Greene Steps Down at Big 33

Former Nittany Lion says difficulty in lining up corporate sponsorship led to the move. "It's good timing for me to go and to give them a chance to get somebody else in there."

The Big 33 Classic, one of the nation's premier high school football all-star games, has been thrown another curveball.

John Greene, the former Penn State football player who was named executive director of the game in the fall of 2007, stepped down from the position Monday.

“I just decided it was enough,” Greene said. “It had been a tough year. It is no secret that we were in need of sponsorship. I felt that pressure. And with this economy, we had lost a lot of corporations over the last year. And by no means was I going to be the great savior to financially get it done.”

The resignation comes four and a half months before the June 20 game, which will match all-star teams from Pennsylvania and Ohio in Hershey, Pa. It will be the 52nd Big 33 Classic.

“It's good timing for me to go and to give them a chance to get somebody else in there,” Greene said. “Sometimes, things either line up really positive or they line up where it is time to leave. And it was time.”

In recent years, the Big 33 has had to deal with many significant issues. It had long been played in late July, but was forced to move to June when an NCAA rules change prompted most incoming college football players to enroll in summer school.

The date change has been an issue because it has forced the Big 33 to go head to head with a tradition-laden all-star tilt in Ohio, the North-South Classic, which is also played in late June. That has effectively watered down the talent level of the Big 33 Ohio squad in recent years.

Also of late, certain players who were selected to the national all-star games in January -- among them Pennsylvania stars Terrelle Pryor (2008) and Eric Shrive (2009) -- have opted out of the Big 33. Further hurting the game is the fact that some high school football players are choosing to enroll in college in January.

The tough economic climate, which has made lining up corporate sponsorships extremely challenging, has proved to be the most difficult issue of them all. The most serious hit came when primary sponsor PHEAA considerably scaled back its support in November of 2007.

“That hurt drastically,” Greene said. “There have been a series of those things, but PHEAA was the most difficult.”

On the Big 33 Web site, there is a section noting that the event “is more than just a game.” According to the site, last year the Big 33 awarded $180,000 in academic scholarships throughout Pennsylvania. It also reports that since 1985, the Big 33 has helped generate more than $1.5 million for charities and high schools.

During game week alone, players take part in a “buddy program,” where they are paired with people “with exceptional needs,” attend multiple banquets and put on a youth clinic. There is also a cheerleading program.

All of it is extremely positive. But it all comes at a price.

“With the budget we laid out this year, there's no doubt, just like everyone else, the Big 33 needs to streamline and cut costs wherever they can,” Greene said. “The goal is to always be a first-class event, but with scaled back amenities."

But there is only so much that can be scaled back. Improved sponsorship is the real key, he said.

While addressing the issues of the Big 33 and why he felt he had to step away, Greene frequently used the word “we.” He said he still has a soft spot in his heart for the game and he hopes his replacement will have more success at prying open corporate pockets.

“They're going to need a major sponsor,” he said. “There are some things in the works with some major companies where we were able to get some talks going. Hopefully one or two of them will come through.”

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