On Wednesday morning, Penn State head coach James Franklin spoke with reporters for the first time since the Big Ten decided to postpone the fall football season amid the coronavirus pandemic. He did not hesitate to express his frustrations.
Franklin called the conference’s decision “extremely disappointing” and said it was “gut wrenching” to share the news with his team. Franklin’s biggest issue with the conference’s handling of the ordeal is one that lingers: coaches still have very few answers to the pertinent questions they are receiving from players. On top of that, the Big Ten — unlike the Pac-12 — has yet to clearly lay out the exact reasons why it canceled the fall season.
“While I appreciate the complexities and difficulties of this decision for the leaders of our conference, I am extremely frustrated because we still have very few answers to communicate to our young men and their families about their futures and very little understanding of the factors contributing to the decision,” Franklin said.
That doesn’t mean Franklin outright disagreed with the conference’s decision. He had issues with the “process” and “timing” of the decision and said it “caught a lot people off guard.” The Big Ten has not issued a public statement since Aug. 11, the day the decision came down.
“How we got to this decision, I’m not in position to answer that because I wasn’t in the room. But 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 everyone being clear on what the decision was,” Franklin said.
Franklin noted the effort Penn State put into abiding by COVID-19 protocols that were put in place to keep players and staff safe in the lead up to a fall season. In fact, he said Penn State’s most-recent testing results after the first week of practice returned zero positive results among the program’s players, coaches, trainers and staff.
“We are heartbroken for our student-athletes because of how much they’ve sacrificed to put themselves in a position to compete at the highest level,” Franklin said. “But now, they are left frustrated and unsure of what the future holds.”
Franklin favors winter season over spring
From coaches to players to parents, frustration has been palpable around the Big Ten. While Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields started a petition calling for the reversal of the decision, parents — led by the father of Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade — are reportedly planning to gather outside the conference office in suburban Chicago on Friday.
Franklin said Wednesday he doesn’t see the conference backing down from its decision and reinstating a fall season. The conference said it will turn its sights toward having football in the spring, but Franklin said it should be “more of a winter season.” Franklin thinks a winter season would limit possible negative effects on the 2021 season and be helpful with things like player safety and roster management.
“I think the later you go into the year, that’s going to start to impact the following season,” Franklin said.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day recently proposed an eight-game scheduling model that would begin in January and end the last week of February with the Big Ten title game played in the first week of March. Purdue’s Jeff Brohm also released a proposal. Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour hinted to reporters Monday that a revised schedule was being worked on by the Big Ten.
In fact, the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday that Big Ten officials “have decided to start the season as early as possible” to “allow players to finish their season” before the NFL draft, which begins April 29. The plan reportedly involves “the use of indoor facilities.”
Parents of UW football players were briefed about the plan Tuesday night and were told it involves the use of indoor facilities. They were also told league officials are still uncertain how a shortened season would affect the eligibility of players, particularly seniors. A final decision could be made within a week.
Several indoor facilities that could be used by the Big Ten are home to NFL teams. Those are: Indianapolis (Colts), Minneapolis (Vikings) and Detroit (Lions). Other possible facilities are in St. Louis and Syracuse.
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