Penn State will not participate in bowl game "in order to spend time with loved ones"

Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Penn State head coach James Franklin greets his team as they take the field for an NCAA college football game against Illinois in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Penn State's 2020 football season is over.

A little over two hours after the Nittany Lions' 56-21 win over Illinois on Saturday, head coach James Franklin and athletic director Sandy Barbour announced in a statement that the program will not participate in a bowl game this season. Penn State will end the season with a 4-5 record, finishing with a losing record for the first time since 2004.

"The decision to decline a bowl invitation was led by the football student-athletes, and fully supported by Barbour and Franklin," the statement read.

In his postgame press conference Saturday night, Franklin said the decision of whether or not his team would accept a potential bowl bid would be led by the Nittany Lions' captains and seniors. The seventh-year head coach said the team's leaders were meeting with their position groups after the game against Illinois, and after his press conference, he would speak to those players to come up with a plan.

"As you know, we rely on our captains and Leadership Council to provide a voice for our team, and our student-athletes made the difficult choice not to participate in a bowl this year in order to spend time with loved ones," Franklin said in the statement. "We are fully supportive of their decision, knowing it has been many months since our students-athletes have been able to spend time with their families and the challenges they endured, both physically and mentally. This will be an opportunity for our guys to go home, see family and recharge for the spring semester."

The NCAA waived bowl eligibility requirements this season because of the reduced number of games being played due to the coronavirus pandemic. So, the Nittany Lions — a national brand in college football and a team on a four-game winning streak — likely would have punched their ticket to a Big Ten-affiliated bowl.

Penn State opened the season with a program-worst 0-5 start before turning things around late last month to rattle off four consecutive wins.

The Nittany Lions battled adversity off the field this season, too. After All-American linebacker Micah Parsons opted out prior to the season, star redshirt junior running back Journey Brown was forced to medically retire in November because of a heart condition, and standout running back Noah Cain and All-American junior tight end Pat Freiermuth were lost to season-ending injuries along the way.

Even with the sacrifices the players and coaching staff had to make amid the pandemic, Penn State played all nine of its scheduled games — being one of only two Big Ten teams to do so.

"I couldn't be more proud and encouraged by how our team conducted itself during this unprecedented season," Franklin said in the statement. "One of our four core values is a willingness to sacrifice, and our student-athletes, coaches and staff have all made incredible sacrifices both on and off the field in order for us to compete this year.

"This has been a challenging nine months, but we are proud of how our student-athletes have navigated these difficult times."