Spring Football a 'Last Resort,' Penn State Athletic Director Says

Mark Wogenrich

Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour called playing football next spring a "last resort," citing injury concerns and the prospect of playing two seasons in one year.

With cases of COVID-19 increasing in areas of the country, and colleges handling positive tests among their returning student-athletes, the idea has been proposed to postpone college football to early 2021. Penn State coach James Franklin said in May that he was open to the concept because, "you have to do whatever you can to save this season."

Penn State announced Wednesday that its testing has produced no positive results for the novel coronavirus. A total of 102 student-athletes were tested, including an undisclosed number of football players, since they began returning to campus in early June. Penn State will announce its next series of test results July 15.

Though Penn State's results sent a positive signal, Barbour said she has noticed how attitudes have changed regarding playing college sports this fall.

"There's no doubt that there's been a little bit of pessimism in the last couple of weeks that we really hadn't had for 4-6 weeks," Barbour said. "We'd been ticking up on the optimism scale. The approach I'm taking is, I think that's part of the ebb and flow of the virus. Obviously my hope is, maybe as people start looking at the masking and social-distancing again and all of the precautions and understanding and recommitting to the seriousness, that we'll see it flatten out."

The spring football proposal comes with considerable issues as well, particularly for cold-weather programs like Penn State. Beaver Stadium undergoes a winterization process that includes water being shut off and reduced maintenance. That has been one reason cited for Beaver Stadium not hosting an NHL outdoor game.

More importantly, a spring season would subject football players to playing possibly two seasons in a calendar year. That would cause significant physical stress and potentially force injured players to miss two seasons.

Further, Barbour said she was concerned about losing spring practice for a second consecutive year. She did not mention the potential for some players to skip the season because they plan to enter the 2021 NFL draft.

"We started talking [about] spring [football] in March, and at that time we were far more pessimistic than we were four weeks ago and I think even more pessimistic than we are today," Barbour said. "I think there are lots of challenges. It would be a last resort."

Barbour said some of the challenges could be overcome if programs are willing to play shortened seasons. Or, as she said, "that something is better than nothing."

"But I think probably the biggest concern is the wear and tear on the bodies of our student-athletes and the proximity of a spring season to a fall season," Barbour said.

Franklin expressed the same concerns in May, though he sought to consider the 2020 season first "and then worry about the effects and come up with those solutions as the next step."

"My point is, we have to do everything in our power to make this work and be flexible and be open-minded," Franklin said. "Are there going to be challenges and are there going to be impacts that affect other things? Yes. No doubt. It will mess with the recruiting calendar, it will mess with a lot of different things. Again, that's where the next problems come, and we have to come up with the next solutions."

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