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Was AJ Brodeur wrong to criticize Penn for selling the Palestra court’s naming rights? | Mike Jensen

Penn star AJ Brodeur joined the pushback against the school selling naming rights to the Palestra's court, increasing the spotlight on the deal.

AJ Brodeur, one of Penn basketball's top players, criticized the school selling naming rights to the Palestra's court.
AJ Brodeur, one of Penn basketball's top players, criticized the school selling naming rights to the Palestra's court.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

So why is the Palestra so different?

Why does this one building represent a kind of athletic innocence? Why are so many offended when the University of Pennsylvania this year put a corporate logo on the sacred floor?

Look around to other local gyms. Villanova just named its reworked arena for its primary donor and hasn't stopped there, with seat licenses going for big bucks and an online auction right now selling off everything from courtside seats to an 2016 Final Four team autographed locker room placard.

Over at St. Joseph's, they no longer call their hallowed fieldhouse the St. Joseph's Fieldhouse, it is named for a donor, fieldhouse out of the name completely. At La Salle, the Explorers play inside the Tom Gola Arena, except the school upped the ante, keeping the Gola name for the gym level itself, and selling off the name of the entire building to a corporation.

Nobody squawked much about any of that. Everyone needs the cash. The Palestra is just different. For a certain generation, it brings to mind Big Five doubleheaders and all that came with them. The perfection of the building design has held up for almost a century, representing a kind of purity in itself. Also, there are no athletic scholarships in the Ivy League, any tuition funding for the athletes themselves coming through the financial-aid department.

The Palestra itself, to be clear, does not have a corporate name. It will not, can not. Still, the floor has been sold, to an asset management company. Or "sold out," as Quakers star player AJ Brodeur pointedly put it in a tweet last weekend.

His tweet went viral in Ivy circles, and the school pushed back on the idea that it had cut back on Ivy road trips for Penn's band and cheerleaders for financial reasons. The facts on that? Depends entirely on who you talk to. But Brodeur eventually took down the tweet.

"I definitely didn't mean to demonize anyone or anything like that,'' Brodeur said.

Still, the idea of a corporate name on the floor bothers him.

"I think that that might even have been the jumping off point — it's kind of like I needed an excuse to kind of talk about the controversial aspect of the whole branding and adding the logo on the court,'' Brodeur said after the Lafayette game. "It kind of leads into a bigger issue of all the money that goes into college sports and flows through it, and all these corporate sponsorships, especially at a place like the Palestra."

He noted that the company buying space on the floor plans to fund community work locally. He thinks that's great.


"When I first saw it, it was kind of off-putting to me,'' Brodeur said.

My own belief: Whatever Penn got out of the deal, it's literally not worth it, given the automatic pushback, especially from within the Penn community.

Penn athletic director Grace Calhoun, in her fifth year, understood there would be little applause for the move. She said that for all the fundraising, which, going along with stock market climbs, has pushed Penn's athletic-specific endowment from $35 million to $80 million in her time as AD, the school still ranks seventh in the Ivies in athletic endowment, the same spot as when she took the job. The rest of Penn's nearly $14 billion endowment doesn't have anything to do with her department.

"It's a change, so clearly there would be varied opinions,'' Calhoun said of the sponsorship deal itself.

Fundraising obviously has been a long-time and necessary feature of Penn athletics, and higher education as a whole. Steve Donahue isn't just Penn's men's basketball coach. His official title is the John R. Rockwell Head Coach. Over at Villanova, Jay Wright had an endowed title name before he won national titles.

There's just no denying that the Palestra is a little less pure. Someone I was talking to inside that building the other night, while not applauding the move, said he gets genuinely mad at a lot of things in the world right now and can't summon the same anger for a name on a basketball court. "This is the toy department,'' he said.

A mature viewpoint. I share it, in terms of how much genuine anger can be summoned. Toys, however, represent innocence. I started to say this is like selling sponsorship on Little League uniforms, until I realized there was a sponsor on my Little League uniform when I played.

If it's time we all understand that everything's for sale for the right price, it still hurts to see Penn make it official.