Friday, December 19, 2014

DeChellis finally faced the facts at Penn State

If you were surprised that Ed DeChellis fled the barren wasteland of basketball-challenged Happy Valley for Navy, you haven't been paying attention.

DeChellis finally faced the facts at Penn State

Ed DeChellis stunned the college basketball world by leaving Penn State for Navy. (John Beale/AP)
Ed DeChellis stunned the college basketball world by leaving Penn State for Navy. (John Beale/AP)

 If you were surprised that Ed DeChellis fled the barren wasteland of basketball-challenged Happy Valley for Navy, you haven’t been paying attention.

If you look at it realistically, the 52-year-old DeChellis went to a place where .500 is acceptable and he can ride out his last 10 years as a coach with no pressure. He was losing four senior starters at Penn State, including the leading scorer of all time (Talor Battle), so he would have been crashing back to square one — 5-25 overall and 1-17 in the Big Ten.

DeChellis may or may not have jumped before he was pushed but that’s irrelevant here. He simply faced the fact that Penn State cannot become an annual contender in its own conference, let alone a national name.

The elephant in the room — unacknowleged by the national media — is this: No matter who Penn State hires, even the biggest name, he won't be able to recruit national level players. There's a perception that elite African American players won't go there and the few white stars are reserved for Duke, et. al. And there are not enough star level players in Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia. Gerry McNamara might have been the last and that was nine years ago.

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In a strange twist of fate, the sub-mediocrity on the court is balanced by massive success at the box office. Penn State earns approximately $5 million a year from the Big Ten, so why worry about empty seats? (The average home attendance at the Bryce-Jordan Arena this season was 7,457, less than half of the listed capacity.

Another bottom line is the location. There's no basketball audience in Central Pennsylvania. Never was. So even if the Nits are good, there’s no assurance the population would buy the top seats and luxury boxes. Students? Yes, they’ll turn out in droves, as they did for the NIT finals two years ago. But purchase reserved seats and luxury boxes? That audience doesn't exist.

Which brings us to the second elephant — who would want this job? A high-profile coach at a mid-major (Shaka Smart?) will head to a major major where he can make the NCAA tournament every year. A fast-rising assistant will take the mid-major route or take a striving program in a Power Six conference.

The dream of making Penn State basketball relevant remains alive. It’s why many of us cheered the move to the Big 10 in the early '90s. But it’s a mirage. It’s like Pennsylvania’s electoral votes for Republican presidential candidates — hanging there like the grapes of Tantalus, forever out of reach.

Ed DeChellis came later to the dance than the rest of us but he got there nonetheless.

Don McKee

Penn State Class of 1970

Contact him at dmckee@phillynews.com

 

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