For the first time since 1886, there will be no Penn State football games played this fall.
The annual tradition began November 12, 1887, with a 54-0 win at Bucknell. It grew for 132 years, through a 53-39 win over Memphis in the Cotton Bowl on December 28, 2019.
It’s a tradition that endured through two world wars, a flu pandemic, the Great Depression, and a terrorist attack that changed many things about life as we had known it.
Faced with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Big Ten Conference decided August 11 to postpone all fall sports for 2020. The conference left open the possibility of playing those sports in the spring.
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren cited “too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”
The timing of the decision was a surprise, coming just six days after the Big Ten announced a new, conference-only 10-game football schedule designed to allow flexibility in dealing with issues arising from the pandemic.
The quick shift in course left many, perhaps most notably the Penn State Football Parents Association, wondering what changed.
It was a question without a clear answer as of mid-August.
What is clear is that none of the interested parties disputes that health and safety must come before any other consideration. Whether college football or other sports can be played safely amid this pandemic is at the crux of a national debate as we head toward fall.
There is no debating, however, the economic impact of a fall without Penn State football – and hundreds of thousands of football fans – in Happy Valley.
It will be huge.
While there will be no fall sports at Penn State, there will be students – some 40,000 of them returning to campus, most for the first time since early March. Whether they can do so safely, even with careful protocols put in place by the university and the borough, remains to be seen.
As Karen Walker writes inside this edition, those students, and their visiting families, represent a welcome financial boost for downtown businesses. But it’s an economic shot in the arm that must be managed with public health at the forefront.
That said, there’s no debating that downtown businesses need all of us this fall.
And perhaps we can all agree on one more thing: The fall of 2021 can’t get here fast enough.