Big Ten’s move to suspend fall sports leaves Penn State predictably heartbroken

The (Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour is seen here in a file photo at right.

Even though everyone anticipated it, the decision by the Big Ten on Tuesday to suspend all fall sports indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic left the Penn State community stunned.

Although director of athletics Sandy Barbour supports the decision and remains hopeful the fall sports can be played in the winter or spring of 2021, she senses the immediate impact will be profound.

“I know this was not an easy decision or one taken lightly by those involved,” she said in a statement. “However, it was the decision the university presidents, commissioner Kevin Warren and the athletic directors believe was best for the long-term health and safety of our student-athletes.

“... I know this announcement is one that will hit our student-athletes, coaches and staff very hard. A piece of our student-athletes’ collegiate experience has been taken from them for reasons beyond their control and for that, I am heartbroken. I do know our student-athletes are a resilient bunch and will handle today’s news with the same resolve as our winter and spring student-athletes did and be better for it in the end.

“We also cannot ignore the impact this will have on our community at large, including our local businesses. We have the greatest fans in all of college athletics and we know they will be the first ones cheering our teams on when we return to athletics. We also know our donors will continue to be a big reason why we can continue to support our student-athletes during this difficult time.”

The University now must shift its focus to salvaging its fall sports seasons in 2021 — not in time for a fall plan pitched by football coach James Franklin to ESPN Tuesday morning.

Franklin, in an interview on ESPN Radio “GetUP” show, suggested the conference could form its version of a bubble by playing all games in domes in Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Detroit.

He suggested on Twitter that the conference “delay, seek clarity, build the safest environment for our guys & make the best decision!”

Alas, there would be no more delays with Tuesday’s ruling, which the University had worked diligently for so long to prevent, according to Barbour.

“Our medical staff, in conjunction with local and state health officials, created an in-depth medical plan and protocols to do our best to keep our student-athletes and staff healthy and safe,” she said. “Our student-athletes did an amazing job of following the protocols we had in place and I am so appreciative of the sacrifices they have made these last few months. I am so proud of how they have and continue to represent Penn State.”

Football in the spring will be a tricky proposition at best for seniors and all others who plan to enter the 2021 NFL Draft. In normal years many top players in Division I don’t even remain with teams for their bowl games and sometimes quit school altogether to get ready for the league’s Scouting Combine, typically held in February or March. A spring season could lead to all or most draft-eligible players opting out before a spring season begins.

But the schools of the Big Ten don’t have many other options now.

“While this is difficult news for our student-athletes, coaches and staff in already uncertain times, I know we will get through this as a Penn State family and be better for it,” Barbour said. “Our student-athletes will continue to perform at a high level in the classroom and in the community, while also continuing to prepare for our return to sport in the future.”