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Penn State Football Deserves Credit For Avoiding Coronavirus Outbreaks

While Penn State may have inappropriately declared victory on the coronavirus, its football team tells a much different story.

Now that the season has officially come to a close, Penn State joins Rutgers as one of only two Big Ten teams to not miss a game due to coronavirus concerns. Although the Nittany Lions’ 4-5 record is certainly disappointing, perhaps the team’s handling of the virus is the larger victory.

Head coach James Franklin said from the beginning that Penn State was forming a “bubble” around its football program. Even weeks before the season started, he tried to set a precedent that his players and staff would follow all protocols.

“We went [with] split practices longer than most [other programs]…I don’t see anybody wearing masks at practice,” Franklin said on September 30. “I would rather go above and beyond with everything, so we wear masks at every practice…We are still doing Zoom meetings.”

Franklin set this “above and beyond” tone from the very beginning. He shared stories of calling players’ parents if he saw them without masks downtown and fighting through foggy visors or glasses at practice. In the end, all these extra inconveniences paid off for Penn State.

It’s unlikely that no one tested positive for the virus throughout the season, but there were never enough cases to shut down the program or cancel games.

It’s also important that no one got sick in general. When long-term effects of the coronavirus exist and can be dangerous, it’s a big relief that it didn’t run its course through the football building.

More than 5,000 University Park students tested positive for the virus during the fall semester — about 1 in 10 students if the campus was at full capacity. Nearly 200 undisclosed student-athletes tested positive since regular testing started in August.

But through it all, the football program held strong.

The success the Nittany Lions had against the virus is a testament to the team’s work ethic and mentality. Jahan Dotson called them a “bunch of fighters” after the Illinois game.

From small changes like duct-taping masks to lifestyle shifts like isolating from family and not seeing friends, the entire team made sacrifices. The players, staff, and coaches put their lives on hold to make sure the season was finished.

“We couldn’t be normal college students, the coaches couldn’t live their normal lives,” PJ Mustipher said following the final game of the season. “Everybody who walks in that building has to change their whole lifestyle and sacrifice the little things that everybody enjoys.”

The success starts at the top with Franklin and the coaching staff, but everyone made changes to ensure safety. Even guys who aren’t stars or even aren’t on scholarships had to put their lives on hold. All it takes is one person getting sick to shut the whole program down.

Franklin lauded his team throughout the year for staying healthy, wearing masks on the sidelines, and generally following the protocols in place. Penn State didn’t just luck into not having an outbreak, it was thanks to a conscious effort by everyone.

The head coach would always say “knock on wood” when talking about how no one has gotten sick throughout the year. So when the final whistle was blown against Illinois, it must have felt like a weight off Franklin’s shoulders.

“I am very proud of everybody for battling through it,” he said Saturday night. “I’m also really proud of how we’ve kept everybody healthy. We’re one of only a handful of teams in the Big Ten and in the country that didn’t miss a game…no postponements, none of those types of things.”

Franklin acknowledged the team struggled with false-positive tests, claiming the team was up to 66 at the end of the season. That obviously prevented people from practicing, coaching, and playing in games while awaiting confirmation on the tests.

Nonetheless, everyone stayed strong despite these issues. It would’ve been easy to opt out or give up on the protocols after frustration after starting 0-5. Penn State constantly fought back on and off the field.

Say what you want about Franklin as a football coach. He did a damn good job at keeping everyone safe and healthy during a truly crazy season.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a junior business major from Bucks County and is Onward State's social media manager. He writes about a lot of things. He's a huge Philly sports fan, back to back to back failed entrepreneur, and he appeared on the Rachel Ray Show at the age of 5. If you want to gain absolutely nothing, you can follow him on twitter @rjparsons9. Any "serious" inquiries or death threats can be sent to [email protected]

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