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Big Ten Decision Q&A with Penn State Coach James Franklin

Penn State's James Franklin discusses recruiting, frustrated players and parents and staying motivated through uncertainty.

Penn State coach James Franklin sounded both hopeful and frustrated, upbeat and exhausted, during a recent media call that touched on a variety of topics.

From his frustration over the Big Ten's approach to its postponement decision to his relief at seeing his family, Franklin covered plenty of ground in the nearly hour-long interview, including Franklin's thoughts on the Big Ten's process, recruiting and how he's communicating with players and their parents.

This is the first of a two-part Q&A with Franklin.

QUESTION: What does it mean if three of the Power 5 conferences play this fall and you don't, and what does it mean if you're playing next semester and they're not?

FRANKLIN: This decision isn't [about] just playing in the fall. It's going to impact a lot of different things. It will impact recruiting. If we're playing and they're out recruiting, that's going to have an impact, a long-term impact. If we have our rosters at over 85 [scholarship players], and they have their rosters at only 85, that's going to have an impact. ... I think right now, if you look at certain teams that we're competing with nationally, they've got 20 more practice opportunities right now when you count spring ball and the summer that we've had. It's going to have much more of an impact than not just playing this fall. And how quickly can we get back to normal operations?

So the decisions that we make have to be not only [about] the impact that it has on the short term but, how can we impact the long term? And I think that’s where coaches are very valuable in this process, because coaches are always thinking like that. They're thinking short term and they’re thinking long term, and I think that’s where we help in the decision-making process - to understand what we’re doing and truly the impact of it. It’s not as simple as, maybe some people think that it’s just going to impact this fall. Depending on how this all plays out, what happens with other conferences, what happens with [the Big Ten] and specifically Penn State, it's going to be more significant than that.

Q: What is the feasibility of a winter season, and what kinds of concerns would you have for the turnaround time to Fall 2021?

FRANKLIN: There's been a lot of different discussions going on about that, and there have been a lot of different models being proposed, but I think the importance from my perspective is that we have to make sure if we go with a model [for a winter season], that the model has the least amount of impact moving forward. So I'm open to playing as long as we can do it in a way that keeps our students safe and healthy and protected. And I think that's what was frustrating. When we got shut down, we basically just got done practicing for a week, and when we tested our entire organization, we didn't have one positive [test for COVID-19].

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So I think that's the challenge. When you're working so hard to make something work, at least on our campus, then the decision is made to cancel. I’m open to playing as long as we can do it in a way that keeps our guys and the teams that we’re playing safe. If we can find a way to do that, which I think there are some models that I've been very vocal about, then hopefully we can make it work.

Q: How do you hope the player and parent petitions move the conversation along in a positive way, and do you see any scenario where they might change minds?

FRANKLIN: I love to see our players have voices. I love to see the parents have voices. ... I had a meeting with the parents [recently], and it's hard to continue to have meetings but you still don't have a whole lot of answers for them. But I still think that the ability to get together and look each other in the face and let them know what you do know is important.

Do I think things are going to change? I don’t think we’re going to go back to a fall season. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t think the petitions and the voices are going to allow us to go back and say, 'We’re going to play this fall.' I wish that was the case but I don’t see that happening.

Q: What are you telling players and parents to keep them motivated when there's so much uncertainty?

FRANKLIN: That's the challenge we face as coaches. We have a responsibility to fight for our players and fight for our parents and fight for our program. And we have to do that in a way that keeps everybody focused on what we're trying to achieve. But then we also have to do it in a way that aligns with the university and aligns with the Big Ten and aligns nationally, and that's more challenging than you can imagine.

I'm a chain-of-command guy. I'm a loyal guy, and that's a difficult thing to do. How do you work hard and represent all those separate entities and do it in a way that no one gets rubbed the wrong way? The challenge is, I don’t know if that’s possible right now. You’re going to rub someone the wrong way. But ultimately my responsibility has to be to my players, my parents and my program. And the reality is, if I’m doing the right thing for those people and that group, it should also be the right thing for our university and it should be the right thing for the Big Ten and it should be the right thing for college football.

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