During breaks in Penn State football games this season, the speaker system at Beaver Stadium has played a rhythmic tune, "Kernkraft 400," by a techno group called Zombie Nation as the scoreboard displays the word "Bounce."
This has prompted more than 100,000 fans to jump up and down, an energized scene that motivates the home team and causes the grandstands to vibrate. Perhaps it also intimidates the opposition. Certainly it worries the structural engineers.
"A little bit on the edge," said Graham B. Spanier, the president of Penn State. "Now, we play the music but we don't put the word `Bounce' up on the scoreboard. The engineers and the physical-plant folks are just being careful. But, clearly, we've created a certain atmosphere."
That atmosphere will be displayed today when 10th-ranked Penn State plays No. 14 Wisconsin in the Nittany Lions' final home game of an implausible comeback season. At stake is the lead in the Big Ten Conference. Both teams are 5-1 in the league and 8-1 over all and have one game remaining after this one. In the previous two seasons, Penn State finished ninth in the conference.
But the alchemist of the stadium atmosphere and of other changes around the football program is a man behind the curtain, Guido D'Elia, who is not even a permanent employee. D'Elia, a consultant from Pittsburgh brought in two years ago, has delighted some people and worried others with his aggressive innovations and his influence with Joe Paterno, the veteran coach in his 40th season.
"I am the designated trouble-stirrer of change," D'Elia said in one of two recent interviews in his office in the Lasch football center. "I'm the lightning rod. I'm Darth Vader. I'm the angel of death."
D'Elia, whose official title is director of communications and branding, often speaks in the hyperbole of a salesman. He has a background in television and Internet production with his company, Mind Over Media. He said the head groundskeeper at the stadium recently told him, "If you ever turned up missing, there would be an endless list of suspects."
Tim Curley, the athletic director, praised D'Elia for being creative and said: "He probably moves at a faster pace in terms of change than what we had traditionally done before. He's not afraid to make changes."
D'Elia said major college sports, like Penn State football, must operate more like professional sports businesses and should be sold forcefully to recruits and to younger fans. He said Penn State must hire "professionals that can manage the image, promote its brand, market its content and recruit its personnel."
Some people hold jobs around a sports program like Penn State, D'Elia said, because they are loyal to a veteran coach. What will happen to them when and if Paterno, 78, retires? "Maybe they will come along into this new world," D'Elia said, "or go from it."
In an interview on Friday, Paterno said that D'Elia had "done a great job," that "his judgment is very good" and that if he challenged people in the athletic department, it was for a good reason.
"I felt we needed somebody who woke up in the morning thinking about how we could get Penn State back in the forefront," Paterno said. "We were slipping. He's got ideas. He's got ways of handling things."
D'Elia said football generated 85 percent of the athletic department's US$54 million budget for 29 sports; he added that Texas had a US$72 million budget for 19 sports and that Penn State was tied for fifth in the Big Ten in sports revenue.