Franklin apart from family for season

Penn State coach James Franklin celebrates with his team in the first half of the Cotton Bowl against Memphis on Dec. 28 in Arlington, Texas.

STATE COLLEGE – James Franklin said he understands the Big Ten’s decision to postpone the 2020 football season was made with the physical well-being of his players in mind.

What frustrates the Nittany Lions head coach, however, is the lack of answers from the conference and its timing to unilaterally call off the season off just six days after unveiling football schedules for all 14 member teams. 

 “It was challenging to keep getting up in front of my team, and getting up in front of my parents and not having the answers to their questions,” Franklin said Wednesday. “If we weren’t going to make the decision to delay the season, that we at least took the time to work with the NCAA and the Big Ten to have all the answers for what’s that going to mean.”

Those questions, Franklin said, include what the decision means for players’ eligibility, scholarships, roster management a host of additional unknowns for the future of not just Penn State, but the Big Ten as a collective.

“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 Big Ten – it wasn’t made in ambiguity,” Franklin said. “It wasn’t vague. There’s no way we made this decision without everybody being clear on what the decision was.”

Tuesday night, members of the NCAA Football Oversight Committee – which includes Penn State AD Sandy Barbour – recommended a 12-hour work/practice week for programs in conferences that have elected not to play this fall. As of Wednesday, the Pac 12 and Big 10 are the only two Power Five conference to have postponed fall sports.

The ACC, Big 12 and SEC all plan to proceed with a football season, which includes practices, meetings and all the additional facets that accompany such. Should the 12-hour proposal be adopted, teams like Penn State, UCLA and others from their respective conference would be significantly impacted by the decrease in practice, while teams from conferences that have elected to play will continue and progress as usual. 

 “I don’t agree at all with the 12 hours,” Franklin said. “That makes no sense that other teams are going to be playing a season, and we’re only going to get to work with our guys for 12 hours. The problem is when we vote on these things, you’ve got voting from basically everybody from all the different conferences. And right now, the only people voting in what’s in the best interest of the Big Ten is people from the Big Ten.”

Penn State opened its fall camp just four days before the Big Ten announced its decision. Franklin said the health protocols implemented by Penn State’s athletic department pointed in an encouraging direction.

“We basically just got done practicing for a week, and when we tested our entire organization – coaches, players, trainers, anybody that comes in contact with our team – we didn’t have one positive,” Franklin said.

The Big Ten currently plans to reassess threats posed by the coronavirus later this year with the hopes to have its teams begin the football season in the spring. The idea was met with doubt and concern from coaches and some players, as it would present the challenges of playing two seasons in one calendar year.

“No chance,” former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said last week. “You can’t ask a player to play two seasons within the calendar year. When I first heard that, I said, ‘I don’t see that happening.’ The body, in my very strong opinion, is not made to play two seasons within one calendar year.”

Franklin, too, agreed that asking players to play two seasons within 12 months could pose health risks. He said he thinks “it needs to be more of a winter season than a spring season.”

“I think the later you go into the year, that’s going to start to impact the following season,” Franklin said. “It’s going to have an impact on that in terms of too many games in too short period of time, in terms of enough time for guys to get healthy for injury prevention, for the right amount of training that we have to do beforehand to be ready to compete.”

The coronavirus pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges to Penn State, the Big Ten and the entire college football community. Nittany Lions players this year have gone without spring practice, the annual Blue-White Game, and now, they’re without a 2020 season.

The sacrifices the athletic department has made during the last five months have been unprecedented, too. When discussing popping in and out of his athletic facility’s offices to make sure staffers properly wore their masks, Franklin joking likened himself to a “mother hen.”

 “It was challenging, but we made those decisions, and we made those sacrifices, and it was working,” he said. “It was working really well. We weren’t naive that we didn’t think that there weren’t going to be challenges and there weren’t going to be some positive cases in the community, and on-campus and within our football team, but everybody was at a place where we felt like we were controlling as many as the variables as we possibly could.” 

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