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Penn State Athletics: No Shortage Of New Questions Following Big Ten Decision

by on August 12, 2020 3:15 PM

Tuesday's news that the Big Ten was canceling its fall sports calendar with the hopes of playing in the spring has set off a chain reaction of events that will take place in the coming weeks and months not quite like anything else before it in the college landscape. 

And with those events come questions. Lots and lots of questions. Some are broader, such as what happens to the economy of college towns are struggling through a pandemic? Others are more existential, like does this entire saga lead to player representation or unionization among college athletes, specially football players?

As each decision is made, more questions rise to the surface, so this won't be the last time everyone is mulling over an uncertain future, but right now these are a few questions on the mind.

The Money

The reality of the situation is that playing or not playing football is an emotional thing, but the true longterm impact is the money involved. At some point, for all of the gusto and enthusiasm for having lots of sports on campus, Sandy Barbour will have to make some tough choices when it comes to budgets and how the athletic department spends its money.

What is the long term plan? Where will cuts come from? Are there going to be more cuts in the first place? How does this impact recruiting, and even travel/scheduling for various sports? Which sport would be the first to go?

All of this comes back to money, and how Penn State gets out of the next few years will come down to how its spends the money that it has. That answer is not always a fun one.

Scholarships and Eligibility:

The NCAA will have a lot of decisions to make regarding player eligibility and roster management in the coming months. One would assume that no player would lose his or her eligibility with a spring season but with incoming freshmen landing on campus before the previous crop of seniors had left makes for an overstocked scholarship limit. 

Early indications and guesswork suggest that roster limits will be flexed for the upcoming semester to account for the new additions, but that doesn’t mean schools will want to keep their old players. For example, when the NCAA offered spring students initially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic an extra year of eligibility, schools were allowed to decline. The reason: it costs a lot of money to take care of a student-athlete and the NCAA expanding scholarship limits doesn’t mean those scholarships are free of cost for schools.

Oh and the transfer portal. If the Power Five isn’t unanimous in its move to postpone the fall, how many players will opt to look elsewhere, and will the NCAA allow those players to be immediately eligible, or will they have to sit out a year per standard transfer rules, waivers aside.

Not to mention, if there isn't football in the spring, will players whose eligibility would have expired be allowed to return in the fall?

Can They Do It?

The idea of playing spring sports is easier for some sports than others, but can programs even pull off football in the spring? Former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said “no way” on the Big Ten Network on Tuesday and the argument is strong. Football is meant to be a once-a-year sport, not a twice-a-year sport, and even a season that starts on Jan. 1 is going to end well into the spring. That doesn’t give athletes much time to recover and suddenly spring ball is turning into something that bumps the 2021-22 off its axis a bit.

There’s also weather to consider, Penn State hardly makes it one season in the fall without closing certain parking lots, let alone the potential for significant snowfall and freezing temperatures. Those are issues even during a normal year, but can the stadium handle football when football isn’t supposed to be played? Probably, but between the logistics and health issues, pushing football to the spring buys everyone time, but it might not buy them answers.

NFL Draft:

While these sorts of things are constantly subject to change, initial indications have suggested the NFL isn’t interested in changing its draft date. This was prior to the Big Ten’s cancelation, but the general issue appears to remain. The reason this matters? It’s one thing for a player to put a season on film six months before the NFL Combine and draft, it’s another to do it in those months directly before the draft, risking injury and more right before the biggest moment of your life. It’s unlikely that top rated players will take that risk and will instead go the route of Micah Parsons. If the NFL doesn’t change its draft date, more might follow his lead, even those with far less certain futures.

What Now:

What exactly happens now? Is it safe enough for 40,000 students on campus but not safe enough for football? Or will Penn State and other schools opt to forgo the perception of on-campus safety and go back to the online model that got schools to this point? Eventually students will have to be back on campus, but they were already coming back in part -theoretically- to justify having football.

And what about the student-athletes, their mental health, physical health and housing. Penn State running back Noah Cain returned to campus in part because four of his family members had at one point been fighting COVID-19 themselves. In turn it was safer for Cain to be on campus than back home. What housing options will he have? Colleges can’t fix all of these issues, but they shouldn’t be allowed to hang athletes out to dry either. Will Penn State continue to quarantine some players in hotels? What does that bill look like?

Heck, are teams still going to practice? Are they still going to get tested twice a week?

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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