The one piece of hard news from Penn State football’s “virtual media day,’’ Wednesday was simple and straightforward: Micah Parsons is not coming back.
Parsons, an all-America linebacker from Harrisburg, opted out of the 2020 college football season Aug. 5 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in order to train for the NFL draft.
The Big Ten Conference announced it was shutting fall sports down Aug. 11. When the conference announced an October restart Sept. 16, Parsons considered coming back.
“There was a legitimate possibility for that to happen,’’ head coach James Franklin said in a news conference. “But as we worked through it, the timing of it, he had been in California training, that made it a little more complicated. That won’t be happening.’’
It is not clear whether the NCAA would have permitted Parsons’ return, given that he had signed with an agent.
“No guarantee,’’ defensive coordinator Brent Pry said. “There’s a waiver process, stipulations that go along with it, so it wasn’t cut and dry.’’
The Nittany Lions have been working out, split into groups, since the restart was announced. They began helmet-and-shoulder pads practice Wednesday, 24 days before the season opener at Indiana. The split workouts are one of several areas where Franklin believes Penn State has been more COVID-conscious than its competition.
“We went split practices longer than pretty much everybody that I look at,’’ he said. “I don’t see anybody (at other schools) wearing masks at practice. I would rather go above and beyond.’’
Franklin said he was driving through downtown State College recently and saw five of his players walking together. Four of them had masks on.
“I called (the maskless) guy multiple times to harass him,’’ Franklin said. “Then I called his parents and said, ‘I need your help.’ ’’
Critical to the Big Ten’s decision to restart was the availability of same-day coronavirus testing with same-day results, which Franklin suggested may have given some a false sense of security.
“Feedback I’ve gotten from other coaches, their leagues, even other sports, is that when people started testing every day, they felt like, hey, I can go back to living like normal,’’ he said.
“That’s just another layer of protection. The most important thing we can do is our behaviors, our choices.’’
That kind of caution is on a crash course with myriad logistical problems. When can Penn State begin holding in-person meetings indoors? How many players can be in the weight room at once?
Can the team socially distance while traveling, given the size of airplanes the State College airport can handle? Will they continue the tradition of staying in a hotel Friday nights even for home games? What about team meals on the road?
“We can’t think of comparing it to how (things) used to be,’’ Franklin said. “Every detail is going to matter. Everything has to be thought through.
“We can’t eliminate all risk. That’s not realistic. How many variables can we control?’’
Franklin, Pry, offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca and special teams coordinator Joe Lorig met the media Wednesday. Players will do virtual interviews Thursday and Friday.
Penn State heads into the season ranked 10th nationally in both the Associated Press (writers) and coaches’ polls.