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.
D'Elia arranges much contact with the news media for Paterno and the players, a function performed at most universities by the sports information department. He said Paterno sometimes got angry with him for making too many demands on what had traditionally been a team offering limited access.
"He hollers at me," D'Elia said. "That's part of the communication, oh yeah, absolutely. Being Italian, I'm used to it. It doesn't mean a thing. He'll get mad if he thinks I overbook them. He blows his stack and that's it, it's over. It doesn't feel good. That's his way."
Told of this, Spanier smiled and replied: "There's a lot of us that Joe yells at. It's done affectionately. Joe is the CEO of our football program."
Paterno also smiled when discussing his relationship with D'Elia.
"Once in a while, Guido gets carried away," he said, "and I've got to slow him down a little bit."
Although D'Elia was hired by Curley, Spanier said Paterno was the driving force. Paterno knew D'Elia because D'Elia had produced a weekly television show about the team since 1973.
This is D'Elia's second full season in this role. He spearheaded the search committee that hired Greg Myford late last year as the associate athletics director for marketing and communications, D'Elia and Spanier said.
Myford had worked for Palace Sports and Entertainment, which operates the Detroit Pistons of the NBA and the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL. Both teams won championships in 2004.
When asked whether D'Elia and Paterno would return next season, D'Elia said, "Absolutely."
When told of this, Curley offered a tight smile and replied "Oh, good, good, that's great for me to hear."
Paterno, asked the same question, replied: "Well, I hope, I'm pretty sure I'll be back." As for D'Elia, Paterno chuckled and said: "If he asks for a big raise, he ain't going to be back."
Next to D'Elia's desk were large cardboard illustrations of the stadium with lettering and numbers that he hoped to add next season to commemorate Penn State's football history. He said he recently discussed Penn State's conservative uniforms with apparel manufacturers.
Rather than modernize its famous plain uniform, D'Elia said, Penn State might eliminate the small white stripes around the collars and sleeves of the blue shirts. Such a retro look emphasized the stability of the Penn State brand, he said.
"We can't outstripe the rest and we're not about to," D'Elia said.
D'Elia's arrival coincided with one of Penn State's most successful recruiting years last winter. He said he tried to aid recruiting by having new arrivals fill out questionnaires about what swayed them. They have told him, D'Elia said, that early personal contact, handwritten notes and constant e-mail messages were effective.
Spanier and Curley said D'Elia knew the Penn State football culture and was aware of recruiting rules. "He's always checking with our compliance officer to make sure everything's OK," Curley said.
Paterno said D'Elia was very important to recruiting because assistants were sometimes too caught up in the details of their specialties and "not aware of the big picture" as a high school senior might see it. D'Elia, Paterno said, always tried to figure out "Is there anything about Penn State that would entice a kid?"
D'Elia, referring to the success of the team and its effect on fan enthusiasm and recruiting, said Paterno should get the credit and added: "We're riding a wave. We may know when to put the board in the water. Our job is to make the highs as high as they can be."