Along with phrases like “social distancing” and “uncertain times,” the commonly used slogan of “for now” is leading any conversation while COVID-19 continues to ravage.
That cautious optimism is how Penn State is handling the scheduled football game against San Jose State at Beaver Stadium.
“Penn State’s focus is on the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans in every decision made about intercollegiate athletics,” a university spokesperson said via email. “The football game with San Jose State on September 19 remains on the schedule at this time.”
On Tuesday, the California State University system said it anticipates the bulk of classes on the system’s 23 campuses will be taught online in the fall. Shortly after that announcement, the California College Athletic Association, an NCAA Division II conference, suspended its fall sports season.
Last Friday, NCAA commissioner Mark Emmert said in an interview streamed on Twitter that he didn’t believe schools would play football or any fall sports without students on campus.
“All of the commissioners and every president that I’ve talked to is in clear agreement: If you don’t have students on campus, you don’t have student-athletes on campus,” Emmert said. “That doesn’t mean [the university] has to be up and running in the full normal model, but you have to treat the health and well-being of the athletes at least as much as the regular students.”
If that wasn’t clear enough, Emmert punctuated the thought with a definitive quote.
“If a school doesn’t reopen, then they’re not going to be playing sports. It’s really that simple.” Emmert said.
Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour previously expressed an aversion to playing games unless students are back on campus and fans can be in the stands.
“I’ll go back to kind of one of our major principles,” Barbour told reporters during a virtual session in April. “We’re not coming back to campus, whether it’s students or whether it’s student-athletes, they’re not coming back to campus until it’s safe and healthy and prudent to do so. So I’m not sure whether a situation where it’s not wise or prudent to have folks in the stands marries up with it’s OK to have students back on campus.”
Would Barbour be willing to keep San Jose State on the schedule if they’re allowed to play football without students on campus? She’d be holding up her end of the statement she previously made. But will any of this matter if there’s no answer for COVID-19 in the next few months?
Either way, the Nittany Lions are still planning to host San Jose State. It all remains to be determined.
“Given the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, Penn State is preparing for a variety of scenarios for fall sports,” the university spokesperson said. “All in consideration of the guidance and direction of public health authorities, the state and federal government, the Big Ten and the NCAA.”