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News & Notes From Sandy Barbour & James Franklin’s Return To Football Press Conference

Penn State Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour and football head coach James Franklin met with the media via Zoom Thursday afternoon to discuss the Big Ten’s decision to reinstate its football season.

Barbour began the press conference by expressing her excitement in what has been a “roller coaster” process. She called yesterday’s announcement by the Big Ten a “great decision,” saying that is great on a number of fronts as it was guided by science, medicine, and data.

Franklin echoed Barbour’s excitement and mentioned the opportunity that they had to speak on behalf of their student-athletes and parents. He brought up his student-athletes and their parents multiple times throughout the call, emphasizing the important role they played in this process.

Barbour and Franklin spoke on several different topics, which included recruiting, possible opt outs, gearing up for the season, and the limited schedule flexibility that the Big Ten is now presented with.

Here are some of the highlights from the virtual press conference:

On Recruiting

Franklin acknowledged that the pandemic has had an impact on recruiting, but also wouldn’t use it as an excuse for his team’s recruiting woes during the 2021 recruiting cycle.

“This class is not done, but up to this point we haven’t gotten it done,” Franklin explained. “We haven’t recruited up to the standard that we normally have. I can make excuses, I can come up with a lot of reasons for that, but we haven’t gotten it done the way we normally have gotten it done.”

He continued, calling the process “complicated” because the Nittany Lions can’t have official or unofficial visits. Additionally, he mentioned Penn State’s location as a detriment, explaining that there aren’t a lot of recruits who live within an hour of campus.

Recently, the NCAA extended the recruiting dead period to January 1, 2021. Evidently, some recruits will have to commit to a program without ever visiting the campus. Franklin acknowledges this, but said he would still like to bring the student-athletes’ parents in for an official visit even after the recruit is signed.

Despite the troubles it may bring, Franklin knows the decision to extend the dead period is for the best.

“I don’t know how you can justify bringing somebody into our community or onto our campus for a recruiting visit when they haven’t been tested, when they haven’t quarantined, and when they haven’t done all the things that we do,” Franklin said. “I don’t know how that’s fair to the student-athletes that we have here and I don’t know how it’s fair to [the recruit] as well.”

On Tailgating Outside Of Beaver Stadium And On Campus

Barbour took a strong stance against any fans tailgating outside of Beaver Stadium or anywhere on campus.

“We will not be allowing tailgating in our parking lots and on campus property,” Barbour said sternly.

Later on, she revisited the topic and emphasized the importance of health and safety. Barbour said football is being brought back because the play can be done safely. As a conference, the Big Ten made the decision not to have fans out of “an abundance of caution.”

“We’re really asking our Penn State nation to cheer us on, have small home personal pod watch parties,” Barbour said. “But do it safely.”

She continued, expressing the importance of wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing your hands.

On Players Potentially Opting Out

In his opening statement, Franklin said that the NCAA giving players the option to opt out of the season was an “important piece” to bringing the season back.

Franklin would’t put a deadline on when players can decide to opt out of the season. He did say, however, that in a “perfect world” he would know from the start who’s in and who’s out.

“We are just going to have to be flexible and make the best of it we possibly can,” Franklin said.

The head coach didn’t say whether he anticipates any of his players opting out before the season begins.

On The Possibility Of Micah Parsons Playing This Season

When it comes to Micah Parsons and his opt out decision, Franklin said that he’s leaving the door open to Parsons coming back if he chooses to do so.

“Yeah! yeah, you always keep the door open,” Franklin said emphatically. “I think there is obviously a big difference between somebody that opted out a week ago compared to somebody that opted out multiple weeks ago. It just makes it more complicated.”

He continued, saying that it was “pretty fun” talking to Parsons after the Big Ten’s decision and seeing the fans go crazy.

“As you know, I’m a positive guy,” he said. “I’m going to try to see if there is a way we can work it out and get him back here if it’s in everyone’s best interest, most importantly Micah’s.”

On The Limited Schedule Flexibility

Barbour acknowledged that there is “a lot less” schedule flexibility than they previously had heading into the football season.

She said that if a team is unable to play due to coronavirus safety concerns, it won’t be a forfeit, but instead just won’t count as a game. If a team is unable to play all nine games, there is not yet a plan in place to figure out how to adjust the standings.

“We’re going to put together a nine-game schedule, obviously,” she said. “But we don’t know how many of those games will get played. If anything, the first couple of games have been examples of that for us.”

She continued, saying that they will have to figure out what happens if one team plays seven games and another plays nine. Ultimately, Barbour said the Big Ten will develop a system to decide a champion in that scenario.

Franklin commented on the challenges that playing nine games in nine weeks may bring. He mentioned that this year not counting as a year of eligibility for a player is something they can take advantage of.

“I think one of the advantages of this year not counting from an eligibility standpoint is you don’t have to worry about the redshirt guys only playing four games,” Franklin explained. “It opens your roster to allow you to play more people, which I think you may need based on opt-outs and based on quarantine or whatever it may be.”

He went on to say that it hurts the team from a team-building standpoint. A lot of the things that they used to do to “break up the grind” — paint-balling, team dinners, bowling, etc. — they can’t do anymore with the new guidelines.

On Gearing Up For The Season

While gearing up for the season, Franklin said the Nittany Lions can’t think about things they’ve done in the past because it’s all different now.

“The schedule is going to be different, camp, if you call it ‘camp,’ is going to be very different,” he said. “One of the areas that’s probably a little bit more similar than most people is that we usually have school during camp. Our summer school session is very different from anywhere I’ve been before.”

He continued, once again emphasizing that it is going to be “very different,” whether it be from a practice, meeting, or leading up to the season perspective.

Franklin believes that he and his team can also learn during this time, whether it be from NFL coaches or other college programs who are playing right now.

Most importantly, getting back into the physical aspect of the game is going to be a long time coming for Franklin and his team. Starting September 30, full pads and tackling will be allowed during practice.

“When was the last time a Big Ten football player tackled anyone?,” Franklin said. “Most of us, we had no spring practices, so there’s also an aspect of that. We gotta get ramped back up to get some tackling in, because you can’t go from last season to your first game and never tackle.”

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a sophomore majoring in journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He grew up in Lindenhurst, NY and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his rants on all of his teams follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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