Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece and reflects only the thoughts and opinions of the author.
It’s one of the most iconic scenes in all of sports — the Penn State White Out. After almost 20 years, the White Out has become a celebration for Penn State football fans and a much-watch event for the college football world. Now it’s to the point where the color white has become synonymous with Penn State fandom itself. From Big Ten country to the Plains of Auburn to Pasadena, the Penn State White Out has even become a traveling show.
But the White Out is dying in the new media market of college football. The Penn State community is currently struggling to come to grips with the path forward for the spectacle that has become emblematic of the university itself. But what if there’s an answer in sight? What if the White Out can be redefined for the next generation of Penn State football?
An “avalanche of sound”
My first experience with the White Out was the 2005 matchup against Ohio State. This game defined what the spectacle would become for the next two decades. I remember sitting in the rain-soaked north end zone upper deck that visibly shook each time Kernkraft 400 played. It was an “avalanche of sound,” and that’s what the White Out quickly became — one of the most intimidating environments in all of college football.
Whether from the Beaver Stadium grandstands or at home, the White Out quickly became the defining date on the Penn State football calendar. While fun as a fan, it was also work. You had a task. In a game where Penn State was often the underdog, fans had to be as loud as possible to level the playing field. And in many cases, it worked. There are numerous examples over the years of the Nittany Lions hanging in games in which they had no business being competitive.
The death of the Penn State White Out
But the White Out is slowly dying. With the Big Ten’s media market transition away from ESPN and towards Fox and NBC, Penn State’s most prominent home matchup of the season will likely be played at noon for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps it’s the old soul in me, but I don’t mind Big Noon Saturday. It’s like Christmas — I’m impatient by nature and want to get to the main event as soon as possible. Plus, being home in time for the afternoon and evening games is an added bonus.
But I must admit that the noon kickoffs have been the death knell of the White Out. Beaver Stadium doesn’t pop in the daylight like it does at night. And while I thought the crowds of the last two Big Noon games were good, they didn’t have the same WWE-style atmosphere as does the White Out.
So now, Penn State is faced with a dilemma. If it pairs the White Out game with its premiere matchup, it loses the spectacle of prime time. But if it saves the game for under the lights, it loses some of the “knock out, drag out” fight appeal that has made the White Out a raucous atmosphere. We see this debate with the 2023 White Out playing out in real time.
Hold on, expansion’s comin’
But I think there’s a realistic path forward. The White Out just needs to hold on for one more year. Next season, everything changes (again).
In 2024, USC and UCLA will join the Big Ten. With this move, the conference will likely finally do away with the East/West division split that has been a thorn in the Nittany Lions’ side for so long. But this change can also help save the White Out. While I expect Penn State to continue to host either Ohio State or Michigan every year, Beaver Stadium should also see more marquee matchups on an annual basis.
USC should continue to be a playoff contender under Lincoln Riley. Chip Kelly has started to rebuild UCLA’s football program as well. Luke Fickell and Matt Rhule are also hoping to return Wisconsin and Nebraska to prominence. Each season, one of these teams will likely make their way to Happy Valley. And if Fox gets first dibs on the Ohio State or Michigan matchups, then it’s a safe bet that NBC’s Big Ten Saturday Night will get these games. While they may not always be top-10 games, these matchups will be hotly contested and filled with intrigue. The games will be must-watch television — the perfect environment to showcase Penn State football.
There’s also the elephant in the room of the expanded College Football Playoff that starts in 2024. With opening-round matchups hosted at college venues, Beaver Stadium will likely see playoff football soon. While Penn State can’t plan for this every year, a home playoff game will most definitely evoke second-White Out protocol. And even if these matchups started at noon, in mid-December, the end of these games will occur under the Beaver Stadium lights. To me, the playoff game atmosphere in Beaver Stadium will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen, including the White Out.
So, I’m sad to see the end of the White Out that I grew up with. But I won’t mourn for long. There are exciting new horizons ahead for college football. And in this new world, the Penn State White Out will undoubtedly play a critical role.
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