Thanks for your thoughts. I think you're right to assume that State College is a unique situation compared to a MAC school, which doesn't generate the type of fan support, and school like Ohio State which is located in a bigger city. Perhaps the combination of isolation and fan- support in Happy Valley has resulted in a lot of "football-dependent" business that would stand to lose if the team disintegrates or falls off the radar significantly.
However, I think you underestimate the economic anchor that a school of that size creates, even in a small community. Take equally isolated Ithaca, NY home to Cornell and Ithaca College, which combined to host about 27,000 students. There are restaurants, stores, and bars, none of which are remotely influenced by the existence of any sports teams whatsoever. Still there were stores selling Cornell tees and sweatshirts and people were buying them and wearing them around. So clearly there is some money in merchandise sales even at places where sports aren’t really a big deal. Similarly, there are obviously enough students, faculty, and staff in the area to support a thriving small-town economy ranging from the typical college dives to higher-end restaurants and boutiques all without any significant impact from sports.
There are those who will argue that this is a cultural thing: people who go to Cornell and live in Ithaca are into fine dining and vintage bookstores rather than football and tailgating -you’d be right, and I think this ties in with why the situation in State College might be unique to other cases. However, I still think you’re underestimating the diverse impact a university has on a town with or without big-time sports. There has to be a significant amount of faculty who can support nicer higher-end establishments in the area, and there are probably students at Penn State- just like at Ohio State- who don’t really care all that much about sports, but who shop and eat-out none-the-less.
The key question here is how football is intertwined with culture. If football falls by the wayside, will people stop buying Penn State gear? Will they stop eating breakfast on Saturday mornings? Will they even want to attend Penn State? Or, will they simply find other things to do in State College?
I realize this is a sports blog, so the thought of life without football might seem off-topic. But, this Penn State situation has raised some interesting questions, and I’m interested to hear more responses. How engrained do you think football really is in the economy and culture of a college town/city? Not just at Penn State, but anywhere.