Penn State coach James Franklin talked about all the work and sacrifices produced by his coaches, players and staff to make a Big Ten fall football season work, saying he felt like a “mother hen” walking around all day to make sure everyone wore their masks properly, especially around the Aug. 7 start of preseason practice.
And then, as he described the developments that led the conference on Aug. 11 to cancel the season, “Things started to swing in the wrong direction.”
Franklin said Wednesday in a Zoom conference call with reporters that while he did “not really have an issue with the decision,” he questioned the process and the timing of it. He said there was a lack of information communicated that could be relayed to his players and their parents about scholarships, eligibility and the next opportunity to play.
“It’s difficult to continue getting up in front of those people as a leader of my organization and not only deliver bad news, but not be able to deliver the answers to their questions,” he said. “I think that’s the job of a leader, to set the vision and set the plan and then drive everybody towards that vision and that plan.
“When you do face challenges or issues, it’s the job of a leader to either have the answers or find the answers. I was not able to do that. How we got to this decision, I’m not in position to answer that because I wasn’t in the room.”
Then, in what could have been a criticism of Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, Franklin said, “I do know when you make a decision of this magnitude that affects so many people on such a significant level, maybe the most important decision in the history of the Big Ten, it wasn’t made in ambiguity, it wasn’t vague.
“There’s no way we made this decision without everybody being clear on what the decision was,” he said.
Franklin said that after the first week of coronavirus testing once players returned to campus on June 8, there wasn’t a single positive case among players, coaches, trainers or anyone else who had been part of the program.
“I think we were showing that the plan worked,” he said. “I’m not naïve to think that this was going to be smooth sailing the whole time, but I think that was the hard part, is so many people had worked so hard to come up with a plan and make it work, and then all of a sudden, it changes and you weren’t a part of the conversation and you didn’t completely understand why.”
Franklin said he felt that leaders of the Power 5 conferences should have met and discussed how to make a college football season work for everybody in the middle of a pandemic. As of Wednesday, the SEC, ACC and the Big 12 are still planning on a fall season, while the Pac-12 joined the Big Ten last week in canceling.
“Once you start fracturing it and one group is doing one thing and another group is doing another, then you get all the problems that we’re dealing with now,” he said. “There may have come a point that you couldn’t do that, but that needed to be exhausted before making these decisions, in my mind. How much that happened, or how much that didn’t happen, I’m not sure.”
The NCAA Football Oversight Committee recommended Tuesday to the NCAA Division I Council that teams without football are allowed to be together 12 hours per week in the fall. Franklin questioned the fairness of the limited hours while teams in conferences that are playing are allowed 20 hours per week.
“I can’t understand how us being able to work with our student-athletes for 12 hours when other people are getting the full season, how that’s in the best interests of college football and of our student-athletes, the Big Ten, and specifically Penn State,” he said.
As for the team’s next playing opportunity, Franklin said he preferred “more of a winter season than a spring season,” so more recovery time is available for players who would compete in a fall 2021 season. He questioned, however, how realistic it would be to play in Beaver Stadium in the middle of winter and brought up the idea of playing in indoor stadiums in the Midwest.
“The domes provide an opportunity for consistency from a weather standpoint and I think it also just helps with the routine,” he said. “We’re just at a point right now that we’re trying to find any way we possibly can to make it work and do it in a way that it doesn’t have an impact on ’21. But we’re very aware of all the things that impacts.”