When James Franklin found out last week that the Big Ten Conference was canceling the 2020 football season, he passed the news along to his team, his coaching staff, and then the families of his players and recruits.
Everyone, including Franklin, was sad and angry and frustrated. He gave everyone in Penn State’s football program the next few days off. He got back the results from his own latest COVID-19 test. Negative.
It was late afternoon. He was alone in his State College home, and for that day, he had done all he could.
It was one of those times when men are inclined to get in a car, point it somewhere and just drive.
Franklin had a place to point: His home in Florida, where his family is sequestered for the safety of his younger daughter, who has sickle cell disease.
“I jumped in the car and drove from six at night until 6:30 in the morning,’’ he said during a news conference Wednesday.
(He must have been doing some serious cruising, to cover the 1,000-plus miles from State College to Florida in twelve-and-a-half hours, but never mind.)
“I gave everybody the time to go hug their moms, go hug their dads or their brothers and sisters, … and once we find out what the new plan is, you know, get back to work again.’’
Franklin was still in Florida Wednesday. He was clearly still mad, although venting to the media seemed to lighten his mood as the news conference rolled on.
He was gobsmacked by the Big Ten’s shutdown, for one thing, because he felt he and his staff and Penn State athletes had put everything they had into getting safely ready to play in the fall, and it was working.
“So many people worked so hard to make it work,’’ he said. “I felt like a mother hen. I spent my day telling people to cover their face completely or they were going to be sent home.’’
The Nittany Lions had been working out voluntarily since June, and held four full-blown (if masked and socially distanced) football practices before the shutdown.
Everyone on the program tested the day before the shutdown. There were no positive results. Penn State announced Wednesday that it conducted 230 tests, across the athletic department, from Aug. 10-14, with three students testing positive and for pending tests.
And then there’s the fact that those four practices gave Franklin a close look at what might have been.
“I’m looking around (at practice), and we’ve got a good-looking team,’’ he said. “We’re big, we’re long, we’re lean. We’re fast and athletic. We had difference-makers on both sides of the ball.
“This season had the chance, ... to be a special season for Penn State.’’
He’s frustrated, he said, not so much by the Big Ten’s decision - which he actually called worthy, “in some ways, of praise,’’ for being health and safety-based - but for the process and the timing.
He’s frustrated that the call was made without fleshing out what cancellation would mean for eligibility, scholarships, transfers, roster management, etc., etc. He’s frustrated that the NCAA football oversight committee, of which Penn State AD Sandy Barbour is a member, announced Tuesday that coaches of teams not playing this fall will have only 12 hours per week with their players.
He’s frustrated that his players and their families weren’t heard by the conference before the decision was made. He’s frustrated that the Power Five Conferences didn’t communicate with each other before making this call.
He’s frustrated, most of all, that so many people are looking to him for answers he doesn’t have.