INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State head football coach James Franklin doesn’t leave any uncertainty on where he stands when it comes to making sure his players are vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I’m not going to be happy until it’s 100%. Staff, players, and everybody associated with the program,” Franklin said Thursday during Big Ten football media day at Lucas Oil Stadium. “I do understand that there is going to be a small number of people that are not going to get it and aren’t comfortable.
“I don’t want to use the word ramifications, but there’s going to be some conditions that go with that. If you’re not going to be vaccinated, then there’s going to be testing and masks and social distancing and maybe different meetings and things like that. But obviously the intention is to try to get as close to 100% as possible.”
Franklin did not want to discuss the exact percentage of current vaccinations with his players but said the number was “well above” 70%. He said that he continues to encourage the Nittany Lions to get the vaccine and that they should speak with team physicians Wayne Sebastianelli and Gregory Billy if they have questions.
“I think we’re trending in a really good direction,” he said. “For me, I’m going to have conversations. I’m going to try to educate. I’m constantly sending my guys articles and videos and things that I see out there. There’s obviously both ends of the spectrum about how people feel on this topic.”
Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said that the conference, after speaking with its presidents and chancellors, will create “a decentralized process and procedure this year handling COVID-19” based on proposed policies adopted by member schools.
“Our schools are finalizing their proposed policies and procedures for the fall,” he said. “We’ll get that information in early August. We’ll combine it, and then we’ll get together with our chancellors and presidents and other key constituents to make the determination as far as how we handle the fall.
“One of the things that I did learn last year was to make sure that we are methodical and bring people together. So we’re right where we wanted to be. We’ll finalize our policies that we make sure we pressure test it as much as we possibly can, and then we’ll make sure we release it to everyone in the media and the public.”
Warren said the policy will be announced before the Big Ten season opener Aug. 28 between Nebraska and Illinois.
Warren was criticized last season for the decision-making around football. The conference announced Aug. 11 that the football season would be canceled only to reverse and declare on Sept. 16 that an abbreviated season would be conducted from Oct. 23 through Dec. 20.
Franklin also said he talks to his team about the competitive factor when it comes to vaccination rates, and the consequences of having to sit out following a positive test.
“I think vaccination rates are clearly going to be a competitive advantage or a competitive disadvantage,” he said. “We all know that. I’ve stated that very clearly to my team. If you have a certain position that has low vaccination rates, and all of a sudden, if you get someone that pops positive, you lose four guys at one position. That’s going to be a challenge. So we talk about that.
“Say during the season, you get flagged, and you’re out for three weeks. Are you OK with that? They say, ‘No. I’m not OK with that.’ Well, you can’t have it both ways. You either have to be comfortable with the ramifications of the decisions you make or get the vaccination.
“So those are things that we’re discussing, and as long as you’re comfortable with what it’s going to mean for you and our team, then I’m good with it. But I just want to make sure they have all the information.”