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Penn State Football: 99 Days from Kick, the Questions That Remain

by on May 29, 2020 2:00 PM

Penn State football is supposed to be starting its season in 99 days, and very well still could start on time, but that doesn't mean there aren't a bunch of questions between now and Sept. 5. 

Here are 12 that come to mind.

1. When are they coming back?

The NCAA has ruled in favor of student athletes being allowed to return to campuses starting at the beginning of June, but so far Penn State has yet to actually announce any plans to do so. This falls in line with a handful of other Big Ten schools that are biding their time on the return, but it seems entirely possible — as things stand at this moment — Penn State doesn't have athletes return to campus that first week of June if not later. There's nothing wrong with that, but the assumption Penn State would come rushing back to campus seems —right now — premature. But things change quickly these days.

2. Testing?

The NCAA — and basically everyone else — has pushed for testing capabilities on campuses and around athlete programs. Where is Penn State in that process? The university is set to announce by June 15 its plans for the fall, and there ought to be answers in that decision. All the same, it seems unlikely that a return to football can be done successfully without testing, and so far that sort of capability has been few and far between at more places than just Penn State.

3. Meeting modifications?

James Franklin mentioned earlier this summer/spring that team meetings might have to be different this year in order to have measures in place to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 throughout the roster. What will that actually look like? At some point everyone will have to be in the same place, but what about all the quarterback meetings and unit meetings that happen throughout the week? Because Franklin's right, if one quarterback gets it, they all could, and then you don't have a quarterback.

4. What happens if there is a positive test?

This is probably the most pressing question nationally when it comes to the return of sports. What happens if a player tests positive? It stands to reason that if one does a few will, and then what happens? Does the entire team get tested? Is the game called off? Do players just quarantine and the show goes on? On a grand scale, how many positive tests is one too many for the NCAA to just postpone the rest of a season that may have just started? It seems impossible that nobody will test positive, a lot harder to know what happens after that.

5. What does Franklin do?

James Franklin's daughter Addison has sickle cell, which puts her in the category of being at higher risk for more severe complications from COVID-19. Generally speaking, Franklin has his kids, and the rest of the staff's children, over to the office on a fairly regular basis, not to mention Franklin simply goes home every day after spending his time around a bunch of people. It seems like a small detail, but if a player tests positive, does Franklin actually go home or does he just live in the basement while his wife and daughters live upstairs?

6. Stadium attendance?

It seems more likely than not that Beaver Stadium won't be full this year. The question is how many people will be inside, and where exactly they are seated. Beaver Stadium has a nice built-in advantage when it comes to social distancing in the sense that the upper decks and lower bowl are generally separated in a way that you could spread a decent number of people out throughout the stadium. Ohio State has talked about 20,000-50,000 which is the next closest example regarding stadium size.

7. Who gets them?

Of course the next question is who gets those tickets? Penn State in theory could just let season ticket holders in, which would push past that 50% capacity mark, and not sell single-game tickets. Then again, what about students? Their tickets are fairly cheap in comparison, so if the goal is to make the most bang for your buck then students aren't the key. Chances are it'll be a little bit of everyone, but it's a problem every football program in America is having.

8. Secondary market?

One would imagine a stadium that is only selling half its tickets would increase the demand for said tickets, but is that the case? Half the appeal of going to a game is the atmosphere, and a half-full Beaver Stadium is not quite the same thing as a full one [duh] so does that change demand? Not to mention, do people want to go out into a large crowd yet? Best guess, people will go because there's always a buyer, but it'll be interesting to see what StubHub numbers look like.

9. Tailgating?

Penn State can control its own parking lots, but there's not much stopping people from coming to State College even if they don't have tickets to the game. How many people show up anyway? Certainly that's a thing that happens during a normal football weekend, but in a social-distance world, a surge of people into town is a different kind of challenge.

10. Start on time?

The assumption is that the season will start on time, but with months to go before that happens, who knows if that will be the case. It seems possible, but nothing these days seems out of the question. What would a delayed start look like? Would schools and conferences scrap non-conference games and opt for a shorter season? Would they play until late December and then have bowl season? Would the season start late and end early to avoid any potential second wave of COVID-19 in the winter?

11. Learn quick?

It is well documented how Penn State's offense grew during Joe Moorhead's first season in 2016. Can the same thing happen with Kirk Cirarocca? The jump to Moorhead's offense is probably a larger one than the jump to Cirarocca's, but until the Nittany Lions can actually practice out on the field most everything is just visualization and not actual play. How quickly can players learn a new system, and how much does that impact the entire season?

12. Next?

San Jose State might not play football this year, which would be problematic for Penn State's early season schedule. If that were to happen, who exactly would Penn State play instead? Would it play anyone? Would it be penalized in the playoff race because it played one fewer game? Right now SJS seems to be heading toward a season, but it's just another strange wrinkle during a strange time.

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