Based on the resolute attitude of athletic director Sandy Barbour and the financial realities of the situation, it seems, at the moment, somewhat unlikely the Penn State football season will be canceled entirely.
Based on the circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic gripping the country, it seems unlikely the season will begin with a Sept. 5 meeting with Kent State as scheduled.
Could that mean a football season that starts months late and extends through the winter? Could it be a season that runs through next spring?
Barbour didn’t rule it out in a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon.
“I believe it’s in everyone’s best interest, when it’s safe and right to do so, that we play a football season,” Barbour said. “We’ve already talked about the emotional and the morale piece for communities across this country. And then, certainly, obviously, there’s a revenue and a financial piece to it.
“So, if our return fits into a time frame that we have to do it in a nontraditional part of the year, I think we’ll all look to make that happen.”
Barbour sounded no alarms regarding the financial health of the Penn State athletic program.
Thanks to reduced expenses because of the suspension of recruiting and spring sports and a reserve fund the department has built up over the past five years, Barbour said the picture for fiscal year 2020 isn’t bleak.
While stopping short of ruling it out in the future, she also said the idea of eliminating sports to cut the budget hasn’t been considered.
At some point, though, the football money is going to need to start flowing again, and if that means playing games in unusual spots on the calendar, so be it.
“Almost every football-playing collegiate institution, the football program drives the train from a revenue standpoint,” she said. “Obviously it plays an important part.”
Barbour said she’s not philosophically opposed to the idea of starting the season with games played in stadiums devoid of fans.
Logic, however, makes such a scenario implausible.
It would require a situation where it’s deemed safe for roughly 50,000 students to return to campus, but not safe for 103,000 people to congregate on a Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium.
“Mechanically, it would work,” Barbour said. “Does it realistically work given the health and safety issues? We’re not going to bring students back to campus until it’s safe.”
Barbour also said that, through consultation with strength and conditioning and medical personnel, the department has determined athletes will need a 60-day heads-up before starting a football season.
“We stopped, very quickly, saying, ‘OK, what if May 1? What if June 1? What if July 1? What if whatever it is?’ and started looking at, ‘What’s the runway we need?’ ” Barbour said. “When it’s safe and healthy to do so, we know we need 60 days. We know we need this time frame. Then we can look at how we can fit what we want to do into that time frame.”
On the heels of Monday’s announcement by the NCAA that spring athletes would be granted an extra year of eligibility, Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson made a plea, via Twitter, that winter athletes be granted the same waiver.
Barbour didn’t seem to think Sanderson’s request would make much headway.
“Coach Sanderson was obviously standing up for his guys and his sport,” Barbour said. “That’s certainly disappointing to the young men and young women in our winter sports. At Penn State, we’re always about students and always about opportunities. But I don’t know that the NCAA or the NCAA council will further examine that.”