James Franklin has heard all the possible scenarios for how to safely begin and maintain the college football season in this year of the global pandemic.
They include a shortened season, delayed season, full season with fans or full season with partial fans. Almost anything is up for discussion.
“I’m open and flexible to doing whatever we possibly can to make it work,” Penn State’s coach said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. “If we don’t make it work, there are going to be major impacts across the board.”
The U.S. has been largely quarantined for nearly two months, but universities might need to begin summoning athletes back to campus within the next 10 weeks if they want to conduct a proper football season.
There are seven games scheduled to kick off Aug. 29 — Penn State’s opener is Sept. 5 against Kent State at Beaver Stadium — but most coaches agree they will need at least six weeks prior to their first game to prepare.
Franklin said he is confident and hopeful that can occur.
“I know how important football is, not just to our football program, but to this university and this community and the businesses and all the people in the state of Pennsylvania,” Franklin said. “I’m confident we’re going to find a way to make this thing work. I’m hopeful that we’re going to find a way to make this thing work, but not at the expense of what’s in the best interest of health and student welfare.”
“I’m a believer in science. I’m a believer in medicine and listening to the experts. Our decisions have to be based on that.
“What are the doctors saying? What can we do to create the best, safest, healthiest environment we possibly can? It’s all about the welfare of our students, but also the fans and everybody. That’s what makes this issue so complicated.”
Possible complication: Another complication might arise if some states are given the go-ahead to fill stadiums while others must wait. Staggered starts within a conference might occur, he said.
“Say, you have eight schools in your conference that all are able to open, and there are one or two that can’t. Are you going to penalize all these schools?” he said.
“Arizona is going to be different than New Jersey. Florida is going to be different than Maryland. I don’t think you’re going to like it.”
Franklin already has notified his staff about one reality: There won’t be time for coaches’ summer vacations.
“If we get back to football, we’ll probably not get vacation time, probably not going to get the normal summer break,” he said.
“At the end of the day, you have to do whatever you can to save this season.”
He added the possible impact on the 2021 season, next year’s recruiting calendar and spring practice is the least of the current concerns.
“If people had to choose between losing this season or losing spring ball, they’d give up spring ball,” he said.
Budget issues: Many colleges are facing difficult budget decisions as a result of the economic impact of covid-19. Franklin said Penn State might be different because its athletic department is “self-sustaining.”
Still, he doesn’t minimize those concerns and is hoping to help with a personal contribution. Franklin said he and his wife, Fumi, are making a gift that will help fund a Penn State scholarship.
“As the football coach at Penn State, you always carry a little bit of that weight on your shoulders because you know the success of football will rise all boats in the athletic department and, obviously, has an impact on the community,” he said.
Staying busy: Meanwhile, Franklin said he keeps himself and his staff busy every day with meetings.
The staff meets (virtually, of course) Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8 a.m., before breaking up into offensive and defensive gatherings. There are a weekly team meeting and another with parents.
Plus, he said he makes four recruiting calls every night.
He said most of his players can’t wait to return — and not just because they miss the meal plan.
“Some of these guys, their families have other children, and they don’t have a bedroom anymore. They’re sleeping on the couch,” he said. “Five people on Wi-Fi and they don’t have a place to study effectively.
“Ninety percent of our team, when we say, ‘Hey, it’s clear and you’re able to come back,’ they’re going to run back.”
He said he already has had to discourage some players who want to return now.
He added about 10% “aren’t comfortable coming back.”
“And that’s fine.”
Franklin likes to keep a structured schedule, even away from his office, but he wishes he had more and better answers to questions people throw at him.
“As a leader, you’re trying to give everybody the vision and the plan,” he said. “It’s so hard to do that because there is so much uncertainty.”