Opener part of the great unknown
Penn State’s football season is scheduled to kick off in 162 days, which seems like a long time away, but the reality is there’s simply no way to know right now how the sports world — or the world in general — will look at that point because of the coronavirus.
If things returned to normal in our society today, then sure, the college football season would start on schedule. That’s just not happening, however.
There could come a point, if the nation continues to be on high alert with social distancing, when the crunch of time may start to become an issue and prevent the Nittany Lions from opening their season Sept. 5 against Kent State.
James Franklin was asked Wednesday just how long it would take to get the players ready to go for a football season. Football players are all at home now with college campuses shut down across the country, and it likely could remain that way for a good bit of the summer, when players usually are on their campuses getting in as much work as possible.
Franklin said he just had that same conversation with athletic director Sandy Barbour on Tuesday and with his coach staff Wednesday morning.
“What is that?” Franklin said of the time needed to get ready. “Is it 30 days? Is it 45 days? Is it 60 days? Is it 90 days? What is needed to make sure that we’re going to be in good shape, that the players are going to be able to protect themselves and be able to go out and compete at a high level, and what does that look like?”
Franklin doesn’t know the answer. No college coach anywhere knows the answer, because none of them have ever experienced anything like this kind of societal shutdown.
“I have my opinion,” Franklin said, without offering details. “I want to hear what my strength staff thinks, I want to hear what my coaching staff thinks — the coordinators and what they need from a time standpoint, as well, offensive, defensive, special teams coordinator — as well as the strength staff and our training staff. Because a lot of this we’re talking about injury prevention.”
If the players are to return to campus by, say, July, in theory that could give everyone enough time to work out, go through fall camp and be ready by Sept. 5.
But if college campuses remain closed until students come back in August, the logistics of starting on time could be a major concern.
“We had already worked on about six different models,” said Franklin, who usually tries to think of and plan for all contingencies.
“So if we were able to get back in a month, if we’re able to get back in six weeks, if we’re able to get back in two months, if we’re able to get back in whatever the time period was, we started kind of breaking it out — what’s this going to look like for us from a football perspective?”
SUBHD: Financial concerns
There’s just no way around it: Football is the cash cow for the athletic department at Penn State, and anything that threatens to hurt football revenues could have a major impact on many things and people.
If the Lions are able to start the season on time Sept. 5, it could be business as usual from a financial standpoint.
Then again, there’s no guarantee fans will be allowed in the stands if the sport does return on schedule. If fans aren’t allowed — or if crowds are forced to be substantially smaller — that would have an impact on the bottom line for the football program, the athletic department, the university and for businesses throughout the region who rely on tourism dollars generated by home games.
Franklin said the financial conversations have been taking place “from day one” during the coronavirus shutdown.
“This is gonna have a major impact on some universities more than others,” the coach said.
“Obviously, if this continues to roll into the fall, it is going to have significant impacts. I think everybody is aware of that. There have been a lot of discussions with myself and my staff about that already to prepare them for that. There have been a lot of conversations with me and Sandy. … If this goes into the fall with the revenue that football brings in for Penn State or the revenue that football brings in a lot of universities across the United States, that’s going to be a whole other conversation.”
SUBHD: WR moves on
Franklin confirmed receiver Mac Hippenhammer is no longer a member of the football team and will now focus solely on baseball. Hippenhammer spent the past two years splitting time between the sports.
He had just one catch for 15 yards last season, and six for 103 yards two years ago.
On the diamond, Hippenhammer is an outfielder who batted .272 with no homers and eight RBIs in 39 games last season. He was off to a slow start this year before the PSU baseball season was canceled, hitting .214 in 13 games, although he did already have eight RBIs.
SUBHD: Big-time recruit
The Lions received a commitment from four-star offensive tackle Landon Tengwall on Thursday. The 6-foot-6, 300-pounder is the No. 45 overall recruit in the nation, according to 247Sports, and the No. 1 recruit in Maryland.