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Seeking 'solutions:' PSU’s James Franklin floats novel ideas to play football this fall

JOE JULIANO
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
James Franklin

Penn State head coach James Franklin said Tuesday that he would look at other options for his players to play football in the fall should the Big Ten presidents decide to cancel the 2020 season.

In an interview on ESPN’s Get Up, Franklin said any move on wiping out football this year should be delayed because more information needs to be made on what impact the cancellation would have, and perhaps finding alternate solutions such as playing games in domes if the season is delayed beyond the fall.

But he appeared ready to follow the suggestion made Monday by Nebraska coach Scott Frost, that his program could seek out its own schedule for 2020 without the Big Ten.

“If we can push things back, continue to gather information, and our trainers and doctors and all the medical personnel feel like this is something we could do and should do, then I think I have a responsibility based on the feedback I’ve gotten from my players and my parents to explore any opportunity possible for our players to be able to continue to reach their dreams,” Franklin said.

He said that medical professionals would have to tell him that it’s safe but that his responsibility to players and parents was “to exhaust every opportunity and option that’s out there.”

Franklin’s interview followed a whirlwind day Monday filled with separate meetings of conference presidents and athletic directors. Big Ten presidents were expected to meet Tuesday to once again discuss the feasibility of conducting a football season amid a pandemic.

And while presidents were believed to be strongly leaning toward canceling the season after weekend meetings, multiple reports indicate they seem to now be leaning toward delaying the start of the season amid pushback from players and coaches, including Franklin.

Franklin said that he conducted meetings Monday night with his players and their parents and that they had many questions that needed answers with regard to scholarships and eligibility for fifth-year seniors, as well as freshmen. He said there was also a matter of having different scholarship numbers at Big Ten schools considering how many incoming freshmen are in the 2021 class.

“I’m speaking to represent them, what our parents think, what our players think,” he said. “Most importantly, we want to keep our players safe and healthy, but we also want to give them the best opportunity to continue to play the game they love. So why not press pause and find out more information?

“There’s just so many questions that I don’t think from a leadership standpoint that you cancel the season and then people ask you, ‘Well Coach, what does this mean for my future?’ We don’t have any of those answers right now.”

Franklin said plans should be put in place to incorporate other models for a schedule if a fall football season cannot be staged. He recommended games be played in Midwestern domed stadiums such as Ford Field in Detroit, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, and U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

“Even if we push the season back ... we could use the domes in Detroit, in Minnesota and Indianapolis and do Big Ten weekends at those venues from a weather perspective,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of really intelligent people. We’ve got a bunch of creative people. Let’s spend the next month coming up with solutions rather than calling it quits.”

The Big Ten released a 10-game conference-only schedule last week that listed starting dates of Sept. 3, 4 and 5 but allowed for the season to begin as late as Sept. 26. So delaying or postponing until the spring appears to be on the table.

Penn State’s next report on COVID-19 testing of its student-athletes was scheduled to be released Wednesday. In the athletic department’s latest statistics, released July 29, it reported eight positive tests among 466 administered, with the results of 66 tests pending.

On Monday, Big Ten presidents were said to have voted 12-2 against having a fall season, based on reporting from syndicated radio host Dan Patrick and the Detroit Free Press. But a conference spokesman denied that a vote had been taken.

Reports of the vote spurred Big Ten coaches Franklin, Frost, Jim Harbaugh of Michigan, and Ryan Day of Ohio State to speak out in support of conducting the season.

Players also got into the act, tweeting out their desire to go through with the schedule accompanied by the hashtag #WeWantToPlay.