In a normal season, Penn State head coach James Franklin would have everything organized to the minute, planning each day of the spring football period, darting in and out of meetings, and meandering around the practice fields to make sure things are progressing toward the new season.
Now, with the coronavirus having shut down all athletic activities on campus, with the university locked down, and the vast majority of his players back home, Franklin has become a self-described “sit-in-front-of-the-computer-for-nine-hours-a-day guy,” shut in with his wife and his two daughters at a vacation condominium in Colorado.
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“That’s basically what I’ve been doing, having a conference call every single day" with vice president of athletics Sandy Barbour, Franklin said Wednesday in a video conference session with reporters. “I have a separate conference call with my sports supervisor. We’ll have team meetings. We’re face-timing recruits. We’re on the tablets going through the [system] installs and the video. That’s how it’s been.”
That’s the new normal for the Nittany Lions, as well as countless other programs, wondering how they’re going to prepare for a 2020 season that is scheduled to start Sept. 5 at Beaver Stadium.
Given the money that football brings in over seven home games in Happy Valley, a program that funds the 30 other Penn State athletic programs, not to mention helping businesses in the community, cancellations would not seem to be an option.
“There’s a lot of different proposals being thrown out there, whether it’s a longer [preseason] camp, whether it’s extra hours during the summer that we’re able to work with them,” Franklin said. “There are a lot of proposals out there. But right now it’s hard to even tell, because we don’t know how long we’re going to be in this scenario.”
And if the scenario should last into the summer, the question becomes: How much time does a program need to feel it’s ready for the opening game? Franklin said that discussion as a program began Tuesday.
“Is it 30 days? Is it 45 days, 60 days? Is it 90 days?” he asked. “What is needed to make sure that we’re going to be in good shape, that the players are going to be able to protect themselves and be able to go out and compete at a high level? And what does that look like?
“I told the staff, ‘You probably need to have a conversation with your wife and your family.’ There’s a chance that we won’t get any vacation time this summer, because everything is just going to be bumped back. So, there’s a lot of things to work through.”
Franklin, in his seventh season as head coach, said he holds a video conference once a week with the entire team and meets with his staff on video every other day. Players receive workouts from the strength-and-conditioning staff based on the extent of weightlifting equipment they own, and they’re all taking online classes.
The coach said that what has been happening around the world is much bigger than sports, but he admitted there’s a “fine line” between focusing on that and making sure his players are taken care of.
“We want to be sensitive to what’s going on in our country,” he said, “but we also have a responsibility to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to make sure our guys are still getting a great education, even though that may be online, that they’re still taking care of their bodies. They put in so much hard work, they don’t want to lose that.”
For now, though, Franklin called it “a scary time for all of us.”
“This is a wake-up call, of how fragile it all is and for how careful we have to be,” he said. “I think it’s forcing people out of their normal comfort zone. If approached the right way, then we can learn from this and grow from this.”