One of college football’s iconic venues could soon be the stage for high school football.
Penn State officials last week announced the school is open to hosting a high school football game this season at the 107,000-capacity Beaver Stadium.
Nittany Lions football coach James Franklin said he sees the idea as a way to be "great partners."
“Our No. 1 focus is on Penn State and our football program and our athletic department and our university,” Franklin said. “So we are not going to do anything that would cause challenges or issues there. But when we can be great partners in our community, and when we can be great partners in our state, and provide a great experience in this community and for the State of Pennsylvania ... we want to try to do it.”
Penn State hasn’t indicated which schools or dates it’s considered, but the Nittany Lions have five road games and two idle weeks this season. Logistically, Beaver Stadium could host high school teams on Sept. 20 or 21; Sept. 27 or 28; Oct. 11 or 12; Oct. 25 or 26. The Pennsylvania high school football regular season concludes on Oct. 25.
Meadville High football coach Ray Collins welcomed the possibility, and said it would present a unique and memorable experience for young athletes.
“If you’re a high school football player and you have an opportunity to play a game at a venue like Beaver Stadium, I think for most high school football players, that is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Collins said. “From that perspective, you can certainly imagine the excitement and energy created by the opportunity to do that and to play on that surface, to play in that stadium and to come out of that tunnel where so many guys have come out on a Saturday. I think presenting that to a high school football player is outstanding.”
The potential Penn State-PIAA partnership was first reported last week by WMSS-FM’s Eric Thomas, who shared on Twitter a statement he received from Penn State assistant athletics director of strategic communications and football sports information director Kris Peterson.
“Penn State Athletics wishes to provide an opportunity for one Pennsylvania high school football game to be played in Beaver Stadium this fall,” the statement said. “We are working with the appropriate officials regarding the details.”
Penn State said it has also considered hosting a PIAA championship in the future. Beaver Stadium hosted the 1988 PIAA Class 4A championship — the last time the venue has been used for high school games.
“We'd love to get to the point at some point that maybe we're able to host state championship games here,” Franklin said.
Jason McElhaney will soon begin his first year as coach at Sharon. He's coached for 16 seasons overall and said he's long believed playoff football games at Beaver Stadium are overdue. He pointed to postseason formats elsewhere as examples.
"When you look around at other states and where they host their playoff games, and ultimately where they host their finals, it's the Horseshoe in Columbus," McElhaney said. "In New York it's Syracuse, or Ford Field when you go to Detroit. It should be a big deal. And I think going to Beaver Stadium — which is one of the biggest-capacity stadiums in the country right it's in the middle of the state and (Penn State) is the biggest university in the state — I think the finals should always be there."
Collins applauded the school’s gesture but said Beaver Stadium’s size could dampen some of the atmosphere typically generated at high school stadiums on Friday nights in the fall.
“The flip side of it, you’re going to run out of a tunnel into the waiting arms of 2,000 fans in a stadium designed to hold 107,000,” Collins said. “The traditional excitement of Friday night high school football, a lot of that is created by the intimacy and interaction between the fans, the players and the community coming together. I think that’s one thing that creates a lot of energy and excitement. I just wonder if some of that might be missed in a venue as big as Beaver Stadium. But again, from a player’s perspective, you’re playing on the field at Beaver Stadium – good enough.”
Danville coach Jim Keiser said while he thinks regular-season games at Beaver Stadium would be a welcomed bonus for players, he's not an advocate for moving championship contests from Hersheypark Stadium.
"As far as state championships go, I think Hershey is such a great setting for that," Keiser said. "I'd hate to see them move that away from there, but I think it'd be great for them to host some high school football games there."