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Sandy Barbour Discusses Future Of Penn State Athletics, 2020 Football Season, And More In Zoom Press Conference

Penn State vice president for intercollegiate athletics Sandy Barbour met with the media via Zoom on Thursday afternoon to discuss where Nittany Lion sports currently stand during the coronavirus pandemic.

Barbour opened the press conference by thanking all medical personnel for leading the way through these challenging times, and she explained how she hasn’t seen anything like this in her nearly 40-year career working in and around college athletics.

After her opening statement, Barbour was asked several questions surrounding the football team, including the possibility of canceling the 2020 season, and where the construction of the Lasch Building stands. She also discussed the effects this situation has had on the university’s finances and different contract discussions.

Here are some of the highlights from the athletic director’s virtual press conference.

On The 2020 Football Season

Barbour was asked plenty of questions about what these next few months hold for Penn State football. While she doesn’t have a clear answer on what will happen if the 2020 season is postponed or canceled, she made it clear that all options are on the table.

“We’re spending our time, number one, on the things that we know for certain, and then we’re looking at all of the analytics and talking to all of the experts that we have at our disposal to understand our time frame,” Barbour said. “How long do we need for our fall sports to come in and restore fitness?”

Barbour went on to discuss a possible contingency plan for Penn State’s fall sports, something that James Franklin also discussed last week. In terms of football, Barbour said that the team would likely need roughly 60 days of practice and training to be fully prepared for the 2020 season to start on time.

The athletic director was also asked about the prospect of the football team playing its games without fans, something that she didn’t see as a very realistic option.

“I don’t see the return of students to campus [in the fall] mixing with the ability to play without fans,” Barbour said. “Mechanically, it would work. Does it realistically work given the health and safety issues? We’re not going to bring students back to campus until we know it’s safe.”

Barbour went on to explain that a college football season taking place during the spring semester (February-May) may be a more viable solution.

“I believe it’s in everyone’s best interest, when it’s safe and right to do so, that we play a football season,” Barbour said. “We’ve already talked about the emotional and morale piece for communities across this country, and there’s obviously also a revenue and financial piece to it.

“If our return shifts into a time frame that we have to do it in a non-traditional part of the year, I think we’ll all look to try to make that happen,” Barbour added.

On University Revenue, Contract Discussions, And Current Projects

Last week, Penn State President Eric Barron said that furloughs and layoffs are not out of the question for university employees over the course of this time period. With this in mind, Barbour fielded several questions about the athletic department’s current financial standing.

“Thanks to some expense savings that we’ll have due to not recruiting, not having events in the spring, and the fact that over the course over the last five years we’ve built up an adequate reserve, we’re going to be in good shape for the 2020 fiscal year,” Barbour said.

The athletic director went on to add that the unknown remains to be fiscal year 2021. Barbour said that, at this point, the athletic department is in “decent shape” coming out of 2020.

In terms of specific finances, men’s basketball head coach Pat Chambers mentioned a few weeks ago that he was in an active discussion with Penn State regarding a contract extension. Barbour confirmed that she and Chambers’ representatives were in the midst of a contract discussion, and said that it has continued through this time.

“We’ve continued that conversation as well as a number of other conversations that we’re in the middle of,” Barbour said. “Certainly, some of the institutional-wide positions and the unknown do limit us in some things we’re trying to do, but there’s business that needs to continue.”

Lastly, Barbour also managed to discuss where the renovations on the Lasch Building stand. While the campus has pressed pause on constructions, work on the design of the building is continuing.

“In the case of the next couple of phases of the Lasch renovations, we actually are in design there,” Barbour said. “When we get back on campus, we’ll take our direction from university leadership about construction. We’re committed to that project as well as several others that we’re getting close to starting.”

In terms of fundraising for the Lasch Building, Barbour added that she’s confident that the school will receive enough support from alumni and donors “when the time is right.”

On Working With The State College Community

Barbour also discussed how important a role the surrounding State College community will play in this unprecedented situation. If fall sports (read: football) are cancelled, Barbour understands how much of a cultural and financial toll that’ll take on the community.

“There’s a symbiosis here between the university and the community,” Barbour said. “That’s just another reason why we’re going to do absolutely everything we can to have a football season in some way, shape, or form.”

Barbour went on to say that she and her staff will continue to take advice from medical experts. They’ll only resume sports and hold a football season when they know it is absolutely safe to do so.

“From the beginning, this has been about our people,” Barbour said. “The priority in every aspect of what we’re doing right now is the health and safety of, first and foremost, our students, and of course our staff and community.”

On The Disappointing End To Men’s Basketball’s Season

Barbour discussed how badly she felt for all of the winter teams that didn’t get to finish their season, as well as the spring teams that barely got to start. But it’s hard to put into words how poorly timed this was for the Penn State men’s basketball team.

After several years of tough finishes, the Nittany Lions put up a strong 21-10 record, were a No. 6 seed in the conference tournament, and poised to make their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2011. Barbour was with the team in Indianapolis the morning the announcement came out that the Big Ten Tournament was cancelled, and the NCAA Tournament would likely follow suit.

“I got down to where the team was having their pregame meal, and Pat had just found out [the news] and was telling the team,” Barbour said. “That was really heartbreaking.”

Barbour did add, though, that Lamar Stevens joined an all-staff Zoom call on Wednesday with a positive message.

“He came in to spend a few minutes with our staff and he was absolutely incredible,” Barbour said. “He talked about his Penn State experience and how it didn’t end the way he wanted it to, but he wasn’t going to let that take away from what he and his teammates had accomplished.”

On The Importance Of Sports During This Time

While Barbour made it clear that the priority during this time period is the health and wellbeing of the people, she also discussed how the absence of sports has had an effect on many people.

“We’re seeing what the hole is in our communities and our society without live sports,” Barbour said. “There’s an appreciation that’s being created, that maybe there’s some opportunities for us down the road.”

Barbour went on to explain the specific importance football has within the Penn State community. If the season is altered in any way or postponed completely, it will without a doubt have a profound effect.

“There are a number of reasons why this community and this country needs sport,” Barbour said. “Some of those are emotional, some of them have to do with connectivity and engagement, but obviously there are financial realities about that. For almost every football-playing collegiate institution, the football program drives the train from a revenue standpoint.”

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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