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Penn State Football: 'What If Your Quarterback Gets Sick?' Franklin Talks Changes in a COVID-19 World

by on May 06, 2020 3:00 PM

If anything is for certain, it's that when sports return, they won't be returning in the exact same form that everyone is used to.

Sure, the games will look the same — with or without fans — but the behind-the-scenes measures to maintain a healthy roster, coaching staff and program will look vastly different.

Consider, for instance, if a player would become ill with COVID-19. Taking into account the number of athletes in any sport at the collegiate level, the likelihood at least one of them contracts the virus seems high, if not nearly certain as things stand today.

And that threat opens up a can of worms when it comes to prevention.

"Can you meet as a team? You can't really meet as a team with the way things are," Penn State coach James Franklin said on Wednesday during a video call with reporters. "So that's going to go out. OK, well, are you going to be able to have offensive and defensive unit meetings? You're probably not going to be able to do those things as well.

"But the other challenge is, are you going to meet with all your quarterbacks at the same time? Well, if you meet with your quarterbacks at the same time and they all get sick, you don't have a healthy quarterback [...] I'm saying that this is a lot more complicated than how I think a lot of people are looking at it."

The obstacle, of course, is that testing will not be a one-and-done deal when students and student-athletes return to campus. Assuming that Penn State opts to take part in a fall semester on campus, the resulting decision would see thousand and thousands of students coming together from various regions of the country, each with their own potential risk of carrying, spreading or contracting COVID-19. 

In turn, an ongoing collection of information is paramount for containment.

"We're bringing students from challenging areas to our community so there's got to be a lot of discussions, I would describe it as pre-testing," Franklin said. "Where have you been, have you traveled, any illness or any people you've been around who have been impacted. And then once they get on campus, be able to do the testing and then continue to do the testing throughout the season and throughout the semester.

"It's very challenging. What we need to understand too is that the model that may work for Penn State may be very different than what works in Arizona, or what works at Florida or that works at Rutgers. They may be very different models based on our state, our state government decisions and also what universities decide."

As Franklin noted, the constraints of different states opens up a different set of issues. While Penn State may find itself in a place where it can practice, the same might not be said for Rutgers or Michigan. Ohio State might find itself permitted to practice while Penn State might opt to hold off or be forced due to state mandate to wait longer before beginning practice.

And this flies in the face of an NCAA structure that normally does its best to afford teams a level playing field with everyone working under the same schedule, operating under the same guidelines.

It's a concern Franklin heard from a fellow Big Ten coach during a phone call earlier in the week, but a concern that may not have a good solution.

"That was kind of what [the coach] was recommending," Franklin said. "That the Big Ten kind of needs to come out and say 'hey this needs to be consistent across the Big Ten."'

"And I said, I just don't think that's going to work. It either needs to be national or not at all [....] say you have six schools in your conference or eight schools that are able to open and get going and there's one or two whatever the number is that can't. Are you going to penalize all the schools? So for example, with the Big Ten, saying we have two or there schools at the end of the season that are part of the playoff conversation. Well, the schools that they're competing against, other conferences, you know, they were able to open before we were and the Big Ten held back certain schools. It's not ideal.

"I think we all grew up in the NCAA that tried, as much as they possibly could, to level the playing field. I just don't see how that's going to happen with climate differences. Arizona is going to be different than New Jersey and Florida is going to be different than Maryland and so on and so forth. I don't think you're gonna like it, but I think in reality I don't see how you're going to be able to hold up 10 or 12 schools in one conference from two states that are opening a month later. I think the same thing for conferences. There's got to be some type of guidelines nationally from the NCAA that is making sure conferences aren't pushing to open earlier than they should."

Whatever happens the word 'flexibility' will be used a lot between Franklin and his fellow coaches. They might not like it, but they'll like a world without football even less. Especially in a town like State College, where football keeps the lights on.

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