Florida was a school that was able to have an open date on the first game of 2014. Obviously, I worked eight seasons for Coach (George) O'Leary and he has meant a lot to my career. I was a graduate assistant there and he promoted me up through the ranks and gave me my first break. I think the world of the guy and it's going to be a great experience for the two of us to have our teams over there together. It's really exciting for both schools.
Q: It's been a year since the sanctions came out, how do you think the program has managed to deal with everything that goes with it?
A: I believe to this point that we've done as good a job as we thought we could do. At this point, who knows what the 2013 season holds? Again, I think this is a great group of kids. Last semester we had 50 kids on the football team that had over a 3.0 GPA. We graduated 17 guys this past May and one of them, John Urschel, with a master's, so I think we are headed in the right direction. It won't be easy but I believe that this is a place that can be successful, whether it's with sanctions or without sanctions.
Q: How important was it for you to get a destination game like this on the schedule?
A: I thought it was important for our players to be able to travel somewhere overseas. A lot of these guys have never been overseas so I think it's a great experience for our players. I also believe that it's a fantastic opportunity for our fans. When I took the job here, one of the things that the fans told me a lot was that they planned their Christmas vacation around bowl trips. Obviously, we can't go to a bowl but this is somewhat of a Labor Day vacation and I think that the timing will be great for our fans. It's a time when most people are off work and I think Anthony Travel has some great packages for them so hopefully we get a good turnout of Penn State fans.
Q: What are of your concerns or things that you'll be looking for with the uniqueness of the trip? Obviously it's not a normal game even though it's during the season.
A: I spoke to Coach (George) O'Leary yesterday about it and he went over there and he talked to me a lot about what he had seen. The press box set-up with the headsets and the way that the sidelines are set up and the locker rooms. So he was able to go over there and find a lot of that out for me and I appreciate him doing that. I believe the Irish people and the people that run that game will do a fantastic job of having all of those things ready.
Q: Do think the trip will have a role in recruiting?
A: I certainly hope so. Only time will tell one that. One thing that I've found in the 19 months that I've been on the job is that recruiting here has not suffered at all. The numbers have suffered, obviously because of the sanctions we can't sign as many kids as everyone else but when we get a young man on campus here at Penn State and they see all of the things Penn State has to offer academically, athletically, the student body, the setting of the campus in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania and the 100,000-seat stadium, I think recruiting has been going very well for us so hopefully this will add to that.
Q: What are the factors that have contributed to the stability of the team over the past year? A: I'd say there are a few factors. I think you have to start with the student-athletes themselves. These are tough-minded guys and they believe in Penn State. They know the type of degree they can get here and they know that they will have tremendous exposure here. They'll play every game on TV, they'll play games in front of 100,000 fans and (play) in a great conference. When you look at our home schedule this year, we have UCF in a night game, Michigan, Nebraska, we've got a great home schedule and these kids know that, so I give them a lot of credit. I also give our coaching staff a lot of credit because they have developed a very trusting relationship with the players, I give our strength staff credit, Craig Fitzgerald and his staff, our players know that they're going to be developed here physically in the weight room and on the practice fields. I give our academic staff a lot of credit because the kids here know that our academic staff really cares about them. I think, again, it's a One Team type of deal. We try to be consistent in our dealing with the players and I believe the players respect that and that's why we've been able to do a good job of basically holding this thing together. And, now, hopefully going out there and winning some games this year.