EDITORIAL: Penn State makes right call by opting out of bowl game during COVID-19 surge

  • Saturday night, Penn State announced a decision that the football program won't play in a bowl game.
  • PSU was 4-5. The season started with five straight losses and ended with four straight wins.
  • Despite the 4-5 record, Penn State likely would've received a bowl offer, it they wanted one.
Penn State head coach James Franklin leads his team onto the field for an NCAA college football game against Michigan State in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

For the first time in the James Franklin era as head coach, Penn State will not play in a bowl game this season.

That’s a decision that may not sit well in some corners of Nittany Nation, but it’s a decision that's entirely justified. Most Nittany Lions fans will likely understand that, even if they may not like it.

After all, the Penn State football team just concluded one of the most trying seasons in program history.

The 2020 campaign didn’t look like it would happen at all after the Big Ten announced in August that there wouldn’t be a season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A month later, under some serious outside pressure, the Big Ten reversed course and announced a delayed start to the season, beginning on Oct. 24.

Decision made Saturday night: That Big Ten season concluded this past Saturday. Later that night, the PSU program announced it wouldn’t accept a bowl bid, even though the Lions certainly would’ve been offered a berth, especially given the program’s large following.

Penn State will not participate in bowl game "in order to spend time with loved ones"

That was the right call by Franklin, the PSU administration and the players.

You can argue, with some justification, that the Big Ten should’ve stuck to its guns and not played at all this season. Once the conference made the decision to play, however, PSU had little choice. If your conference says it’s having a season, you almost have to play, at least if you want to stay a conference member in good standing.

So, Penn State played.

Rebounding from ugly start: For five weeks, everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Penn State. The Lions started 0-5 and there was talk about the team going winless.

At that point, however, the Lions showed tremendous resilience and heart, rebounding to win four consecutive games.

All the while, the players and staff remained sequestered from their family, friends and other loved ones. The seniors didn’t even have the opportunity to enjoy Senior Day in front of their parents, who weren’t allowed to attend because of a misguided decision from the Wolf administration.

EDITORIAL: Gov. Wolf fumbles ball when he prohibited parents at Penn State's Senior Day

Franklin, meanwhile, opted to isolate from his family as a precaution to reduce the COVID-19 risks, in an effort to protect his daughter Addison, who has sickle cell disease. His family stayed in Florida, while Franklin remained in State College.

Following the protocols: From all reports, everyone at PSU followed the COVID protocols religiously. The Lions were one of just two Big Ten programs to complete all nine scheduled games. The program didn’t even miss a scheduled workout.

Still, there were bumps along the road. Some players did miss time because of COVID issues. The team also had to endure the stress of 66 false-positive tests.

Still, the Lions played on.

Deciding not to play: After Saturday’s win over Illinois, however, the team decided not to play on any longer. Playing in a bowl game is not a requirement and the PSU players, coaches and administration made the decision that the 2020 Nittany Lions had already made enough sacrifices.

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Traveling to a bowl game during a COVID-19 surge, when people are being urged not to make unneeded trips, seemed silly.

It was time to send the players home so they could reconnect with loved ones they haven’t seen in person for months.

For nine straight weeks, Penn State followed all the protocols and was a good conference soldier.

When it came time to make a bowl decision, the folks at PSU made the best decision for them.

They deserve credit for making the right call.