Penn State head coach James Franklin is confident that football will be played again in some form. It’s just that the coronavirus pandemic complicates exactly when the sport will resume, and how much different conditions will be.
Will there be fans in the stands at Beaver Stadium? Will it be a shortened season? Will the start of the season be delayed a few weeks, or until the spring? Will conferences located in areas with fewer reported COVID-19 cases be allowed to begin training camp and their season earlier than those in areas with more cases?
Franklin is not sure what the answers are, but he does know this: that resuming football can only happen in a safe and healthy environment, and that decisions have to be based on what scientists are recommending.
“I’m a believer in science. I’m a believer in medicine and listening to the experts, so our decisions have to be based on that,” Franklin said Wednesday in a conference call with the media. “No. 1, what are the experts saying? What are the scientists saying? What are the doctors saying? What can we do to create the best, safest, healthiest environment we possibly can?
“The second part of this is we all realize there is an economic part of this as well. For us to act like there’s not an economic part would not be transparent. It’d better go in that order – health, welfare, and science-based first, and then take an economic impact of it as well and combine those two things.”
The coach stressed the ability to stay “open and flexible” as far as the format of the new season, whether it’s a full schedule or a reduced one, a stadium that’s empty or has some fans.
“We need to do whatever we possibly can to make it work,” he said. “I think if we don’t make it work, there’s going to be major impacts across the board. You have to be open to any of these scenarios because at the end of the day we’ve got to find a way to make it work, and we can as long as everybody is going to be safe and healthy.
“We have to have an open mind to whatever this is going to look like, and go back and trust the experts. We have experts on Penn State’s campus that are doing a phenomenal job for us. We have that at a conference level as well and then obviously nationally, all the way up to our government.”
Franklin also is concerned that there will be a lack of uniformity as to when football programs will be allowed to start preparing for a new season depending on numbers of new coronavirus cases. Certainly, governors will have a major say in determining when that will be, but the coach seeks guidance from the NCAA that he hopes will “level the playing field.”
“I think in reality, I don’t see how you’re going to be able to hold up 10 or 12 schools in one conference from two states that are opening up a month later,” Franklin said. “I think that’s the same thing by conferences. I don’t think you can penalize one conference from opening because another conference is opening way ahead.
“I think there’s got to be some type of guidelines nationally from the NCAA making sure that conferences aren’t pushed to open earlier than they should, but I think if you get into it any more than that, then I think you’re going to do more damage than you’re going to do good.”
Then there are the challenges once everyone on the team returns to campus. Franklin said he has had discussions with his staff about holding meetings by unit and by position, imagining a situation where one of his quarterbacks could pass the virus on to the others.
“There’s going to be issues that we’re going to have to be aware of and have plans for with the staff, and where are we all living, and going back to your families,” he said. “Maybe someone in your family isn’t taking the precautions that they should and you bring that back to the team. There’s a lot of things that factor in.”
Still, Franklin believes football will return, knowing how important it is to the university, the Happy Valley community, businesses and fans all over Pennsylvania.